Sometimes exotic. Sometimes simple. Sometimes extraordinary. Celebrity fashion stylist and designer, Jeremiah Ogbodo, aka SwankyJerry, is a world apart from other stylists. Down-to-earth in thought, deep in philosophy, consistent and astute as an enterprising stylist, SwankyJerry has become a household name to many A-list celebrities on the African continent. His unique creations have made him to stand out in the fashion industry. In this interview with Azuka Ogujiuba, he talks about his craft and dreams for the future
What makes you stand out in the crowd?
Well, I really think my originality and creativity make me stand out. I don’t know what others see in me.
You have been in the public eye for over five years. What does it mean to be a celebrity stylist?
To start with, I have yet to mark five years. I launched Swanky’s signatures in July 2012. So, I’ll be celebrating five years this year. It’s never been easy and it will never be. As we all know that styling is one of the most popular emerging professions in the fashion world globally. Being a celebrity stylist means you have to select clothing and accessories for published editorials, print or television advertising campaigns, music videos, red carpets, concert performance and any public appearances made by celebrities, models or public figures. Note that a celebrity stylist is often part of a larger creative team, collaborating with fashion designers, makeup artistes, hair stylist, and photographers, etc., to put together a particular look for a client. Celebrity styling is such a large topic.
What is the major drive behind your creativity?
To be on top of your game as a celebrity fashion stylist, you must be extremely creative. You must come up with new ideas very often. The fear of not being on top is the major drive behind my creativity. I have worked so hard over the years and I realize that once you stop being creative as a celebrity stylist you have pretty much lost it. My motivation to do great things is extremely beyond where I have been. I never want to be where I started from.
It’s no longer news that you recently bagged an endorsement deal with Ciroc. Can you tell us about it?
Well, I must thank God for constantly blessing the works of my hands. This is my second endorsement as a brand ambassador or as an influencer. I’m proud to say that in Nigeria I’m the first and only fashion stylist to be endorsed by brands, and it’s definitely a great achievement. I really don’t know why they keep choosing me but I guess my work speaks for itself. As we speak, another endorsement is rolling my way but let’s keep it hush-hush for now until we are ready.
What are the challenges that stylists face in the industry?
There are multiple challenges for stylists in the Nigerian industry. I’ll state a few. Firstly, I think stylists and designers need to have a better relationship and understanding. I personally enjoy working with designers on projects from the scratch. Secondly, fashion items are not really accessible in the country which is a major challenge. I have to source for fashion items all over the world. If I travel to any part of the world I take time to go around and pick selective items I know it’s hard to find in Nigeria and just take home for rainy days even though I don’t need them at that exact time. But we are improving. So, I guess soon that’s going to be history. Thirdly, designers are getting access to celebrities and public figures, thereby making the stylist almost without a role to play. It is forgotten that a designer is not a stylist.
For example, a designer can contact a celebrity and say, ‘I have a beautiful dress for you.’ He sends the dress to the celebrity and that’s it. The celebrity wears the outfit and looks completely crazy even though it’s a beautiful piece. Why? Because there was no proper coordination, dress might not be for her body type, wrong makeup choice, wrong hair style, wrong shoes, wrong clutch, wrong photography, wrong accessories, etc. It’s the job of a stylist to make sure all these things are in place with the outfit. Designers who showcase worldwide have stylists styling their collections because a stylist just knows what works better. These are some of the challenges stylists face and we pray it gets better so stylists should be allowed to play their full role.
Apart from styling, what else do you do?
I’m into a lot of other things apart from styling. Over the years I have grown so many businesses into what they are today with my exceptional skill as a public relations guru, personal branding strategist, events manager, image consultant, publicist and many more. I also work with a couple of insurance firms as a marketing strategist. I currently got into the real estate business too.
How do you deal with difficult clients?
A client will be difficult only if you don’t understand them. For me, once I get a call from a client, research is key. I quickly do a research on their fashion history, or present fashion state so as to give me a better understanding of who I’m working with. Once that is done I start to get prepared for the job. Next, I try to always do a fitting before the D-day comes in other to avoid any hazards on the event day. So, when Swanky arrives on the D-day, know that I’m extremely prepared and my client is already happy with what we concluded to wear. The best way to handle difficult clients is to be ready for them 100 per cent. Have options for the clients in case something goes wrong. For example, a broken zip, and you have no options; client gets angry and is termed a difficult client. It’s you as the stylist who wasn’t prepared. If you are organized and you pay attention to details I’m sure your client will be happy with you and difficult clients will be far from you.
Which famous stylist do you admire and why?
Oh wow! That’s a big question. I admire a few famous stylists because they inspire me differently. Every stylist has their own crown. I’ll mention a few that I admire and why. Ryan Hastings: He has continually reinvented gothic glam over the years and I love how he explored a full range of softly dramatic, neutrally hued looks. His works are mind-blowing. Erin Walsh: I just love how she knows how to experiment and get it right. She blew my mind when five of her clients were on the top list of best dressed even though she was heavily pregnant. Samantha McMillen: She is exceptional when it comes to men’s grooming. She knows how to make a man look magical yet classy; less is always more for her.
TY Tryone: We all know Beyonce is queen of slay of all times. Tryone makes most of it happen. I love how he styles her to perfection. He’s a perfectionist; very motivating and inspiring. He’s also supportive to stylists around the world who see him as an inspiration or admire his works. I met TY at the global citizens’ festival in New York and trust me; he’s one of the most humble famous people I have met in my lifetime. He’s such a goal-getter. Plus he has just launched his own fashion line which is doing incredibly well.
Which celebrity in the world will you like to style and why?
Oh my goodness! The list is endless. When I launched Swanky’s Signatures in 2012 I had a list of celebrities I wanted to work with and my dreams came to pass. In Africa, I have been able to work with all the A-list celebrities: Dbanj, Ice Prince, Wizkid, Davido, Tuface, Majid Micheal, Juliet Ibrahim, Tonto Dikeh, Seyi Shay, Yemi Alade, Mercy Aigbe, Ini Edo, Aka from South Africa, Flavour, Iyanya, Wande Cole, Omawumi, Darey Art Alade, Annie Idibia, Toke Makinwa, Praiz, DJ Spinall, DJ Jimmy Jatt, Caroline Danjuma, Mi, Yung Six, Daniella Okeke, Victoria Kimani, Osas Ajibade, Becca, Chioma Chukuka, Banky W, Vanessa Mdee, Emma Nyra,, Simi, Dprince, Ik ogbonna, governors, presidents, royalties and many more to mention a few. So, I’m guessing let’s take this to Hollywood. I will love to style Jlo, Beyonce, Kim K, Rihanna, Chris Brown, Usher, Lady Gaga and lots more. One singular reason is because they have evolved over time and their style keeps improving.
What advice do you have aspiring stylists?
Well, note that it won’t be easy but it will be worth it. Stay true to yourself, put God first in everything that you do; be ready to be criticised, and be creative. Consistency is very important.
How do you balance work and other obligations?
I always just find a way out. It’s extremely difficult but I just make sure I set my priorities right and it works out almost all the time. It could be complicated most times. But division of labour has also helped me.
Why do you think Swanky’s Signatures has done so well?
I pretty much think it’s God almighty who has uplifted me and made me who I’m today. He sees it all. Plus my hard work, creativity and consistency also contributed to the growth.
The social media is full of people who don’t really know you giving you their opinion on what they actually think about you. How do people who know you describe you?
The people who know me will describe me as a god-fearing young man, hard-working, kind, happy, smart, and intelligent.
What outfit will you not be caught in?
I can’t say; I love to experiment. So, if you see me in a shocking outfit know that I’m a stylist and I’m allowed to experiment.
If you were not a stylist what would you have been?
One of the many things that I do now; maybe, I would have been into full-time public relations.