Nollywood Glamour | 17 May 2011 09:29 CET

Modelling was interesting in my time –Frank Osodi

By Temitope David-Adegboye


Though he is known more as a designer, Frank Osodi Richard is a man of many parts. He was a celebrated model, and now a model manager and make-up artist, among others. Incredibly talented, he has made a name for himself locally and internationally. He joins three others today for an exhibition of lace designs in conjunction with the Austrian Embassy at Eko Hotel, Lagos. In this interview with Asst. Life Editor, Temitope David-Adegboye, 'King of Bustier', as he fondly called, talks about his passion and what he hopes to do when he retires.

You have been quiet for a while. What has been happening to you?

I've been trying to really settle down with my business and take it to the next level. I'm a lot more into bridal wears lately and that is very time- consuming especially working with the accessories that one has to work with. At the same time, I've assumed the position of president of Professional Models Association of Nigeria (PROMAN) and we are trying to re-engineer the modelling profession in Nigeria properly and put it where it is supposed to be.

Is there any particular reason why you decided to do more of bridal wears now?

Yes, it's very intricate in producing and it entails a lot of creativity and very time-consuming. It's a girl's special day and all the focus is on the bride, so one needs to put in the best to ensure that the style suits. You know Nigerians want something different all the time and that doesn't come easy at all. You have to check around and think well so it doesn't look like you are copying a style from anywhere. You must get that uniqueness that all brides desire.

Where do you get the accessories?

Well, from around, in America and everywhere, even in Lagos.

What is the minimum prize a bride can get a special dress from House of Bunor?

It's N250, 000 because what we are doing here is couture. It's not like you are buying off the rack. If you come here, we consult and discuss with you to try and let you know the thing that will fit you most.

Are there any challenges involved in doing that?

The main challenges we face are with some brides who have a particular picture of dress on their mind and most times do not get the statistics. And it takes a lot of convincing before they see what you are saying and agree to your point of view. Some people come here with the Cinderella style on their mind and their statistics are not just right for the style.

You said earlier that you recently assumed the position of the president of Professional Models Association of Nigeria. In your opinion, how would you rate the modelling industry in the country?

The modelling industry is presently in a position where a re-birth is taking place. During my time, modelling was very interesting. I was better known as a model than a designer. That's one of the reasons my label is not as popular as my name. I was celebrated more as a model in Nigeria. After our set phased out, so many things went wrong. Designers couldn't do shows, models were not really working and advertising agencies were having problems with being paid by their clients, so they were equally having problems paying the models. So, a lot of jobs started going abroad. They shoot a lot of adverts in South Africa now, so the industry was going down.

The other problem is that some people are also beginning to run their own model management in-house, which is not good for the industry. At a point, anybody could be a model. But things are turning around for good now. The industry was going down and some people in the industry were beginning to run their own bottom management business, and this is not really good. We had a lot of challenges, the industry was dying and at a point, anybody could be a model. Now things have turned around. The professional models association has come on board. It is duly registered, we have professional models as members; models who have modeled in the past and present, models who pay taxes and we will ultimately meet with Advertising Practitioners Council of Nigeria (APCON) to appreciate us and know that we are here to stay. We are working on a few things, hoping that in a few months from now we will get a step further which is agreeing on fees and fixing it. There was an event recently by APCON and I was invited to state our case, which I did. We got a lot of support from there. That is a very good step forward for PROMAN. After fixing the fees, we want to ensure that they probably cut down on jobs taken abroad, so that they can appreciate our models here.

There are so many model hunt projects that come out just for the fun it. At the end of it, winners do not even get what they are promised. What is your association doing to bring in sanity?

We are still working on the situation where the government will get to listen to us as the authority in the industry so that we can tell them how things are done. We have to be able to educate them that before anybody does any model search or pageant there must be some things in place. There must be an arm in government that will monitor such events so that whoever is promising a car as gift for the winner has the car ready before the grand finale. The body must ensure that all the prizes promised are available before they give the go ahead to anybody to organise any pageant of any sort. If the person does so without getting things ready properly, there must be a penalty for it.

Is the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) not supposed to be in charge of this monitoring?

Well, it beats my imagination that all these things are still happening and nobody is being called to order. Everybody is giving out awards to models; everybody is doing one form of competition or the other with young boys and girls, which you journalists know about. And the boys and girls are crying and NTDC is not doing anything about it. It beats my imagination if the body is doing anything about it. I can't see anything that they are doing in that light.

Has your organisation tried to reach NTDC?

We haven't gotten to that point yet. We have so many problems to sort out, especially getting fees fixed for models that are really working

You also identified the problem of designers not having shows again as a problem in the industry. What do you think is responsible for this?

It's the economy. A lot of organisations will rather put their money on football or music now than on any fashion show. Designers are rather to look for their own money to host their shows and you and I know that the economy is not really buoyant enough for that. You have a lot to do to run a successful business; like running generator for the whole day. That takes a lot from you as a designer. That is why most designers cannot afford to do a small show, to showcase their new designs to a select audience using professional models. During our time, we used to do shows every month or quarterly and this helped. We have been trying to host the West Africa Fashion Week for sometime, which I think is going to bring a big boost to the Nigerian economy. But up till now, we have not been able to do it.

Can you put a figure to the number of people you have trained as fashion designers?

I've trained quiet a number; say like 10-15 serious ones. Some of them are seriously working from home because of lack of funds to open a big shop. But they have to start somewhere. I started from somewhere, so they are in order. I know they will get there. Some have small shops somewhere. I also know that some left because they couldn't handle the pressure. They keep asking me how I cope. My answer usually is that they were part of the system when they were in training so they should know how to handle it. It's a tough business but it's rewarding at the end. But you have to be able to work late nights, long hours, and take tough decisions to get what you want. You have to get the satisfaction of your customers. Your customers are the glamour and you a resource person. You can't be contesting with them. If you understand it from that point of view, you'll not be having problems.

As someone who has been in the industry for more than two decades, would you say the industry is where it should be?

It's not because we have a peculiar market in Nigeria. People don't like buying from the store. Everybody likes that uniqueness about what they wear. So, even when they see Princess Diana's dress they still get to a designer and want a twist to it. These are not gotten off the shelf. This aso ebi culture is also making it difficult for people to patronise shops. Otherwise, we probably will be producing in bulk and putting it in shops for people to go and buy. But Nigerians don't believe in that. They want everybody to be buying the same thing. That makes it difficult for us to mass-produce. Every designer is doing haute couture.

Another thing is that we are not exporting. Nobody is buying bulk from local designers. We are still busy producing for local content. We don't have the capacity to export. And even if we do, who would buy from us? That image problem is there. I don't know what they are doing about that.

The government is not also giving the designers support enough to showcase their designs internationally. We need international exposure. It doesn't come cheap. A few designers like Remi Lagos, DAKOVA, Deola Sagoe, Jimi Delaja, and Tiffany Amber and I have been able to use our money to showcase abroad but how far can it go. How long can we keep doing this? These are monies we worked for that we could turn around for something else. But what can we do? We are here in Nigeria and we know things are happening abroad but we may not be able to attend always.

We also have those few Nigerians who are giving the country a bad image so that nobody wants to do business with us, especially via the Internet. It's that bad.

So, I'll say, we are not really there, but we are working hard. We can produce, we are good in what we are doing but we need to be encouraged by the government by giving us the right visibility out there and giving us the right business platform with our international counterparts.

What would be your advice for any young guy out there who wants to go into this business of fashion?

I don't like it when people see this business as a last resort or they just come into it because 'they like fashion.' You have to really be sure that this is really what you want to do. That you like fashion doesn't have anything to do with cutting, sewing and taking care of customers. Some young guys find it difficult dealing with customers. They see every client as being abusive despite them having money. A customer is a customer. You must be able to draw the line. You should be able to look at a customer and know what will suit a particular body. You should know what to flatter and what to tone down. You also must know the right colours that suit a particular complexion. What event is the person attending and at what time of the day. These are all that are necessary to take into consideration in catering for a client. And you have to be able to assimilate these all the time and put it to play every time you have to attend to a client. Once NEPA strikes, what are you going to do to make sure that deadlines are met? Are you ready to pedal the machine if the generator is not working on days like these? Can you iron with charcoal iron and not get clothes burnt? You have to be able to go through all these.

Do we have good tailors that can compete favourably with their counterparts outside Nigeria in terms of finishing?

I'm particular about finishing but like I was saying earlier, if you don't know why you are in the business, you'll never be able to get the best from your tailors. It all depends on you the owner of the business. How much do you know about fashion? It's what you want them to give you that they would. If they don't get it right, you tell them to do it again until you are satisfied. If you don't know any better, they'll give you what they know which will necessarily not be the best. Look at our clothes, you can't fault our finishing because I know what it should look like and I can do anything to get it. Internationally, some people just sew the sleeve, some the collar and others the body. Not all tailors know about everything. So you have to identify your strength and latch in on it.

You are known more as the King of Bustier, was it something you went all out to learn to do?

I think over the year, I just learnt to work with the woman's body and try to understand it. So I started to find out how to get it done well. I experimented a lot and found out that for African women, we don't have one size. It is either the boobs are bigger or the waist is bigger.

Have you ever had issues with your clients in terms of them not truly liking a particular outfit?

It has happened a couple of times but it was not because we didn't do our job, its either they didn't come for fitting and when they come back they have added weight. However, we always insist on fitting

Has being a designer affected your wardrobe?

I'm not really one you can categorise in the best-dressed category. I know what to wear and I try to wear them. If I find them too cumbersome, I take them off and I don't go for the event. But I like my things simple and my colour well coordinated. I don't like to wear something and people are telling me it is very good. Once I hear that, I feel like a Christmas tree. That makes me very uncomfortable. I dress down most of the times.

When you are less busy, what do you do?

Every little time I have, I try to enjoy my home and enjoy my DSTV subscription that I pay for monthly.

What do you have most in your wardrobe?

Obviously I have suits in there but I have most of my white T-shirts that I wear to work and my knickers. They are comfortable for me to work with. I have about 20 pairs of white T-shirts that I wear to work. I like fragrances too.

Are you a designer freak?

Not really. Most of my perfumes are gifts and when I use them and I like the smell of it I'm stuck. I collect perfumes a lot. I've been stuck with Python for sometime now. Perfumes are the only fad I have.

Who are three female style icons that you admire?

Ibidun Ighodalo. She is a beautiful woman. She is a muse for House of Bunor. She wears our clothes and it comes out very well on her body. I have a client, Mrs. Ifeyinwa Nwamuma. She is not particularly a celebrity but she is a wonderful dresser. She has a wonderful body. There is another woman that I'll say anytime she comes out you can't fault her dressing. She is Nike Ogunlesi of Ruff 'n' Tumble. She knows what to wear and colurs to wear to suit her personality. And that is what dressing is all about. It's about knowing what to wear to suit your personality. I have a couple of other clients that are not really celebrities too. Another lady that might surprise you is Mrs. Abimbola Fashola. She wears what makes her comfortable and I appreciate that as well in her. She is not competing with any other person. She is not trying to outdo any other person and she is not trying to dress as if 'I am the first lady'. She is comfortable with who she is and when you consult with her she puts that across to you. That, I appreciate a lot

The way you speak makes one wonder if you will ever retire as a designer.

I can't retire completely as a designer but there will be a point where we will let younger people take over. And then we will diversify into running a fashion academy where we will have the opportunity to instill what we know unto younger ones who aspire to be like us. And then maybe playing music at my older age.

Can you sing?

You'll be shocked. I sing well.

What album should we be looking forward to from you?

Jazz, R&B, soul and other rhythmic tunes.

Is it for want of time that you have not explored that passion of yours?

Yes, time is not readily there. But I will soon do something. I used to be a backup singer. I did for Yinka Davies at some point. I started out with Sunny Neji. But this business was on my mind and I think I've done my best. At some point, I will return to music.

One highpoint that got many people look your way was when you designed the dress that ex-Miss World Agbani Darego wore at the finals. When are we going to have a repeat of that?

Everybody makes reference to that and I say by the grace of God, we will. I tell people that I didn't feel it until I started receiving calls from everywhere in the world. I was already used to seeing my clothes on TV and magazines. But when my friends started calling, I then knew this is about going international. However, we've done other remarkable things. Some other shows outside Nigeria on You Tube and CNN. We've done a lot in the past. There is, however, room to do lots more. Like what we are doing with Austrian Embassy on Saturday (today). It was remarkable the very first time we did it last year when a country is inviting only four Nigerian designers to celebrate a style factory in Australia. I did the show with Tiffany Amber, Ituen Basi and Vivid Imagination.

What is your lowest point in this business?

When the generator is down and you can't work and you have a client to fit or deliver clothes to. I feel so down.

Are style writers doing enough for the industry?

They are doing more than what they are supposed to be doing. Without them, nobody will know us. I've never advertised in the papers. And everywhere I go, like in the airport, once I drop my passport, people are asking, 'so you are the Frank?' My name precedes me. It's not because I'm the best but because some people write about me. I think even for the young ones that are not supposed to be celebrated, you celebrate them in a bid to discover new talents.

What's next after your show with the Austrian Embassy at Eko Hotel today?

I will be participating in a show in London and then by October I hope we will be able to do the West Africa Fashion Week.

You have worked with so many women that people are beginning to ask the question when will Frank get married?

That one, we will leave it. When I'm going to get married, you will get to know. Right now, I'm married to the clothes that I make and all our customers. Even I cannot wait to eat the rice and chop the cake and wear my wedding suit. I've made a lot for people; I want to wear my own.

Who is your ideal woman?

An ideal woman for me is someone ready to laugh and happy to meet people

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