Handsome Godwin Mekwuye is a mobile advertisement of what he does for a living. Always immaculately and impeccably dressed, the elongated shadow of Vivid Imagination, one of Africa’s top most fashion houses, spent two unforgettable hours with YES INTERNATIONAL! Magazine Publisher/Editor-in-Chief, AZUH ARINZE, at his Obanikoro, Lagos showroom. The unabashed Catholic who sews for presidents and vice presidents, governors and ministers, billionaires and men of God, etc opened our eyes to a lot of things about his line of business. Excerpts…
What makes a good designer?
Your attitude and your personality. That’s just about it.
Most people come into the fashion business and they don’t last. But Vivid Imagination has been around for decades. What is the secret of your staying power?
We’ve been able to survive because we don’t follow trends, we follow tradition, and that has always been our style.
When can a man be said to be well dressed?
You don’t have to be flamboyant, but you have to be very clean. You have to be able to choose your colours. To be a well dressed man, you have to wear the right cloth to the right place. Like if you are going to a meeting, you are not supposed to be seen in some outrageous colours. For meetings, your colours have to be very quiet and coherent and that gives you an edge. So, when you want to be seen as a well dressed man, you also go for the right accessories – wristwatch, shoes and the colours, the way they are combined, must be perfect.
Why is it that most people find it difficult to dress well?
Like I said, it’s a tradition. It’s something you are born with. You are either born with it or you are not. Unfortunately, many people are not. You see, you don’t just jump into good dressing. It’s a tradition. It has to be something that you love. If you don’t love dressing, you can’t dress well.
What are the essential things that any fashion – forward man must have in his wardrobe?
A Vivid Imagination outfit! Good shoes. They don’t have to be too expensive, but something that can make a statement. Something that comes from Vivid Imagination. That’s it.
Who is your best dressed Nigerian man?
Ibrahim Babangida is the man for me, because you cannot find Babangida in a white outfit when he is going for a burial or something and you won’t find Babangida in an Hausa outfit when he’s going to a function in Ibadan. He dresses to match what, where and when.
How about your best dressed Nigerian woman?
I don’t follow the Nigerian women any more. (Thinks for sometime) – Helen Prest, Helen Ajayi. She is one of the best dressed Nigerians and then another very unannounced beautiful lady, Frances Oghene. Absolutely well dressed!
What singular thing distinguishes Vivid Imagination from the other designers?
I won’t want to praise this label, but I think it’s just a label that has come to stay because we have been able to read the Nigerian man, and the average Nigerian man wants to be well dressed and those things that will make a well dressed man are what we have in Vivid Imagination. That’s why we will continue to be there through thick and thin.
In business, what is the best way to attain and sustain success?
Beside clothes made by Vivid Imagination, which other designers do you patronize?
I’m an extremely conservative person and because there are not too many conservative designers now all over the world, it is usually Vivid. But if I so desire to wear a pair of suit, I will go for an Armani suit. For my shirts, I like them very unannounced.
Is there any Nigerian that you would have loved to sew for, but have not been able to?
I don’t think so, I don’t think so…No!
Most of your high net-worth customers have been with you for years, how have you been able to retain them and sustain the relationship?
The older ones have now become my mentors, my advisers, so even when they are not interested in making clothes, I still see them. So, sometimes, it’s not because they want to make clothes to wear, it’s just because they want to patronize me. And the younger ones, we have become friends too. And they can’t run away from their friend, or can they?
Are there colours that a gentleman must not be caught dead in?
Not any more; because we now have too many double – coloured men, if you understand what I mean. So, some of those colours are very attractive for what they do.
And what are the colours for gentlemen?
Of course, white, sky blue, the light-colours. But because we kind of follow trends these days, like this season, you see more men wearing orange because it’s the colour for the season. But I still don’t think it’s the colour for a Monday.
You started out designing just clothes, but along the line you incorporated shoes and other accessories, why?
Because I expect a man to come into this shop and be able to go wherever he wants to go without having to go back home. So, you can just come into Vivid Imagination, pick your shoes, pick your cap, pick everything you want to wear and go to wherever you want to go instead of having to go to a shop to buy your clothes, go to another shop to buy your shoes and it becomes very cumbersome and some people don’t have that patience.
Years ago when you made up your mind to go into the fashion business, what prompted it?
It was providence! It was the hand of God. We were into full time importation and it became difficult transferring money abroad and all of that and we just said to ourselves, why can’t we look inwards? There are too many things to be done in Nigeria that can fetch more money than importation. That’s how we went into fashion designing and there has not been any regret.
How come you’ve succeeded so much in a business that wasn’t your first call?
It was just trying to be a Nigerian, trying to see how we can develop Nigeria, how we can move Nigeria forward and at the same time portray a good image of Nigeria wherever we go.
Who was your first customer and do you still work for the person?
Ah! My first client? Can I remember who that was? (Thinks) My first client was Mike Inegbese. I no longer work for him because he changed into wearing more of a particular kind of suits and they are very expensive suits, made specifically for him.
The fashion business has been exceedingly nice to you, what hasn’t fashion done for you?
Nothing! Fashion has done everything for me. I’ve met almost all the Nigerian presidents, vice presidents, I’ve made clothes for a lot of our governors, past and present, and legislators. There was a time I was making clothes for the president, the vice president and the senate president. So, I will not mince any words, fashion has done so well for me.
Can we know these three people?
The answer is no and you know why – we don’t disclose that.
What have you given to fashion in return?
That’s why I’m still in it (General laughter). Nigerians, we don’t appreciate what we have, but hey, fashion has been very good to me.
In your line of business, what is the best way to deal with difficult customers?
Everything depends on your personality, your person. If you are not a friendly person, of course, you might not be able to deal with it. But if naturally you are friendly, it radiates around you and…I don’t even think there is any difficult customer, because we’ve become so close, we’ve become so friendly that when we see, we are not even talking fashion, when we have issues, we are talking as if they are advising me on how to improve on my product. So, I’ve never had any reason to say a customer is difficult.
Some of the billionaires and powerful men you deal with are mavericks and eccentric, how do you cope with them and their idiosyncrasies?
Like I told you, I’ve not seen any Nigerian that I can describe as difficult, because when they get to me, we change the scene from a very difficult scenario to something that at the end of the day everybody laughs and goes home happy after a cup of drink.
What is your dream for Vivid Imagination?
Ah! That dream! I get a lot o, but make we just dey go day after day (Laughs) because if we start to dey talk about dream…Everything is just by the grace of God. Because ordinarily, we are not supposed to be here. We are supposed to be somewhere else…
You’ve been in this property for years, why or when are you going to move to your personal property?
We are putting up something, and you will be the first to know when the time comes.
The name, Vivid Imagination is very unique, how did you come about it?
We dreamt it, we dreamt it. We fasted and prayed on what name we have to use for this business. My sister who happens to be very religious, my elder sister, Dupe and my younger sister who happens to be the arrowhead (Late Bimbo). We all had a vision of what we wanted and we prayed about it and the name came and that’s it.
Vivid Imagination used to be everywhere, but all of a sudden you changed tactic, why? What prompted your tactical withdrawal?
I became very religious (Laughs). I became very, very religious and my doctrine, the Catholic doctrine, frowns against doing those things, so I decided to take the back seat. But the business is still running, occupying the front seat.
NB: First published April 2014