This piece was originally published by American Vogue in September 2016
As soon as Ebele Ojechi finished showing the new collection for her line, Bëlë, in the basement of Ace Hotel London Shoreditch last night, her friends and fans invaded the stage. The good vibes in the room were palpable as crowds leaned in to take a closer look at the corduroy streetwear looks and read exactly what the text messages on retro flip-phone prints said: BRB and G2G—they were social media gold, BTW.
The 23-year-old British-Nigerian designer Ebele Ojechi, who recently graduated from the London College of Fashion, and her identical twin sister, Chiamaka, are already destined for Instagram fame, with accounts @chiandebs and @bele.bele.bele featuring dozens of striking portraits. Art directed by Chiamaka, who oversees the visuals of the label, and photographed by their friend Joshua Allen, the images of the sisters appear powerful as they twin against a variety of colorful backdrops. “The shoots are just fun, that’s the only time we really dress the same on purpose,” says Ebele after the show. “Sometimes we’ll leave the house separately and we’ll meet up later and be wearing the same thing without even knowing. Our parents dressed us the same a lot when we were kids, so maybe that’s got something to do with it?’”
In short, they’re the perfect poster girls for their label, one that aims to bring some genuine flavor back onto the sportswear scene. “I was bored of seeing the same silhouettes on the streets everywhere,” says Ebele. “I felt there was a need for some diversity in sportswear.”
Modeled by men at the presentation, but equally as cool in a woman’s wardrobe, as demonstrated by the sisters themselves, Bëlë’s debut collection, Area Boys, was inspired by the duo’s Nigerian roots, specifically their family’s photo albums from the ’70s. “There were amazing pictures of guys wearing these wide-sleeved kaftans, I’d never seen anything like them before,” Ebele explains. “They were the style that affluent Nigerians would wear in the ’70s and ’80s and when I saw them I knew I wanted to translate those shapes into sportswear.”
Rendered in high-performance, recycled fabrics and emblazoned with logos and popping heritage colors, the vintage kaftan shapes give a distinct new shape to familiar sportswear tropes, like the anorak. From a distance, Bëlë’s repeat patterns look like they could actually be traditional African prints—it’s only when you get up close that you spot the witty, millennial motifs. “The brand is all about mixing African and British cultures, so you’ll notice twists like the heritage corduroy panels and the British youth slogans,” says Ebele. “I wanted it to evoke feelings of nostalgia for different people and feel like there was a story beyond just wearing another logo.”