Her eminence is multiplied by the link to Bobby Benson, an entertainer and musician who defined an era of Nigerian music, particularly the Highlife genre. Her father, Yomi (Bobby Benson Jnr.), managed the 80s hit group, SWEAT, which majorly comprised his siblings (Bobby Benson’s children and their friends). Although she is not sure where to find a connect, Chloe Olumide thinks that somewhere in her inner recesses lives a vibrant artist.
Nseobong Okon-Ekong reports
She has created a gorgeous and stylish window display characterised by rare pieces of furnishing to attract attention. The strong appeal is hard to resist and curiosity tears down every inhibition that may have been unwittingly announced with a name like The Luxury Collection; drawing many to enter the display shop. While the security man at the entrance does not really hinder visitors, he looks smart enough in his uniform to enhance the obvious impression of elegance that is evident, beginning from the flight of steps and the decoration on the wall leading to the main exhibition area.
A waiting staff announces my presence to Chloe Olumide who requested that I be ushered into her office. She was in an all black outfit. Her workplace is small. She would later explain that the business has expanded from another property next door which it still retains. This new space is already looking crammed. Chloe weighs her words like a skilled athlete pumping iron to build specific parts of the body. Her statements are direct like, “I need all the space I can get to showcase what we have got to customers.”
Although she is born of a great heritage, it takes some prodding for her to volunteer the information. Much of what she likes to talk about is how in her 29 years she has been able to take the right decisions, guided by her parents, of course to make her a business owner. If she was to write the story of her life, her parents, Mrs. Abiodun Feuser-Ajidahun and Mr. Yomi Bobby Benson Jnr., would get a generous mention for the mentoring that has ensured she is on a steady climb up the ladder of success. “It was actually my Dad who told me to do this. I am actually thankful to both of my parents. Parents know their children. I wanted to explore something else, but my dad said you do this with your mother all the time and you do it well. Some people need to be taught things that come naturally to other people. I have since developed my own touch, but this is not something that I went to school to learn. I must give credit to my parents. ”
We were just getting acquainted and trying to decide if we should wait for Adubi Mydaz, the artist who scheduled the meeting or get on with it. She was not sure if she should hand me her business card. And she did not mind at all if her speech would be considered a blunder by me, a stranger. But it showed her warmth and authenticity, if anything. “I just got married and I have not made business cards with my new name.” Laughing, she added a clincher, “my mother in-law will kill me if she hears me introducing myself any other way.”
“I am Mrs. Olumide!”
The influence of the personality she has just introduced does not register immediately until she throws more light. Her husband is the son of the former Managing Director of the defunct Virgin Nigeria, Captain Dapo Olumide.
However, Chloe’s circle of eminence is further multiplied by her link to Bobby Benson, an entertainer and musician who defined an era of Nigerian music, particularly the Highlife genre. Her father, Yomi (Bobby Benson Jnr.) managed the 80s hit group, SWEAT, which majorly comprised his siblings (Bobby Benson’s children and their friends).
Although she is not sure where to find a connect, Chloe thinks that somewhere in her inner recesses lives a vibrant artist. There is no other explanation for her veering from Biological Sciences which she studied in a university in the United Kingdom to Interior Decoration. She had hoped to continue with a career in Pharmacy. “Sometimes, things don’t go as planned,” she chuckled. “I am expressing my creative gene in a different way. My grandfather was a musician and I am an Interior Decorator. He was a performing artiste. In some way, I see myself as a visual artist. I add value to a space by placing the right pieces that are eye pleasing and enliven the senses.”
This bit about music was coming towards the end of our interaction and it was Adubi who stirred her in that direction.
The fact that she was hoping that she can find a place of distinction to stand all by herself, without necessarily drawing from the heritage of her father in-law or grandfather says something about her fierce fight for independence or individuality.
Chloe disclosed to The Glitterati:
“We have our sister company Nettetal which is based in Abuja and Port Harcourt. The store was started about 20 years ago in Port Harcourt by my mother. She has since then moved to Abuja where she has five stores. We didn’t have a branch in Lagos and I live in Lagos. I have been doing this my whole life since I was a child. I was always in the shop after school. During holidays, I was there helping my mother. When she goes buying I am there with her. It made sense because family businesses do well. We decided to open a front in Lagos and we call it The Luxury Collection. This is my business but we are a sister company to Nettetal. The name Nettetal is the name of my maternal grandfather’s village in Germany. I am the only one bitten by this family business bug for now because the rest of us are younger. I have a younger sister. She is also very much involved in things. She goes to the shop. She sells to the customers. I have another sibling, a younger brother who is also currently into luxury but he is more into watches. He is not into furniture. He is more into lifestyle. My mother and I deal with the furniture, accessories and gifts. It is a blend. It is all merged and we feed off each other. He is younger than me but he is very smart. There is synergy between both.”
Apparently, there is both a point of merger and a dividing line between Chloe and her mother.
“What I would say is that as time has gone by, I have learnt so much. I was following her then. I was not doing it professionally. I began to take this seriously three years ago. I have studied my mother’s taste. When I became professional I had a say and I could choose products to buy. I have more of a European flair. My mother has a need to appeal to her market segment. At the same time, she may be seeing things from an older person’s point of view. She is used to what she buys. I look for new pieces. I look for things that are trending. I bring it to her attention. We don’t always have the same pieces in the shops..”
With the increasing awareness of luxury lifestyle in Nigeria, business is growing in leaps and bounds. A cursory look at The Luxury Collection at Sanusi Fafunwa Street in Victoria Island, Lagos may suggest that the goods are meant for the high end market. While this is not far from the truth, Chloe has a compelling argument.
“We have a clientele, but we want to be accessible to a good number of people. The name, The Luxury Collection, speaks for itself. People already have an expectation before they come in. A lot of people say the name scares them, but they are pleasantly surprised because the prices are quite decent and affordable. We want to supply customers with good quality items and beautiful pieces that they don’t have to break the bank to acquire.
The analogy about TLC, Tender Loving Care, is at play here. We want to make sure that our clients feel well taken care of when they shop here. Our slogan is, ‘everybody needs TLC’. As common place as throw pillows are, I take my time to design my throw pillows. We choose the colour, fabric and design. We sell them for between N9000 and N25000 each. If we don’t sell anything at all, we sell a cushion pillow. We have photo frames, bathroom mat. We have beautiful cards. The cards carry messages that are very specific to Nigeria culture. They go for N1000 each. I have perfumed candles that are Nigerian made.”
Chloe insisted that she is not opposed to stocking Nigerian items. “It makes my life easier.”
In furtherance to this believe, she recently promoted a three-day art exhibition of the works of Adubi Mydaz. Again, it was her father that discovered Mydaz and suggested she work with him. She sees a future where other artists will also her use platform to project their works. With time, she might even develop enough confidence in them to request that they execute certain commissioned works. For now, she does not have the time to supervise Nigerian artisans to deliver perfect pieces.
“I would not say there are no rare pieces out of Nigeria. There are definitely good workmanship. There are carpenters and artisans who are good. However, I do not have the time to mentor. There is a certain standard of things that I need. The artisans may be able to work very well but a lot of the time they need supervision. You need to check everything they do, the measurement has to be perfect, it has to be in a straight time. I do not like to give my customers anything less than what I would accept in my home. If I was going to bring something into a home, I will take my time and make sure every single line is in place and everything is done to perfection. To do that takes a lot of time which I don’t have right now. I want to focus on this. If you do a turnkey project, you have to make sure your light switch is working, things like that; typically these are things that Nigerian artisans don’t look out for.”
While she is waiting for the time when a good number of her products will be made in Nigeria, she continues to shop in Germany and Italy.
Asking her to define uncommonness was supposed to be a hard nut to crack. Surprisingly, her thoughts were not cluttered. Her response was very revealing. “That is talking about the uniqueness of an item. The thought behind a particular product defines its rarity. A lot of people have ideas but they cannot put it to paper. When an item is intriguing, beautiful and functional, that makes it rare. That item must not be in excess. You can have a variation of it, but it must not be everywhere. You have to strike a good and delicate balance, because you don’t want the show room to look the same by stocking items that can’t be sold. However, you must not that people don’t want something that everybody has.”