This month, Atlanta menswear designer Afriyie Poku will debut his label, Oberima Afriyie, at Charleston Fashion Week. But those in the know are already watching: Last year, he won Charleston’s emerging designer competition—no small feat with judges including designer Christian Siriano, singer-songwriter Ashanti, and Fern Mallis, who actually created New York Fashion Week. The prize was valued at $20,000.
Poku, who immigrated to the U.S. from Ghana in 2000, is self-taught, having grown up watching his mother and aunt make traditional African clothes. He always loved taking things apart and putting them back together, so he started college in Maryland for electrical engineering. But Poku found he preferred reassembling clothes (to fit his twenty-nine-inch waist) to rewiring circuits.
The twenty-eight-year-old moved to Midtown in 2011 and worked at a vintage clothing shop, where he met Michael Habachy. The interior designer, known for over-the-top, lavish interiors at clubs like Vanquish and Reign, introduced Poku to his friends at Billy Reid; Poku soon became the store’s in-house tailor.
He also began designing his first collection for fall 2013, a sort of dapper Victorian (oberima means “gentleman” in his native tongue), made edgy with bold zippers, fur, leather, and an eggplant hue. Pieces include high-waisted riding pants, mondo-pocketed hunting blazers, biker-buckled waistcoats, and leather shendyt pants (inspired by Egyptian men’s skirts).
Poku’s aesthetic is a combination of history and innovation, and he works on both a 1941 solid cast-iron Singer and a state-of-the-art Bernina. For inspiration, he’s diving into films by Akira Kurosawa and images of the fourteenth- to sixteenth-century samurai. He also gets very excited about Coco Chanel.
“She changed the whole system!” he exclaims, smiling, waving his hands.
“She took inspiration from men’s clothing and used it in womenswear. I can look at womenswear and see how I can use that for men while keeping it masculine.”
Poku says we can expect some “bleed-out red” and leather in his fall 2014 show. The first look will be a light-and-lithe, modern take on warrior armor to show what he might do with a couture collection. But he wants his clothes to be “for every occasion of a gentleman’s life.” Unfortunately, oberima, his collection is not yet for sale.
This article originally appeared in our March 2014 issue under the headline “Handsome Haberdashery.”