London’s street style is a catalyst for ideas for many designers. For University of East London graduate Faith Balogun, who’s graduate collection sparked serious attention, it was the famed Teddy boy subculture and style that was the main inspiration. After people watching and soaking up London’s street style, Balogun noticed that 90s styles had crept back in – she was seeing the same kind of styles that she was designing as a 9-year-old in her A5 magazine that she made with her friend. Mixing traditional Teddy Girl outfits (she loves the masculine/feminine paradox) with elements from the sportswear revival, Balogun’s designs are both super-cute and super-tough.
Her graduate collection, under her label Dirah, is the epitome of everything that’s great about mixing and matching styles. Part modern Teddy-girl cool, part 90s hip hop staples, the unisex collection had the perfect balance of masculine silhouettes with feminine colours thanks to a last minute switch to a bold use of baby pink. Inspired by a wide variety of social influences and eras, Balogun’s use of grey wool, khaki and baby pink made her oversized, masculine silhouettes super feminine and her bomber jackets, which are sprinkled with adorable patches and rosettes reminiscent of a modern-day Pearly queen, stole the show. Aside from the Teddy boy influences, a hint of basketball wear was also prominent; sports jerseys were layered under super-smart blazers and knee-sweeping coats. Those sports luxe designs from her childhood have clearly come in handy.
What’s your first fashion memory?
I first fell in love with fashion aged 9. I remember during church one Sunday creating a magazine with one of my friends at the time. The magazine consisted of sketches of clothes that I dreamt I would sell in the future. I still have the A5 magazines in my memory box and I saw that the sketches consisted of bomber jackets and various sports luxe pieces. This style has stuck with me up until now! Ever since then, I haven’t stopped being interested in fashion design.
Where does the name of your brand – Dirah – come from?
The name Dirah is short for Kadirah, which is my middle name. I thought it was rather edgy so I actually stuck with it after submitting my final collection at university.
What was your experience at University of East London like?
Fashion degrees are extremely stressful, but at UEL I felt I was able to push myself to the limit whilst enjoying myself at the same time. Don’t get me wrong, I had a few breakdowns and was even hospitalised the week before Graduate Fashion Week. All in all it has been the best experience of my life and I’m happy with all the outcomes and things I have learnt whilst studying.
How do you feel you’ve grown as a designer since starting your degree?
A lot of people think Fashion design just consists of drawing clothes and that’s the whole degree done, not exactly. I started doing textiles in year 8 during secondary school so I had a little bit of background knowledge before my first year of uni. However, I was totally shocked at how much harder it was and how many different skills I had to learn. Whilst studying, each year was a stepping stone onto reaching and completing the final year which is where I realised how much my design and making skills had really improved. I was so used to making so many basic clothes, but when I got to my final year I really wanted to push myself and create something very different to what I’d normally make and I believe I really did that!
Does the London fashion scene have any effect on your style/inspirations?
Absolutely! Before I started my collection, I actually went out in central London and looked at what everyone was wearing for a few hours. Fashion in London has changed so much, but I also see an essence of my childhood slowly creeping back especially with oversized silhouettes and 90s hip hop culture.
Your collection looked at the idea of the “modern Teddy girl” – where did the idea come from and what’s so fascinating about Teddy Boy culture?
Like I previously mentioned, fashion in London was a heavy influence on my collection. I started to dig deeper into main fashion trends in London through the 20th century. The Teddy Boy culture stuck out to me because of the mixture of formal and informal clothing. When I looked at what the men wore I also saw that the women dressed exactly the same. But I just loved how the men’s clothes looked on the female body. Everything was so baggy and masculine and I really wanted to pull away from the idea that women’s fashion always has to include fitted dresses and skirts. I also wanted to include an element of sport in my collection, so I looked at basketball clothing and loved the idea of having sports jerseys under blazers and smart trousers.
Your colour scheme is full of pastel pinks and khakis – what’s the story behind your aesthetic and use of colour?
Although I was heavy on the masculine silhouette, I still wanted an element of feminine colours to go with it. Whilst I was doing my research for my collection, I came across this pink and khaki basketball court which I loved so much. I was intending on going for a navy and black colour pallet but decided last minute to change it to full on pink which I do not regret. I even decided that I’d love to have my collection under a unisex category, just because I feel like colours and silhouettes do not always represent whether or not one is feminine or masculine anymore.
How did you design the patches on your garments? Are they references to anything in particular?
The patches on my jacket were a random selection at first, but then I wanted to create my own and I based it on a combination of hip hop artist and rock and roll artist. The patches and badges were in reference to the Pearly kings and queens but a much more modernised and colourful version.
What’s your design process like – do you carefully plan everything or are you very spontaneous when designing?
I would love to say I plan my decisions but I really don’t. I’m very spontaneous when it comes to designing and I think it makes the whole process much more enjoyable. When I kept planning my ideas I thought I was spending too much time thinking about things and not doing anything. Once I just made decisions on the spot, I was able to test them out before I made the final product.
You’ve done internships at The Sun and Moschino – what were you doing at each of them and how integral do you feel interning is to learning and honing your craft?
Whilst working for the Sun, I was assisting the head stylist on photo shoots and helping them plan each look beforehand. I was also able to contact various PR companies to call in the clothes for the shoot. It was so great to see my name in the credits section once the photo shoots were published every Sunday. I also got the chance to meet a few celebrities who we were shooting.
I was doing the completely opposite job at Moschino. I was a press intern and my job was to send pieces from various collections to different magazine companies or celebrities who were attending an event and needed something to wear. it was also my responsibility to attend press days and sample sales which was always fun but kept me clued up about what goes on behind the scenes of fashion shows and events. I was lucky enough to meet Jeremy Scott whilst working there and attend one of his parties for ID magazine which was such a great night.
Do you think the fashion industry gives enough support to young designers?
I think there are definitely many opportunities for young designers to showcase talent, for example GFW and other fashion shows for graduates. Even at university there are so many organisations and competitions that students from around the world can enter to give them that extra push. Also nobody is too young to be a fashion designer so the opportunities are out there if you want them.
What’s next for you?
I’ve changed my mind on what I wanted to do after I graduate, but I’ve decided I want to go into PR and styling in luxury brands whilst still designing for Dirah. I also would love to be able to collaborate with existing designers like Kenzo and Celine.