As debuts go, opening your show with Naomi Campbell, closing it with Paloma Elsesser, having it styled by Vogue’s global contributing fashion editor Gabriella Karefa-Johnson and presenting it in a gilded ballroom at the Shangri-La hotel in Paris has to be up there as a dream fashion inauguration. So if designer Torishéju Dumi was a little overwhelmed backstage an hour before she unveiled her first collection on the final day of PFW—well, it was understandable.
A menswear graduate from the London College of Fashion who completed an MA at Central Saint Martins, Dumi hails from north-west London, the daughter of a Nigerian mother and a Nigerian-Brazilian father. She found her route into fashion in part thanks to her Catholic faith. An altar server in her youth, she relished the symbolic act of dressing in her vestments every Sunday. “It was almost like having a uniform where you pull it on and you feel like, ‘I’m going to do something,’” she recalled. “I love that priestly aura. That’s what I really want to create in my work: ‘Come on, there’s something coming, there’s so much to life, this is just the beginning,’” she said, warming to her theme.
Her first collection, which she had made herself in her Hackney studio-flat, was titled “Fire on the Mountain.” Taken from a folk song, Dumi said it was a frequent refrain of her childhood, repeated by her mother every time she crossed a road. “She used to say, ‘Fire on the mountain, run, run, run.’ For me it really evokes the idea that something is coming,” she explained. “This collection for me, it’s my introduction to fashion; just to say, ‘Here I am.’”
Her central leitmotif was wrapping, informed by the nonchalant elegance of traditional Nigerian lappa garments juxtaposed with deconstructed British tailoring. Also on her mind were the long-sleeved shirt, wrapper and bowler hat combinations worn by Itsekiri men. It led to intriguing results, such as the first look: a traditionally constructed black wool blazer whose padded shoulders had been inverted to form what Dumi referred to as “horns” that puffed out at lapel level, paired with a sweeping black shirt, roomy gray pants and Dr. Martens derbys, and given the requisite supermodel slouch courtesy of Naomi. The same idea had been applied to a pinstriped wool blazer that had been transformed into a halter-neck apron dress, its shoulders and sleeves inverted and positioned over the breasts, with a deep-V neckline that plunged into a pleated skirt, worn with baggy pants.