Many people don’t know that behind luxury designer powerhouses like “Jimmy Choo” and “Christian Louboutin” there are actually armies of talented designers. Each furiously working to make their shoe illustrations stand out among the rest, so they are picked to go into production and ultimately decorate the feet of the consumer. In the fashion industry, it’s part of any designers right of passage to lend their creative genius to household names before striking out on their own. Using their time working for brands to learn the business and build contacts so they are equipped with everything they will need to make their individual mark in fashion history. And with the industry already incredibly cut throat, it only allows the truly gifted and driven to survive.
(the following illustrations were drawn by Obi Cymatica)
OBI CYMATICA is one of those truly “gifted and driven” designers. Growing up in Nigeria, and moving to New York at the age of 16 with his family; it was in a high school art class that a teacher recognized his sketching ability and recommended that Obi visit FIT’s museum to gain an understanding of what fashion illustrations were all about. A true art form themselves alone, Obi was taken up in the magical designs and sketches by the uber talented Mr. John Galliano. Falling in love with the artistic grace of Galliano’s work, he knew that he had found his calling.
After graduating from high school, Obi went to school in Hungary for four years to hone his sketching talent, and learn the skills and techniques he would need to make them come to life. Upon returning to New York, he quickly got an internship at the Patricia Fields store, and then went on to illustrate clothes for Kai Milla (Stevie Wonder’s wife). Though a talented clothing illustrator, he wanted to get back in to designing shoes. So next he moved into sketching designs for Bon Chic Bon Genre, otherwise known around the world as BCBG. His next job was a major one… working for the king of couture Mr. Oscar de la Renta. His first truly high fashion job, it was an exciting achievement for Obi when he landed the position. Currently working for Jimmy Choo- known for its diversity in style, but always maintaining a classiness not always achieved by other shoe brands-his creativity is encouraged, and he is given the freedom to explore his shoe fantasies.
(shoe illustrations by Obi Cymatica)
Being a fellow African trying to forge my path in the fashion industry, I asked him what it has been like being a shoe designer of African descent. And he described that his major challenge has been in interviews with potential employers. With them often “expecting to see someone else” and “surprised” that he is the individual that shows up for the interview. He said “They are unable to connect with how an African male will be able to design women’s shoes with mass appeal.” This narrow ideology has made finding work hard for Obi, causing him to be rejected from some design positions. Though I inquired about which one’s had turned him down or treated him poorly, he was too polite to divulge any names. But he did add that he feels the general consensus is “if you are a designer of color, people think you will design something urban or they think that your design aesthetic will be more appreciated by the urban public.” Leading us into a conversation about the tendency for the fashion industry classify people of color, in the industry, as “urban” or “afrocentric” pigeon holing their artistic achievements. They forget that designers are artists, and their works of art are not bound by societal constructs and stereotypes. In fact that it’s just the opposite, in that art can be a great equalizer. Because the product can be enjoyed by the consumer without their knowledge of the race, gender, or socioeconomic background of the designer.
These roadblocks have not hindered Obi from achieving great success at a young age. He has an impressive track record with some dynamite designers and in 2012 his shoes will hit small boutiques in America (mostly New York to start). Specializing in “comfort along with classic styles, clean lines and hand crafted details.” Using high end materials like alligator skin, suede, and patent leather to name a few…Obi will design shoes from sky high heels, to flats to boots. And promises to allow men to get in on the Obi Cymatica brand in a few years time. Aiming for the best, Obi is hoping that in a couple years time, his shoes will be in department store giants like Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman.
*designs from Obi’s upcoming namesake line
When I asked him where he see’s himself in the next five to ten years, he stated that he hopes “to be a major luxury shoe wear company, selling in Japan, other parts of Asia, and all over Africa…but especially his native Nigeria. As you can see from his artful illustrations, his creativity and imagination when it comes to how best to decorate a woman’s foot seem boundless. Watch out for Obi in the future…he is destined for greatness!
Want to keep tab’s on Obi and his beautiful shoe illustrations? Checkout his blog where he puts up daily shoe drawings to tantalize your senses. If you are a shoe freak like me, you will love checking his blog from time to time to see what shoes he’s dreamed up! Visit www.obi-cymatica.tumblr.com!
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