As we premiere its debut video, get to know Ifeoma's creative polymath designer, who approaches fashion through historical research and unexpected contemporary connections.
Reva Ochuba has always been insatiably curious about the world around her. "Growing up, I was really into music videos," the 24-year-old designer tells me over the phone from her native Los Angeles. "I was one of those kids who would watch shows about how Beyoncé's 'Baby Boy' music video was made." Though Ochuba's newborn brand, Ifeoma, has little to do with noir-ish belly dancing scenes or Jamaican dancehall dutty wines, her analytical and inquisitive nature shapes the clothing she creates. "I look at the brand as a researched-based platform, which allows me to engage in the practices that I find more efficient, like writing or reading up on things."
Ochuba — who has worked as a studio assistant for Eckhaus Latta, and as an editorial assistant for 032c — presented her debut Ifeoma collection during New York Fashion Week this past spring/summer 17 season. The collection was inspired by Reva's research about the medieval and Renaissance eras. Of particular interest: "sumptuary laws," or rules that govern consumption. "There was a point at which it was decided that if you were of the peasant class, you weren't allowed to wear velvet, or to have certain things unless you were of a certain nobility," Ochuba explains. "So if you were seen wearing these prohibited things, then you could legitimately have your head cut off!"
Ochuba's collection incorporates such politically loaded luxurious materials: faux pearl buttons, upholstery fabrics like velvet and corduroy, and chain mail-esque knits. In a new campaign video — which makes its premiere on i-D today — Reva creates a world in which her historical influences and their contemporary connections collide. Directed by Htat Htut and styled by Matt Holmes along with Yeezy consultant and Ifeoma creative advisor Greg Ross, the video sees an eclectic tribe of well-dressed but careless lay abouts lounge around a penthouse while the world around them falls into disorder. "I thought that kind of un-relatability is so prominent in social media — presenting an unrealistic reality to people and playing it off as something that's kind of attainable, when it really isn't," Ochuba explains of the link between the 1300s and the digital age.
As you dive into Ifeoma's complex vision of opulence, get to know its ambitious young designer.
Under 14th century sumptuary law, certain people would seriously get beheaded if they were caught wearing velvet? That's wild.
I know, it's really ridiculous! But these were some of the first rules civilization ever had, and I think they're really telling of how we consider capitalism, and think about economics today. Capitalism serves those with the most before it serves people with nothing. My design process is based in research, so I love to make connections, and to find patterns in things; I like to think about things from a theoretical or philosophical perspective. I also write, so I don't make moodboards a lot of the time — I just start writing things.
I was going to ask you about that, actually, because I'd read that you'd written for 032c.
Yeah, I interned for them two years ago, and then this summer they asked me to come back as an editorial assistant. I write for Ssense, too.
How has working as both an editor and a designer shaped your creative process, or even the way you understand fashion?
I know how to draw and to sketch, I make my own patterns and do my own sewing, but it's really important to me that my clothes resonate within a time in history. I'll start with a design idea and then I might begin recalling things I've read recently or that I've been thinking about in politics, and that helps me relate to my clothes. I think my clothes are more personal in that way, because I get really caught up in things — I get really caught up in how clothing influences the way you're seen in society, and I think theoretical perspectives and critical thinking is sometimes lacking in fashion. So I try to keep my clothes friendly, but there's always some metaphorical meaning behind it. I think it's important to tell a story, which is why I decided to do a video. Sending my clothes down the runway for two minutes doesn't encapsulate the entire six months I've spent doing research, drawing, editing, traveling to make these ten looks. I feel like putting it in an environment, recording it, and documenting it is more validating; it's more vindicating to see [the video] complete than to let people assume so much by having models walk down the runway.
Let's talk about the video. What were its creative starting points or guiding ideas?
I was thinking about how it could be ridiculously over the top — as a debut brand, but also in terms of what my clothing stands for. I was trying to do something really hierarchical. I rented out a really beautiful loft space from the early 1900s in New York and I wanted the models to present this bourgeois feel in modern times. They're clearly doing nothing — living it up while everything around them is falling apart; the world around them is in disorder, but they're just hanging out on a bed with a plate of oysters. They have no responsibility or regard for what's going on around them, because they're so sheltered by the privilege that they've had. I wanted it to be an over-the-top, elitist-looking thing. And I thought it was super important to cast people you wouldn't necessarily put in the position that the video is trying to claim: these high-status, privileged nobodies. Winners write history, but I kind of wanted to re-write it. It's idealistic to me.
What's next for you?
I worked for Eckhaus Latta for three years; [Mike and Zoe] took me in when I literally knew nothing, they showed me the fundamentals. Through them, I learned how to build a brand — not just how to stay true to a vibe and an aesthetic, but how I could actually create my own brand. I don't know if they know this, but they really helped me see that this is something I can do as a human being by myself. So right now, I'm reorganizing to make Ifeoma into something more tangible. I'm really into casinos at the moment, so I'm going to start researching the history of casinos; I'm consumed with the ideas behind gambling — of chance, of all or nothing. I'm also working on a furniture collaboration with the digital rendering artist Tom Hancocks. And I'm trying to graduate!
In the future, I want to grow the brand out; I want to do everything from dishes and flatware to furniture — anything I can get my hands on. There's room for research and development in any industry, and that's what excites me most. Fashion is my first love, but I've been approached to do other things, and I'm like, "Why not?" You get inspired by different things, and it really does mold how you feel about the world and what's going on around you. Inspiration breeds inspiration, and you never know where you're going to end up.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Isabel Dietz-Hartmann