“I Try To Tell a Story Through Fashion & the Woman” Claire Idera Talks to BN About Life as a Fashion Illustrator in Modern Nigeria
Claire Idera is anything but your normal fashion illustrator. Deeply influenced by fashion and culture, Idera is known for her contemporary designs and has a growing clientele. And unlike many women her age, she’s already set on a career path that’s as deeply personal and creative as it is entrepreneurial.
The Lagos-based and Nigerian native incorporates pencil, graphite, ink and watercolour to generate a sense of fluidity and movement within her work. And while she tries to keep her compositions simple, what comes out is a mix of beauty and sensuality, sometimes unobtrusive and delicate, other times bold and feminist. Her illustrations are all about feminine beauty, in pastel colors and intricate textures, as she combines the digital with the traditional, sometimes making reference to social media, technology and social fads.
Her collaborations include brands like Hugo Boss, Maki Oh, Lisa Folawiyo, e.t.c; and her work has been exhibited in Rele Gallery, Lagos. She also runs the CIW (Claire Idera Workshop) where she explores the concepts of line, shape and composition with budding fashion designers and illustrators, teaching them the technical skill and provocative flair that is essential to succeed in the field.
BellaNaija met up with her to find out what it was like to be a full-time fashion illustrator. Here’s what she had to say…
Claire, could you tell us a little bit about your background
I am Eniola Claire Iderawumi, a Nigerian babe. I was raised in a Christian home by two loving parents. I am creative entrepreneur. I have a Bsc. In Architecture as first degree, then I did Creative Practice for PGD and then a Masters in Fashion.
I love the way you introduce yourself first as a “Nigerian babe”. So, what was the lure? what drew you to illustration/design as opposed to other forms of art and design?
I always loved to create things and I would draw them first to see what they’ll look like. So obviously they were mostly 3-dimensional in form and from my imagination. I knew I could draw, so it only became natural for illustration and design to become my forte. Hence studying architecture and fashion.
Interesting, so did you also study art at some point in your PGD or masters then, or did you learn everything by yourself?
I never really studied art …except the fine art I did in Junior School. I am very self-taught, but sometimes I wish I learnt it in school. I was able to learn ideologies and processes while studying my masters and they inform my art.
Amazing. You certainly have made a successful career as a Fashion Illustrator, collaborating with brands in spite of all. Did someone discover you or did you have an effective strategy to market your talent?
Thank you! I discovered Instagram and put it to good use. Over time, it became my platform alongside my website. Social media helped people discover my work. I still use it as a visual portfolio and also a way to propose ideas to future clients. I didn’t have an agency or any external assistance in my career, except from client reference and social media. Over time, I’ve being a lot more strategic about my approach to marketing as my brand has grown, so also Instagram’s algorithm.
You started your career before moving on to achieve the PGD and Masters. In the time you spent abroad schooling, there was a sort of gap…it put a pause on your career here in Lagos. Now that you are back, what has the journey been like, re-establishing yourself?
It has been quite overwhelming and humbling. Genuinely, I thought I would have problems re-establishing work relationships but it’s been interesting so far. Overall, I have been in and out of different projects, from exhibitions to design for international clients to workshops. It’s been a cocktail of good stuff and I am only just excited about the future. It’s been challenging as well but I feel blessed.
Let’s talk about Lagos. What is the Fashion Industry like here? What do you love about it and what do you hate?
I love Lagos and the creative people here. I also love that people are pushing through, even with educational and resource limitations. However, there are now great platforms helping us climb up on a global scale. It is for the bold because it seems as though everyone is in the industry, one way or the other, and what’s intriguing is seeing how people stand out from the crowd with different interpretations of culture, life, religion and the world. Sadly, I hate that we are behind on fabric, technology, skill, factories etc. I say “behind” because the world is moving super-fast and we have a lot of catching up to do.
When someone commissions a project from you, what’s the first thing you do? Where do you start?
This depends on what I am being commissioned for. When I design I start with research. I write a lot! I put down all my thoughts and ideas and create this massive mind map. Similar process goes in for illustration but sometimes that is less tasking. Basically, I start with primary and secondary research relevant to the topic or brief and this helps inform my directions and choices. This usually takes hours or days.
Talk us through the mediums you use in your work and why you chose them?
I mostly use mixed media, that includes: water colour, acrylic, pastel, pencil. I always feel like my complete expressions come out through these various mediums. Depending on the project, sometimes I create digital illustrations.
Color seems to have such a special place in your drawings. How do you choose the colors for each illustration?
Hmmn. That is a little bit difficult to answer. It mostly depends on my mood and what I’m trying to create. Recently, I have been doing a lot of commissions and haven’t had much time for personal projects.
In a discipline such as fashion illustration which is becoming increasingly digital, do you think it’s important to maintain a relationship with physical materials?
It is for me. For some reason, I feel more authentic when I use my hands, compared to when I use a software. It’s all about personal preference as well. Most of my work is mixed media and not only with physical materials. I sometimes have vector elements created with adobe photoshop.
So, tell us about the Claire Idera Fashion Illustration Workshop
CIW is a short course program where I teach fashion illustration and design. I started it because of the need for a reliable centre for knowledge in the fashion industry. I had developed teaching experience while studying in Kingston University London and also taught at Oxbridge College. It became important to me to continue teaching my art. So far, CIW has had 7 successful workshops in both Lagos and Abuja. The alumni number has risen up to 73 creative persons. Some CIW alumni include Emmanuel Kasbit, a fashion fund winner and Folu Ajayi, who has progressed with her fashion studies in South Africa. It’s paramount to me to share knowledge that is of global standard.
CIW sounds like a handful. You are young and should be living your best life right now…how have you been able to balance work and life?
My work is my life. Haha! However, I have discovered the importance of friends and family. Whichever way life goes, to be successful, you need the right people around you. Work can get tiring, I am also learning how to unplug.
Oh great. So, what some of the projects you have worked on recently?
International Women’s Day Art Exhibition at Rele Gallery, an annual calendar project for a fashion company in South Africa, and design research/design for Lisa Folawiyo.
Yes! I remember the International Women’s Day Art Exhibition at Rele Gallery was themed around women and power. What inspired the collection?
I had to create paintings for the International women’s day at Rele gallery. I used my fashion girls to cerebrate women who had fought for the rights we now enjoy as women.
Ahah! You tend to feature female-centric content in your paintings. You, however, explore “feminine power,” not “sexual power.” How do you distinguish these ideas from one another?
Being honest, I never start by thinking of showing power, whether feminine or sexual. It just happens that it is what it is. The core of my work is reality explored through character. I try to tell a story through fashion and the woman. I understand how the composition of my work can interpret as power because of the strength of the woman gaze. My recent work explores standards and the reality of a young female. It’s a personal project and I really hope it strikes a cord in the viewers.
Incredible to be able to represent and speak about women in that way! Would you consider yourself a feminist?
(laughs) Until I understand the true concept and motive of this day feminism I really can’t say because recently, from what I hear, it has gone past the idea of equality. Women have for a long time, been said to be the weaker human. So, everyone who sees an independent, intelligent and vocal woman easily takes her away from the status quo and finds a different label for her. In my opinion, you don’t have to put a label on what is right.
Ok then, so what makes an artwork compelling?
When it speaks truth, when it challenges your guts and all you’ve ever known, when it’s new. These are the things I desire in my work.
In your opinion, what is the most dominant “feminist” theme in your work?
The girls through their gaze and posture always look confident and they portray one who finds beauty in herself disregarding whether this acceptance is interpreted by the male counterpart as reckless, flaws and inappropriate.
Of all your illustrations so far, you must have a favourite. Which one is it and why is it your ‘chosen one’?
That’s a hard one. A few weeks ago, I shared the work process of one painting. It has become my favorite just because I carried my instagram followers along.
What do you enjoy most about your career?
I absolutely love the fact that there are different facets to it. Today, I’m a fashion illustrator; another day, I’m purely designing; another day, I’m painting; and another, I’m teaching. It allows me be everything I want to be. I love the responsibilities on being a young influencer.
What do you do dislike?
That I barely have breaks, as it is with every freelancer or sole proprietor, it’s an all year long work run. But I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
What has been the most important or influential stop on your career path?
My decision to quit architecture and follow my fashion career. Also stopping freelancing to focus on my Fashion Major. It’s been a fantastic journey, the pause and play.
What advice would you give to an aspiring illustrator, hoping to make a name for themselves in the world of fashion illustration?
I always say just start. Be ready to put a lot of time into making mistakes and learning. Be open to criticism. Stay inspired and be consistent.
Is there any additional information you would like to share?
My next workshop will be in August. We had our recent student release a collection that was featured on BellaNaija, Schick Magazine and some others. If it’s a dream to be a designer or illustrator, I’ll say sign up and invest in that dream.
Claire, thank you for talking to us. We wish you many more successes in your future endeavours.