Odunayo Ojo: The Fashion Archive

Every single day people watch over 5 billion Youtube videos. Each of us has personal reasons for that type of content consumption. I recently read a scholarly article about Youtube fashion and lifestyle non-face-to-face communication and how the platform became an "independent fashion medium that is not affected by time and space." Some time ago, I was emailing Central Saint Martins about their enrollment politics. It was also of great importance to find Youtube videos of a Central Saint Martins student currently undertaking a degree I want to pursue. My inquisitive nature always craves the so-called "insider piece of information," and I fancy turning to independent creators on social media. This time led me to encounter Odunayo Ojo's Youtube channel - The Fashion Archive. 

Odunayo Ojo is one of a few fashion commentators on this platform who creates witty, objective, and theory rich discourse about fashion. The Fashion Archive and Odunayo at its helm masterfully frame pivotal industry issues like diversity, sustainability, or ethics. His in-depth reviews of both current and past collections make it a stimulating watch for a varied fashion-curious crowd. 

I caught up with Odunayo via zoom to discuss what excites him in fashion, how it was to write an article for SLEEK magazine, and après Covid plans on going to Turkey. Read on.


Your background is in chemical engineering. What was your motivation to switch to fashion? 

Odunayo: I was always into fashion in the first place. Chemical engineering was not necessarily a career I wanted to pursue. In Nigerian culture, following a professional path that is not medicine or engineering is perceived as a failure. I undertook a degree that was socially expected of me. Nevertheless, while at the university, I was already interning in the fashion industry. After finishing university, I always knew I would carry on with fashion. Obviously, the first place I wanted to continue with was Central Saint Martins. 


"If fashion is someone's full-time job, obviously they should be intelligent in their subject matter"


On your website, Fashion Archive Mag, you have mentioned that two of your friends have introduced you to the fashion world, which then turned into a personal obsession. You talked about the initial monetary barrier of being in fashion. Do you think that fashion is more inclusive today? 

Odunayo: Social media helps to break down widespread elitism. Definitely, there are many improvements. My whole Youtube channel is built of me discussing clothes I do not own. Today, it is not required to be a millionaire to be taken as a part of a serious conversation. No elitist can affect my channel since people dictate either they like it or not. 


Odunayo Ojo. Courtesy of Odunayo


Social media succeeded in dismantling journalism gatekeeping as well. What are your thoughts on influencers and independent commentators' domination in fashion discourse? 

Odunayo: Personally, I feel like some established journalists are a bit jealous of not being as relevant as they used to. There are some great influencers I like, but there are the ones whom I do not understand. If fashion is someone's full-time job, obviously they should be intelligent in their subject matter. I do not recognize influencers who are almost like walking billboards - wearing whatever you pay them and lacking personal style. Still, I like those who have a narrative and educate their audiences. The issue with social media, though, is that there is no central regulation, which leads to wrong information reaching people daily. For instance, my Central Saint Martins lecturers watch Fashion Archive and email me if there is something incorrect. I believe that skilled journalists will always be relevant since people count on their professional ethics in research. 


What makes a good fashion journalist then, in your opinion? 

Odunayo: Generally, a good journalist is someone who does his/her research thoroughly. But personally, I believe that journalistic excellence goes a bit further. Finding unique stories and uncovering new things is kind of lost today. The majority of fashion publications would cover the same story about the Balenciaga show or Gucci show. As opposed to this method, at Central Saint Martins, we pitch our projects' stories to the lecturers and, if someone wrote about it before, the lecturer would not accept the idea. Personally, I want to have a balance between covering what is current in fashion but also finding newly-found narratives. After the lockdown, I plan on going to Turkey and research what fashion is about there. 


How do you go with your research process? 

Odunayo: Misinformation on the web is evil. The first stage is always books or documentaries because they are a trustworthy resource. Afterward, I would interview designers (if I can reach them out) or people close to them to get first-hand information. Lastly, I would go online and reaffirm if the information on the web aligns with my research. In most cases, it does align. 


You plan on launching your own magazine. Tell me more about it. 

Odunayo: My magazine would be centered on contemporary creatives. I want to bring about what I criticize in modern fashion journalism: finding new stories, discovering unknown talents, traveling to different countries, and learning about other cultures. I feel like there is no point in writing about Demna Gvasalia and other prominent designers because there are tons of stories about them. Obviously, when my financial side would be strong enough, I would implement various ideas for my magazine. 


How do you want your publication to differ from other indie magazines? 

Odunayo: My magazine would be very distinct from every publication that I know. The principal differentiation would be discovering things that have never been seen before. I feel a need to introduce people to something entirely unheard-of. Even my favorite magazines like System and Luncheon work upon the same model - finding the most influential people and covering them. Even though I am a huge fan of System, it is owned by LVMH, which means it uses plenty of conglomerate's designers. At the end of the day, the editorial team is still not finding unique stories. Reading something like System makes you learn as much about a designer as possible with the most immaculate commentary. But everyone knows who Marc Jacobs is, isn't it? When Covid is over, and I plan on traveling to Turkey. I would make an issue of my magazine mainly based on the whole Turkish fashion scene: streetwear, high-end fashion, factories, manufacturers. Thus said, my main objective is to inform you about entirely new things instead of presenting more "exclusive" facts about already famous people. 


"At Central Saint Martins, they teach us the importance of being educated before forming an opinion"


I feel like the content you produce is very objective in its nature. Fashion is known to be a subjective field. How do you achieve being so skillful at delivering information in that manner? 

Odunayo: At Central Saint Martins, they teach us the importance of being educated before forming an opinion. As a matter of fact, one can not have a viewpoint without the knowledge gathered by research. I feel like many fashion people are so opinionated on the issues they have not even looked at. In general, people would just hear others' judgments and accept them without knowing the meaning. For instance, there is a gigantic dissatisfaction with Hedi Slimane at Céline and a nostalgic cult for Phoebe Philo in charge of the house. But does Phoebe Philo own Céline? Is she the sole designer who reigned in the house? It is essential to realize that there were designers before her and would be the ones after her.  

Moreover, some aspects in fashion are not subjective: a designer's background, what exactly inspired the collection, the business side, the historical side. Those are precisely the topics I am uncovering in my videos. Afterward, it is for people to watch and decide either they aesthetically correlate with a collection or not. 


Why have you decided to do your journalism practice in the medium of videos? Why not writing articles? Do you feel like YouTube is a better vehicle to deliver opinions on fashion? 

Odunayo: I started my YouTube channel quite a while ago. The Fashion Archive is two years old, but before it, I used to have another channel. The reason for launching a new channel was the videos' quality, which I did not feel was excellent. Around that time, I used to ask people how they get their fashion news. Not to my surprise, plenty of people found reading articles boring, and YouTube seemed like the best platform. When I started my channel, the only type of video on fashion was "how to style?". People just showed off their outfits and did makeup tutorials. Talking about references to runway shows was not common, and I was afraid people would think, "Who is this pretentious guy?" Honestly, I have not expected such a massive following for Fashion Archive. 


Odunayo Ojo. Courtesy of Odunayo


You have more than 50K subscribers today. What do you know about Fashion Archive's audience, and how do you interact with them? 

Odunayo: Jesus, I speak to people every day and receive hundreds of messages on social media. Obviously, I am a human being and can not physically answer every one, but I talk to as many people as possible. It is weird not to talk to people who put me in this position in the first place. They are the ones who gave me that privilege, and I will always have time to communicate with them. On top of that, many crazily important people watched my channel and became my friends. When I used to have 2,000 subscribers, Iolo Edwards from High Fashion Talk discovered me on YouTube and hired me. I was going to fashion shows and reviewed collections for his publication. Today, we are pretty good friends and see each other often. You never know who can come your way, so it is necessary to interact with people. 

As for the type of crowd, it is a diverse mix. I can receive messages from 15 years olds and people in their 50s or 60s. Many young people share their perspectives on fashion when I do not even recall what I was doing at their age. For my fashion history videos, people who lived at the époque of Vivienne Westwood message and tell me more about how they used to live back then and go to all the iconic places around Vivienne. It is crazy - I made Vivienne Westwood video based on books I have read, and they lived through the times. 


Do you have plans for the future growth of the channel? 

Odunayo: I hope to get more sponsors. Fashion commentary videos will remain, but I plan to create documentaries when I am in a better financial position. 


"YouTube is already a serious platform, and its amount of inspiring stuff is crazy"


I have read your article on SLEEK magazine about Kim Jones at Fendi and also watched panel discussions on SHOWstudio, where you have participated. How did it happen? 

Odunayo: As for the SHOWstudio panel discussion, one of my friends was the host, and he got to pick the panelists. After that, SHOWstudio started following me. The situation with SLEEK magazine was funnier, though. When Kim Jones announced joining Fendi, I have decided to do a live stream on that. I felt like I had much more to say than in an ordinary 20-minute video. I went through Fendi's history, the history of Kim Jones, analyzed the intersection, and made my assumption on what Kim Jones could potentially perform at Fendi. The live stream was excessively detailed: the designer's path from Central Saint Martins to Louis Vuitton, numerous images and videos from runway shows. To my surprise, a myriad of influential people watched my live stream, and a few editors contacted me afterward, saying they loved it and want me to write an article covering the topic. Choosing SLEEK magazine was due to its greater financial reward. Through that experience, I have realized that I can write more in terms of journalism - a testament to my lecturers at Central Saint Martins. They have been influencing my writing style all way long. YouTube is already a serious platform, and its amount of inspiring stuff is crazy. Granted, I assume the editors acknowledge I study fashion journalism. 


Do you believe that social media has only positive aspects, following your success on YouTube and a massive following on Instagram? Or are there some drawbacks to it? 

Odunayo: Everything has a pinch of bad. With information overload on social media platforms, people need to learn how to use them for the right reasons. All that comes to a personal regulation of the content consumed. Personally, I believe that social media is excellent, and numerous creatives have a chance to share inoffensive educational commentary. On the flip side, though, people misinform or promote disliked products for monetary gain. For some reason, people are addicted to chaos and drama. For instance, there is a makeup YouTuber Jeffree Star who always gets himself in controversies, including racism and homophobia. Despite one controversy coming after the other, he still boasts a cult YouTube following. I believe that people continue watching him because they seek drama and negativity. In our digital age, it is crucial to pick and choose the type of content creator. It is an individual choice - informative or hateful social media. 


Tell me about your student life at Central Saint Martins. 

Odunayo: I would describe it as challenging but blissful at the same time. At Central Saint Martins, we have loads of work given by the most prominent lecturers ever. Clare Coulson worked for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar and interviewed every big name in fashion - Marc Jacobs, Tom Ford, etc. Judith Watt is the brains of the course. She is the course leader and fashion historian who published great history books. There is probably nothing you know that she does not know. We had a project about designers, and I picked an obscure one like Thebe Magugu. The project aimed to focus on the designer's work and to interview people close to him. When I presented my idea to Judith Watt, she said Thebe Magugu is a really good friend of hers. Judith Watt is the type of person who knows everyone in the industry and can get you in contact with so many inspirational people. Because of Central Saint Martins's reputation, people like Imran Amed (Business of Fashion) and Kerry Taylor (Kerry Taylor Auctions) lecture us too. Imran Amed is a fashion expert and a founder of Business of Fashion. As for Kerry Taylor, she is a famous archivist of antique fashion and does auctions on that. She even published a book on John Galliano because of the excessive first-hand knowledge of the designer's work. Moreover, she collects Schiaparelli's dresses from the 1940s and handles the finest antique garments. 


"In our digital age, it is essential to pick and choose the type of content creator"


Is there something you want to improve in your work? 

Odunayo: I want to have more direction in the writing part. Since I started drafting for various publications, I learn how essential it is to pitch accordingly. It may sound easy, but in reality, it is much more complicated. Every publication has a specific focus. It is impossible to pitch the same idea to multiple magazines. For instance, the Business of Fashion is about business, so you can not present a cultural narrative to them. In contrast, Dazed might want to run it. It is the skill I am currently cultivating with the help of my lectures at Central Saint Martins.


Odunayo Ojo. Courtesy of Odunayo


Do you think young creatives need to get a degree in fashion to get noticed by industry professionals? Or is it enough to be just talented? 

Odunayo: Having a degree is expected in journalism since all the people you will compete against have the degree. Breaking into that industry without an academic background would be almost impossible since it is not a creative field. Indeed, the difference between a journalistic degree and a design degree is that you can launch something of your own without credentials, in the case of the latter, if you have talent. A bit of capital saved, and you can proceed with just that. Designers like Jacquemus did not study fashion design. He staged his first show and received press coverage from thereon. However, having a more experimental approach fused with better ideas is essential to start a successful label. Personally, I feel like studying design is invaluable since you only refine technical skills. Despite that, people are put in a position where refining such skills is unlikely unless enrolling in a fashion school.

What I mean by that is not everyone can become Alexander McQueen. Everyone says he was already established before enrolling in Central Saint Martins. He interned for four years in a row at Savile Row Tailor Anderson & Sheppard, followed by working for Gieves & Hawkes - both meccas for tailoring. Afterward, he was a design assistant for avant-garde Italian designer Romeo Gigli in Milan, where he refined his tailoring and pattern making skills with a creative twist. By the time Alexander McQueen applied to Central Saint Martins, they had sought he had applied as a teacher. The most valuable part of his fashion education was networking. Central Saint Martins gave him connections and an introduction to Isabella Blow. She was the one who brought all the press, and it kind of blew up from thereon. The networking opportunity British education provides is a good investment, which can pay off in the long term if you play the game right. On the contrary, paying USD 70,000 per year in the American Parsons makes no sense to me. 


Isabella Blow at Paris Fashion Week, 1999. Photo by Bill Cunningham


You have mentioned Isabella Blow and Alexander McQueen, which made me think about mental health. Both are known to have commit suicide, and I feel like their career in fashion has contributed to this lethal decision. Do you feel like there is enough attention being put into the mental health problem in fashion? 

Odunayo: To answer your question, I feel like there is no big focus on mental health issues in fashion. The two do not coexist together. Fashion is an industry, which does not really care about psychological problems in general. It is expected to work until midnight and come back at 4 am the next morning. Simply put, it is a high-stress industry not everyone can cope up with. Due to the lack of attention to the problem, designers continue to get jobs they can not handle. For example, Kim Jones at Dior and Fendi or Matthew Williams at Alyx and Givenchy. The same would apply to Demna Gvasalia at Balenciaga and Vetements simultaneously, which led him to quit the latest. Designers are putting too much on their plate, and I do not think the fashion industry genuinely cares about the consequences it implies.


Despite all of the controversies of fashion, why do you think so many young people are interested in it. If compared to the generation of our parents. 

Odunayo: Social media is the reason. Back in times, fashion was reserved for a particular circle, and getting information about it without being a part of that circle was nearly impossible. Historically, publications like Vogue or Harper's Bazaar targeted an affluent upper-class audience, and people who were not on the same social scale were left out from the fashion conversation. With social media's emergence, being a millionaire to read about womenswear is no longer relevant. You can click on Women's Wear Daily and get all the updates in a matter of seconds. Our generation has more access to information than any of the previous generations. Before us, people visited libraries to get educated. 


In which direction do you feel the print fashion media is going? 

Odunayo: The print is not dead; it depends on how you market it. In the first place, I feel like print magazines are working the wrong way around. They all have started as print media. Because of digitalization, everyone launched websites and social media accounts, but it is just a supplement to the print. Thus said, magazines should use digital platforms to drive traction to the actual printed publication. Most of them struggle and have no idea how to properly transition. For instance, Harper's Bazaar was at a loss this year (2020).

Besides, magazines that do not change their business model will fizzle out of relevance because of our age's information overload. Some of them provide information about trends etc., but it is not meaningful enough to warrant people buying it. People are much more educated in fashion compared to how things used to be. I feel like people would not care about magazines that have nothing important to say. Vogue is one of them because they slap a celebrity on the cover and talk about trends. When a person have found an individual style, why should they care about trends? It is much more valuable to pick magazines like System or Luncheon - the number of deep conversations and research leaves you educated after reading it. To conclude, a print magazine would always be relevant, but it is important to know how digital applies. 


How would you describe your personal style? 

Odunayo: I would describe it as minimal. Jill Sander minimal, to be precise. I do not really wear crazy colors but prefer clothes with stimulating shapes and silhouettes, which is basically what Jil Sander is.


"And in fashion, even within white people, there is no diversity. The type of people that work in Vogue is always very upper-class British blonde with blue eyes"


What is the direction of fashion in the next year, in your opinion? 

Odunayo: For starters, it is obviously going even more digital. Everything physical struggled the most due to Covid-19. I believe that influencers would be the only option for the brands since there is no point in spending the marketing budget on billboards - the majority of countries are under lockdown. Every single type of influencer would be more relevant than ever. I also feel like there would be more inclusivity in fashion. The Black Lives Matter movement has definitely affected this shift. More and more people educate themselves on what is going on in the world, which is positive to see. However, when it comes to diversity, people always think of it as very black and white - black people and white people. And in fashion, even within white people, there is no diversity. The type of people that work in Vogue is always very upper-class British blonde with blue eyes. I do not see any people from places as close as Russia taking the positions. It is still about people from France, England, and Italy.


Odunayo Ojo. Courtesy of Odunayo 


Taking it further to the diversity matter, what are your thoughts on cultural appropriation? I remember the Russian hype about Gosha Rubchinskiy in the West, and it felt weird to me, as for a person coming from a post-soviet country. How do you think people in fashion should appreciate non-western cultures in the right way? 

Odunayo: It comes down to education. Many people do not understand what forms an inspiration. There is always a darker meaning. I believe that many people do not realize that most of Demna Gvasalia's work is influenced by the fact he fled the war in Georgia. The way people viewed Gosha Rubchinskiy and Demna Gvasalia's clothes was almost like a fetish. It is too easy to say a brand is cool and then move on because it takes less work. Unfortunately, most people are going to do just that. 


Since people are socio-politically aware, how can fashion brands manage their business accordingly? In contrast to being just hypocritical to Black Lives Matter, Pride Month, etc.? 

Odunayo: The problem with most designers is that they lack cultural awareness. To be honest, I am in a privileged position since I have experienced living in Nigeria, London, and other parts of England. Because of living in so many places so far, I have accumulated awareness of what people may take as offensive culturally. Most designers are upper-class, living in their neighborhood for the majority of their lives. Since they do not have living experiences with other cultures, awareness can not form itself. It is okay to learn, and I feel like more designers should invest their time into it. That is why Prada and Gucci have hired the diversity council to tell them: "Oh, that will come as hyper offensive to some people." If a designer takes influence from a particular country, he/she should genuinely emerge themselves into that country, its history, and culture. Designers who do not care enough would stop being relevant. Dries Van Noten takes a lot of inspiration from Japan, but at the same time, he travels to the country, emerges himself into the culture, and hires models from the region. His inspiration is not taken as a fetish but rather a homage to the artists and creators. It is all about education on authenticity. Brands that do not study it would be out of business, like Dolce&Gabbana in China. 


What inspires you in fashion right now? 

Odunayo:  Now I am learning the history of fashion, so all the things I am reading right now excite me. Recently, I have been doing a lot of research on Ozwald Boateng. Many people assume that Virgil Abloh was the first black artistic director in a major house, but it was actually Ozwald Boateng. He was the creative designer of the men's division of Givenchy in 2003 - 2006. Ozwald Boateng refined classical British tailoring. Reading about him inspires me a lot at the moment.


Odunayo at SHOWstudio panel discussion


What are your opinions on Spring Summer 2021 going mostly digital? What would you choose: digital or real life? 

Odunayo: Digital runways were necessary because they democratized fashion and adapted to pandemic reality. Many young people felt left out when it comes to fashion shows. For Spring Summer 2021, though, everyone watched it online, and there was no special treatment. With that way of presenting new collections, brands can reach a wider audience and make more people a part of the conversation. 

In terms of longevity and real emotions, real-life presentations are always better, in my opinion. For instance, Alexander McQueen made everyone remember his shows and talk about them till the end of time. If he was about to run it digitally, I would not suggest it would have been the same feeling. At the end of the day, not each and every collection intends to be on the runway. Commercial collections that are rather wearable without a particular theme or uncomplicated setting should not be a part of the Fashion Week schedule, in my view. 


Which collections of Spring-Summer 2021 were your favorites? 

Odunayo: I liked Fendi for the actual clothing, even though the show was held IRL. Rick Owens and Undercover were good, especially 3D scanned models and clothing of Undercover. I was a big fan of how Prada handled their show too. 


"If a designer takes influence from a particular country, he/she should genuinely emerge themselves into that country, its history, and culture"


Do you value the material side of clothing or the emotional? 

Odunayo: I definitely attach importance to emotions in clothing. Buying apparel that does not have a narrative is just pure capitalism unless it is very utilitarian in nature, like cargo pants with many pockets. If I spend a certain amount on clothing, I want to have an exciting story behind its creation. I believe that designers can educate people. Thebe Magugu's work, on whom I am doing my project at Central Saint Martins, is almost like a history lesson of South Africa. South African traditions are so deeply rooted in the inspiration for his collections that researching this fashion designer enables one to learn more about the country and its people. Some designers have so much to tell.


Last but not least, what advice can you give to people who want to be in fashion but do not know where to start? 

Odunayo: Take one step at a time. I know many people who want to wake up and be Alexander Fury, but that is just not physically possible. Learning about fashion is a time question. Everyone can build a knowledge foundation naturally over some time. Google, do a bit more research, find Youtube creators who can introduce you to unknown aspects of fashion. 

Besides, fashion is a networking business. In the fashion industry, you do not get hired based on how professional you are but based on how many people you know. My first job in fashion happened to be by randomly speaking to a woman from the fashion brand. The biggest advice would be to go and approach people - you never know whom you can meet. 

Check out Odunayo's YouTube channel The Fashion Archive