Andrew Putman, the Dogon from Mali and « La vie en Rose » are just some of the things that inspired Uchawi World’s Laëtitia Kandolo’s latest collection « Collection N°1 ».
The designer & stylist who is no stranger to the fashion world, started out at just 19 years old and has already worked with the likes of Rihanna, Madonna and Lady Gaga just to name a few. Her latest collection has evolved from her first concept of the modern day independent woman, to one who embodies a certain softness to her, believes in love and intimacy.
We sat down with the brains behind the « Made in Congo » brand, to find out more about her inspiration, daily routines and why she does what she does !
Hi Laëtitia! Thank you for taking the time to do this interview with me! Much appreciated!
When people ask you “What do you do?” what do you tell them?
That I am an idea box, with creative & innovative ideas. Most of the time they don’t really know what I do so…
How did you get into styling?
It wasn’t really what I wanted to do at first, but after an internship at a press office, I met a lot of stylists. By talking with them and seeing them choosing clothes to build stories gave me the feeling that I might need to do something more « creative » job wise. That’s where I met Sarah Diouf from Ghubar & Mario Faundez (he was working for WAD Magazine at the time), who were my first « mentors ».
Uchawi means ‘Magic’ in Swahili. What was the inspiration behind the name?
It actually links to a different time in my personal life. Whenever I thought I wouldn’t be able to do something, something magic always happened. People have the habit of calling me in a panic and are like « we need your magic!! » I’m really grateful about my journey [thus far]. I have been able to work with some major people & have been involved in some great projects…in some way its been magic[al].
I want to show people how to live a journey filled with magic and how possible it is to dream through Uchawi.
When coming up with a new collection, how do you approach the process?
I don’t have a « process ». I am reading, watching movies, tv shows, going to exhibitions; music helps a lot. Meeting people, observing them on the streets and talking with them helps me a lot because I’m not creating to be understood but to understand more, it’s more like a study. Some stuff will hold my attention more that others, until I get a real « mood » to follow.
Who or what influences you?
You. ?People from my family, unknown faces, food…everything.
Are there any designers currently out there whose work you admire? If yes who?
Alexander Wang & Muccia Prada. If I could I would only wear their designs for the entire year.? I love the way they are able to always show us something NEW without losing the essence of the brand; they have an amazing family business model and most importantly, it’s wearable! I love it!! I think a lot of African designers today are doing great stuff but it’s not attire you can wear daily. Simplicity is where I’m at!
What is the one place in Congo you would highly recommend people to
A place that I have never visited myself yet but I will! It’s in the East of the country, where there are lakes & volcanoes. We also have one of the first National Parks in the East as well; Virunga. Kiev is also a place which looks amazing, and looks so peaceful despite everything that happened there. You can also go skiing there as there’s snow on the mountains! Crazy how a country can be that rich and is still unknown to others.
Talk me through a typical day in the life of Laëtitia!
Crazy! There is nothing typical, that’s the thing. I usually wake up at 9.30 (after sleeping at 3 or 4am). I go shopping for all sorts of things with people’s money, run from showroom to showroom looking for new designers & ideas everyday. I do eat a lot standing up. I don’t eat breakfast & I wash my clothes at night. You see, my life is not healthy at all. I’m actually doing what « normal » people do daily, at night; kind of like a Vampire.
You previously worked for Ghubar Magazine as a Fashion Editor. Tell me a little bit about that experience and what you learned from it.
It was actually my first experience working at a magazine. I started as Sarah’s (Diouf) assistant and end up as a stylist. I think that was probably the moment my eye changed! I literally learnt how to build my image there. I had my first shoot there, learnt about photography language and how clothes could talk more than I could ever imagine. But I think the main thing I leant was to dream and forgot the word « Impossible ».
Do you see your work as autobiographical at all and do you think your personal history works its way into your practice??
Totally. Every collection is a part of me. My feelings drive me. The vision I give to you through my brand comes from my own eyes. I want to show you the way I see things but it’s funny because I’ve finally realized that a lot of people have this same vision, my vision. And the most crazy thing is when you share a vision through pictures, you don’t even have to talk the same language to understand each other; Visuals are a language.
Is there any material you haven’t worked with yet which you would like to try?
I don’t know exactly what’s coming next and I change my mind a lot. I would probably lie to you [and say I have an idea]! The sketch fabric from this collection is something I wanted to use for the Collection N°0 but I ended up cancelling it. However I kept it to create something better [in the future].
Name one thing you don’t think you can live without.
My eyes. I don’t think I could be blind.
Name me a famous person/people living or dead you would invite over for dinner and why?
Michael Jackson, because he might be the reason my job is so important. His Music, Fashion, Stage Performance and Visuals were everything! And the fact that he was able to touch « eve-ry-body » through all of these elements. So I ask myself « Am I going to do the same with Fashion, Music & Video? »
What are the biggest struggles you’ve had to face as a stylist and designer and how do you deal with them?
Being a young woman. Not being black but a young woman. I started at 19 and I’m 24 years old today. A lot of people keep saying that I look like I’m 18 with a 30 year olds knowledge.
What are you most proud of?
My global journey. I have worked with many of my « dream » people. I remember sending a resumé to intern at the Mel Ottenberg Studio in NYC and few years later he’s the one who came to me! I am good at my job for sure but I’ve also had the best teachers!
If you could describe yourself in one word, what would it be?
Free or Rebel. But free people are always seen as rebels, so free.
Now if you could describe your work in one word, what would that be?
Tell me a little bit about your latest collection. Who or what was it inspired by?
Andrew Putman (I’m in love with Geometry) the Dogon from Mali and travel as usual! Also « La vie en Rose » because my first collection was about a woman who was strong, independent & walking straight. I’ve been reading a lot lately and the book « Lean in » by Sheryl Sandberg talks about the struggle of women in the work place and in general. People think that a strong woman is heartless, and I think this is not at all true. So the same woman I had for the Collection N°0 is coming back to show you another facet of herself, showing you that she believes in love, intimacy and has more softness. Also I think that with everything happening in the world today; wars, people dying etc., people should love more, really.
How do you unwind after completing a collection?
I don’t! After finishing a collection it’s onto selling, checking reports etc. I think I was more relaxed when I was in Africa!
What do you want your clothing to do for people?
To feel good, effortless but well dressed.
Can you tell me, why do you do what you do??
It’s the only I can do without getting tired of it. I realize with time that people were feeling concerned about what I do so I’m now using the only weapon I’ve got to send a real message.
If someone were interested in buying your pieces, how would one go about doing that?
The USHOP online! www.uchawiworld.com
What’s the best piece of advice you received and who was it from?
Never say « impossible » there is always a solution by Konca AYKAN, Fashion Director of VOGUE Turkey. I was her assistant.
And finally, what’s the one question you wish people would ask you in an interview but never do?
I actually hate interviews! So I wish people wouldn’t ask me any questions but instead take a look at the collection (I know it’s not possible for now). And now you must think I’m weird! I know.
See the full Uchawi World campaign here.