Ifeanyi Okwuadi On Helping Design the Stunning Looks on ‘Bridgerton’
The second season of Bridgerton, Shonda Rhime’s smash Netflix series, was released last week. This season clasped onto the interests of viewers through a variety of ways, from the alluring make-up to the steamy sex scenes to the dramatic suspense. Bridgerton is easily Netflix’s most popular show.
A big reason for the show’s success is the fashion, which displays a wide array of lavish gowns and jewelry. For this season, Netflix partnered with the British Fashion Council to commission three young POC designers to create the stunning looks. The three winners would go on to be mentored by fashion designer Jenny Packham, creating costumes that were hugely inspired by the regency era (which Bridgerton takes place in.) Ifeanyi Okwuadi, a British-African, was one of the designers.
Born to a Sierra Leonean mother and Nigerian father, Okwuadi, 27, studied textile design at Ravensbourne University in London. He’d worked for Cat and the Dandy, a well-known costume designer in the English capital, although he had wanted to be a footballer. His emerging top as the winner of 2021 Hyères Fashion Festival cemented his presence in the industry, and has since granted him access into multiple spots, including being one of the designers to work on Bridgerton.
We spoke to Okwuadi about his journey and his work on the second season of Bridgerton.
What was growing up like? Did you have an interest in fashion?
So, I was born in North West London and my childhood was nothing close to fashion. I just wanted to go out and spend time with friends playing football or hanging out, to be honest. I also had a strong female presence in my life, and that also helped to direct me.
How then did the transition come, moving from football to fashion? These industries can be quite distinct.
Around year 16, when I was in college, I took a gap year. During this time, I thought about my real passion, and what I wanted to end up doing. Academically, I was an IT person, but I found that it was very competitive, and I was losing my patience with it. I thought about how I liked to sketch — not necessarily clothes, but people and things around me. I then took up a two month short course at Central Saint Martins. From there, my teacher took a particular interest in my work, and that’s how fashion essentially began for me.
I remember you said you’re extroverted. What other personalities do you have, and how are you infusing them in your works?
I listen to a lot of music, and that sort of provided a kind of basis and foundation for my work. It also helps and guides my thought processes. I go out a lot to these exhibitions and art galleries where I also find inspiration. I like talking to people, but not necessarily in very big social settings.
It’s interesting that you’ll say that you’re not a huge fan of big social settings, because you won the Hyères Fashion Festival in October. And, from what I gather, there were a lot of fashion execs there.
I was so much into what I was doing, immersed in it and getting the most out of it. I have been working on that collection for almost six years — the themes, the concept and ideas on what the collection would be based on. Presenting the collection on the day was when I actually realized how big of an occasion it actually is. I heard my name, and that’s when it kinda hit. It was a fantastic experience and one that I’ll definitely recommend.
In what ways has winning influenced your brand?
It’s done a lot actually. The level of exposure and resources I’m able to access is mind-blowing. The different people and doors that are now open is something I never really considered would happen. I mean, I’ve tried to always put in the work, but I really thought I’ll be in the background doing what I do.
Can we talk about the Bridgerton collection? How did it happen, and what was the process?
So, I’m a British Fashion Scholar, and Netflix proposed a project for scholars to design something. They had us propose some ideas, and I was a fan of the show from season one. I had watched it, so I had some ideas on what it’s about — the tailoring, the regency era. I was motivated to propose some ideas, and when I did, they loved it and took it up.
How did you manage to translate your inspiration to clothes?
Being able to meet the actors of the show and interacting with them on their characters really helped inform my process of design. I also did look a lot into the regency period. Interesting enough, a year before this was proposed, I was looking into the regency era for personal knowledge. So, I already had that. I checked the dress code, the people, how it has been modernized, and so on. I also check on contemporary films and how the clothes’ silhouettes and shapes have changed. Then, I worked with Wedgewood to focus on the family of Bridgerton, their distinctive motifs, and how the family dressed.
What were the most exciting processes for you during this project?
I think it’s seeing the clothes in the real world. It was very difficult working on them, but it was a different feeling watching the characters wear them. The reactions from people were also really great, and I congratulate myself and the team for pulling it off.
I would like to know what your hopes are for the future?
I really hope to present and propose a new approach for menswear. I want men to wear something that is relevant for today, but also has some sort of substance behind it. I hope that I am not only able to design beyond clothes, but also produce ideas and ways of thinking. I want people to wear clothes, and have other people learn about what their interests are from merely seeing what they wear. I hope that my brand isn’t just about logos, but I also want to put my identity into it, and use it as a way to storytell and be an activist.