Inspired by the fashion choices of her grandmother and her mother, Didi Akinyelure has continued to push the boundaries by creating outside the box designs for the audacious woman with her womenswear line April and Alex. The award-winning Journalist and Creative Director talks about her recent collection, Audax, creativity during a pandemic while balancing her different roles.
How would you describe the April & Alex brand?
April & Alex is a London based contemporary womenswear brand founded by British/Nigerian award-winning journalist and Creative Director, Didi Akinyelure. The brand is driven by a mission to create contemporary womenswear that emphasizes boldness in women. April & Alex offer high-quality designs at more reasonable prices.
What were you looking to achieve with your recent collection?
The SS21 ‘Audax’ collection is inspired by women who are bold, daring, fearless. We have dramatic pieces – exaggerated sleeves, exaggerated silhouettes, shoulder pads, a stunning headdress etc. I want to create clothes that turn heads when a confident woman walks into a room.
Describe the conceptualization process….
Fashion to me is an art and I have always had a very unique sense of style and this is what I wanted to portray through this collection. I want to create clothes that are interesting and different. I like the drama of it all. I have never been a simple fashion girl. So the sketches had to be dramatic, the fabric had to be edgy. At the same time, I wanted to strike the right balance between creativity, accessibility and affordability.
Who is the April & Alex woman?
The April & Alex woman is bold, edgy, independent, fearless, daringly innovative, creative, extroverted, outré. She is the woman who pushes beyond boundaries. The woman who is not afraid to be unconventional. She is unapologetic.
How can you spot an April & Alex design in the sea of many designs?
Think Bold, Edgy, Dramatic, Sculptural pieces. Yet affordable.
How were you able to stay creative and produce a collection through the pandemic?
The pandemic actually gave me the time to do the things I have always wanted to do. We had big plans for 2020 – launching a pop-up store in London and we were gearing to go until the lockdown happened. At the start it was tough, but the lockdown also provided an opportunity to rethink, re-strategize, focus and create. And it has been quite interesting having to plan everything virtually. There have been challenges but I have thoroughly enjoyed the process of finding new ways of getting things done. And in May (this year), I took a decision to make a bold move and relaunch the brand at London Fashion Week and Paris Fashion Week.
With everything going on, has your creativity been challenged? If so, how?
I would say that it’s been a different way of creating. For our LFW debut, we may have preferred a physical show because naturally, it’s a more comfortable idea. But at the same time, with a digital presentation (lookbook and film) and with a virtual showroom for buyers, we were able to reach a wider range of people who traditionally may not have been able to attend our presentation or showroom; so that in itself has been exciting.
How were you able to metamorphose from Chemical Engineering to Journalism and now Fashion Design?
The core of who I am has never changed. I have always been Entrepreneurial. I studied but never practised Engineering but I am still the same passionate girl who was attending investment seminars in between lectures at age 19. I am still the same girl who became a property investor at 24. Like Chadwick Boseman once said, Purpose crosses Disciplines. So far, I’ve had a 20-year working life and I have achieved remarkable things, and God willing, I still have many more working years ahead. I want to look back and see that I never wasted my talents. I want to be all that I was made to be. Fashion is in my genes. I grew up around sewing machines, pattern makers, tailors, seamstresses. My Mum set up a ready-to-wear store and tailoring outfit in Lagos when I was 8, and today she still has this business. My Grandmother managed this business literally until the day she passed away. I am very much inspired by my Mum and Gran. I feel like I am carrying on their legacy in my own way. But this does not mean that I have given up other talents.
How are you able to maintain a level head whilst balancing all of your businesses?
It is crazy. Besides running this business, I also run my own media consulting firm. I also moderate panel discussions all over the world and still freelance as a Journalist. Add the most important job of Wife and Mother to the mix and it is crazy. But I thrive under pressure and I love every single thing about my schedule. I also get a lot of help and support from my wonderful family and I work with amazing teams of people.
What is your favourite part of the design process?
I love it all! I still look at my sketches for SS21 and recall the feeling of satisfaction knowing that – what’s in your head is beginning to make sense. And then, there’s also the excitement that comes with fabric sourcing. All in all, there’s nothing better than seeing everything come together. With dramatic pieces and ideas, picking the right fabric is so important. It’s one thing to sketch but it’s another thing for your sketches to come alive and for the fabric to work the way you assumed it will. And when it all works, it’s a beautiful feeling.
Which design you’ve created is your favourite so far?
I love the Edgy Shirt. A friend of mine said to me that it’s the sort of piece you would still wear even if your sense of style was much more simple. It is fabulous. When I initially sketched it, the sleeves were not as exaggerated as they are now. But I kept pushing for the sample to be more! And it worked. If I could pick another I’d go for the Show Dress. It comes with a detachable hood inspired by the Ghonnella, a traditional Maltese headdress. It’s the over-the-top dress that I cannot wait to wear to events in 2021.
How do your designs appeal to the everyday African fashionista?
The brand aesthetic and my designs are very much influenced by the African woman. I am part Nigerian, Ghanaian and Sierra Leonean. I would probably not see fashion the way I see it, if I didn’t grow up in West Africa. We love our fashion bold and dramatic. We have our Gele, our Coral Beads, our Aso Oke, our Kente – it’s all very out-there, colourful, and bold. And as African women, we are confident and fearless and very business savvy and powerful. And this is my kind of woman.
How can interested buyers in Africa lay hands on their favourite April & Alex piece?
The collection is now available to pre-order on www.aprilandalex.co.uk, and we ship worldwide. We are also looking to have a Lagos-based pop-up store at some point early next year (fingers crossed).