Designer Osman Yousefzada talks to Shelley Carter about life growing up in a conservative Muslim home in Balsall Heath in the Eighties to the fabulousness of five floors in Fitzrovia today
Osman has dressed some of the most famous women on the planet including Lady Gaga, Beyonce and Thandie Newton among others and has just opened his first flagship store in London. Last month he took a leap into the art world taking over the third floor of the IKON Gallery with his multi-disciplinary exhibition, Being Somewhere Else, sponsored by Selfridges. He’s also finding time to write his memoir focusing on growing up in a less than idyllic environment in Brum, which should be a fascinating read.
The son of a dressmaker, it’s perhaps no surprise Osman went down a fashion route and studied, somewhat fleetingly, at Central Saint Martins after graduating in anthropology from Cambridge. Dropping out of the fashion design course, Osman took a job at Joseph and soon after was offered £5,000 to launch his own collection by Tom Singh, founder of New Look who saw his potential.
Osman made his debut at London Fashion Week in 2008 and was nominated for the prestigious Designs of the Year award from the Design Museum which recognises the best 100 designs globally. In the same year he was given the British Fashion Council (BFC) Newgen award for three consecutive seasons and was shortlisted for the BFC/Vogue designer fashion fund in 2011, 2013 and 2015.
Osman remembers interesting characters wafting in and out of his family home as a boy and being surrounded by rich fabric and creativity. “There were these amazing Asian women. Colourful, fantastic and fun and that gave me the bug.” Despite these happy memories, Osman didn’t have the best time growing up in Balsall Heath and recalls gangs hanging around. He says: “It wasn’t idyllic. Let’s just say that!” However, it’s a place he calls home and visits frequently to see his ageing parents. Of his success, Osman says his parents don’t really understand what he does. He explains: “My parents are both illiterate and as a result they can’t fathom what it is I actually do.”
While Osman is flying high with his flagship store sprawled over five floors of a Fitzrovia townhouse of which he says was daunting, he’s also acutely aware of the other side of the fashion industry which is not so glitzy, highlighted in Being Somewhere Else. The exhibition explored socio-political tensions in the contemporary fashion world including sustainability and fast fashion, cultural displacement and immigration.
He explains: “It’s the other side of fashion behind the glamour, behind the allure. But it’s still quite real and very relevant.” To coincide with the exhibition Osman curated a four-day event titled the Migrant Festival which he describes as a grass roots celebration of diversity. As the son of migrants, shining a spotlight on migration and the issues that come with that are important to Osman as is celebrating the upsides. The events are an extension of his annual art and culture publication itiled The Collective which explores the intersection of art and fashion in a photographical series with insightful essays. The flagship store reflects Osman’s interest in art too featuring a rotating gallery space with art pieces available to buy.
Inspiration comes from many places. Osman says: “It’s a little bit Indian fabric shop meets elegant tailoring.” You can see what he means. The structure of his pieces is one of the things that’s so striking and flattering and is why celebs are queuing up to wear the brand. Having dressed so many of the world’s A-listers I wonder if there’s anyone left he’d love to dress? “Cate Blanchett would be lovely.” The craziness of Beyonce wearing Osman to the Grammys was berserk. “The level of column inches was insane! It was a really nice moment and the reaction was quite unexpected.”
Of his home town and the changes since he was a boy, Osman has high praise. “Birmingham is amazing. It’s this rich melting pot of multi-culturalism.” Of the fashion scene here, he says: “London is clearly the UK’s fashion hub. Birmingham is too close to the capital to have its own fashion hub, but it’s has other strengths. It’s like the workshop of the world.” The progress the city has made since Osman left for London is remarkable and he’s blown away by some aspects not least the transformation of New Street Station and the first impression visitors to the city are treated too. He says: “Grand Central is incredible. London doesn’t have anything close to that.”