Among the features at Cayman Islands Fashion Week (previously Cayman Fashion Solstice) this month will be the luxury women’s wear brand Isy B.
Weekender talked to Isy Obi, designer and creative director of Isy B. about the themes and inspirations for her collections.
Obi, who has lived in Cayman for 10 years, has an interesting connection with the islands. Her grandfather Dennis Osadebay, once premier of the former Mid-Western Region of Nigeria, attended the school founded by Hope Waddell, who was shipwrecked in Cayman in 1845 on the way to a mission in Calabar, Nigeria. Waddell was responsible for helping to establish what later became Elmslie United Church in George Town.
Obi studied product design for five years and then had a career in accounting and finance. She learned to design clothes from her mother, who ran a successful fashion business while pursuing a career as a scientist.
“I remember being allowed to rummage through the remnant boxes to find fabric to make clothes for my dolls, which is probably where I get my love of fabrics,” Obi said.
“My mother inspired me to pursue my creativity at the same time as working on professional ambitions. I am blessed to have her as my model of female strength, creativity, and audacity.”
Obi’s debut collection is for the current Spring Summer 2015 season. “I designed this for myself last year; it was never intended for commercial purpose.” she said.
“I was inspired by the collection of traditional fabrics I had gathered from around the world: a Dutch wax African print, an embroidered silk from Laos, brocade from Cambodia, and a raw silk from Japan. I gave it the name “Breaking with Tradition” after being inspired by the traditional fabrics.
“The idea centers around a woman who, on the surface, appears to conform, but underneath it all is really living life on her terms. I love powerful women. The garments have a contemporary, structural and tailored silhouette and are deceptively simple. However, another look reveals details that the viewer may not have detected at first sight, such as the details in the tailoring, the fabric prints and the cut.”
The Spring Summer 2015 Look Book features a model in strong poses and photographed in dramatic lighting.
The latest Isy B. collection will show at “Fashion Rocks,” the name of the main event at Cayman Islands Fashion Week borrowed from the same name of the global fashion charity. The U.S. creative team, based in San Francisco, introduced Obi to textile designer Tam Nguyen, who showed at Mercedes Benz fashion Week in New York in February. The fabric that Nguyen and Obi developed together for this new collection is called “Migration.”
“Throughout the world, people use fabric as an identifier of who they are and what they are,” said Obi.
“I wanted to create a fabric that represented modern Cayman in a different way. In designing the collection, I was inspired by the movement of people to and through places, and the connections we all share as a result. The Cayman Islands was born of this migration, and these connections reach far across the world, as I have experienced personally.”
“This collection has a lighter tone than Spring Summer 15,” Obi added. “In addition to the overarching theme of migration, the collection is also inspired by the way we live our lives in modern Cayman. There is a real dichotomy of styles in Cayman: formal on the one hand (for the many occasions that occur from brunch to afternoon tea parties to full-on black-tie gala events), and extremely informal on the other hand (the beach lifestyle).
“I love a well-dressed woman. I think that designers like Ralph & Russo, Carolina Hererra, and Marchesa play to that fantasy. Particularly Ralph & Russo, whose work is exquisite. I love photographer Mario Testino for high wattage glamour and the way he is able to capture the spirit of any subject, and I love Steven Miesel for his depth. He’s an artist and brings such beauty to his images.”
Traveling to promote the brand
This summer, Obi’s travels will take her to London and Paris where she will be introducing the brand for the first time.
“We also tentatively have a presentation scheduled in London for later in the year,” she said.
“I’ve been invited to join a small collective in San Francisco, one of whose aims is to establish a retail store showcasing the designers within it in 2016. It’s all really exciting.”
Cayman’s next supermodel?
“Cayman’s diverse community is home to a surprisingly large number of creative people, and one of the goals of our brand is to draw from that pool of local talent wherever we can,” said Obi.
“We’re having fun collaborating with local dressmakers, photographers, stylists, artists and artisans who are all excited about the opportunity to showcase their work in a fresh new way. It would be fantastic to help further the career of a model from within the local community.”
Isy B. is searching for the face that will represent its brand locally and internationally and is holding an open casting call for female models ages 21 to 30. The model selected will star in the Isy B. lookbook and local and international marketing campaigns, which will be shot in Cayman in May. This could jump-start the career an aspiring model with dreams of following in the footsteps of other Caymanians making waves on the international stage: Selita Ebanks for Victoria’s Secret, Treveen Stuart, winner of “Caribbean’s Next Top Model,” and Grace Gealey, known for her role as Anika Calhoun in the Fox TV drama “Empire.”
Isy B. Shoes
In 2011, Obi launched the Isy B. Shoes site which highlights the need for larger shoe sizes.
“Isy B. shoes is an online community and shoe directory resource for women with big feet,” said Obi. “Our purpose is to help women find shoes that they need in their size. We also help big shoe brands connect better with their audience.”
The searchable directory lists more than 250 stores that carry shoes in U.S. sizes 10 to 16. Customers are able add more stores to the list and to provide reviews of their experience with each store, such as the fit of the shoes and availability. Obi also works with major shoe brands to secure deals and discounts for customers.
“The ultimate aim is to create a line of shoes for the community. It is a project that I enjoy because it comes from the heart … and I love shoes.”
“Fashion Rocks,” co-hosted by Grace Gealey, will take place at 8 p.m. April 25 at the Lions Center.
Details for entry to the Isy B. open casting call can be found on the Isy B. website, www.isybdesign.com.