With Christmas just weeks away, U.S. first lady Michelle Obama has enlisted Nigerian-born fashion designer Duro Olowu and other creative masterminds to decorate the White House for the holidays. In a recent interview with Elle magazine, the already-elegant features of the Vermeil room were used as “a backdrop for a magical and surrealistic festive atmosphere,” Olowu said.
"My idea [was] to create a beautiful feast for the eyes reminiscent of a warm and joyful season filled with international treasures and signature fabrics," Olowu told Elle magazine Dec. 2.
This year’s holiday theme at the White House is “A Timeless Tradition,” which inspired Olowu’s unique designs in the Vermeil room. To transform the space, which is sometimes used as a ladies’ sitting room during formal events, Olowu brought in two 8-foot Christmas trees, which he draped in stunning ribbons, ornate appliqué and encrusted ornaments. The London-based designer also created custom teddy bears using vintage African fabrics.
The first lady, who also called in Carolina Herrera, Carol Lim and Humberto Leon to decorate the White House library and China room this year, said she was thrilled with the results. "I'm overjoyed to share their talent with tens of thousands of guests from across our country and around the world," Michelle told Elle magazine. "I know visitors will be as delighted by their work as I am."
— Vogue Magazine (@voguemagazine) December 2, 2015
— Studio Museum Harlem (@studiomuseum) December 3, 2015
Born to a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father, Olowu was raised in Lagos, Nigeria’s main commercial hub. He spent much of his childhood traveling to and from Nigeria and various cities in Europe. Olowu studied law in London before returning to Nigeria for several years and developing his eye for fashion. The offbeat patterns, rich textures and eclectic colors of his designs reflect both his African heritage and world view.
“My Jamaican mother used to find the tailors who carried sewing machines on their shoulders and get them to make patchwork shirts and furnishings from local fabrics mixed with others she picked up on holidays abroad. She was a big influence on how I see color and print,” Olowu told the New York Times in November 2012.
Olowu launched his first women’s wear label in October 2004 with a collection for spring and summer. Today, his designs are sold around the world to high-end concept shops like Ikram in Chicago and Biffi in Milan, and they have earned him celebrity clients like Michelle Obama, Uma Thurman and Kiera Knightley.
Olowu, who is married to Thelma Golden, director and chief curator of Studio Museum of Harlem in New York City, has won a slew of coveted fashion awards. His high-waisted, Kimono-like silk “Duro” dress was voted “Dress of the Year” in 2005 by both British and American Vogue. Olowu also won the “Best Designer of the Year” award from the British Fashion Council that same year. In 2010, he was named “Best International Designer” at the African Fashion Awards in South Africa, according to Nigerian news site Naij.com.