If you’ve spent any time scrolling through Instagram in the last few months you’ve probably come across some incredibly vibrant loosk by up and coming brand April & Alex. The label’s viral lookbook caused quite a stir post their Paris Fashion Week debut- but who is responsible for this deliciously over the top designs? None other than the award winning ex-BBC journalist Didi Akinyelure. After exiting her high-profile BBC gig, the London–based fashionista decided to strike out on her own, launching her label in 2019.
Since then, Akinyelure’s been slowly building a solid brand – with its own style vocabulary —that’s just as vibrant and avant garde as the lush fabrications she uses to create her desirable garments.
We caught up with the designer to talk about launching her own brand, her inspirations, her Paris & London Fashion Week debut and the foundation for every woman’s wardrobe. Enter the fantasy world of April & Alex.
Tell us a little about your journey. Why did you start your line?
April & Alex was launched as a fashion blog in 2010. This was well before my career as a journalist started. I have always been a fashion girl, inspired by my Grandma and my Mum who launched (and still owns) a fashion and
corporate tailoring business over 30 years ago. So fashion is in my genes. I stopped blogging when my career in Journalism took off; I was busy travelling all over the world filming and presenting and moderating high level panels and succeeding at it, but I also knew that I would come back to this.
I wanted to continue the legacy and build a business that I could pass on to my children and to their children. So, in April 2019 I decided to just start … just jump right in! I launched an online store curating bold and edgy
fashion pieces; clothes that I wanted to wear. We were gearing to launch a popup store in London and then suddenly, we were faced with a pandemic. We were in the middle of the lock down but I saw it as an opportunity, time
to finally sit and create my debut collection. So here we are.
How would you describe your newest collection?
The SS21 ‘Audax’ collection is inspired by women who are bold, daring, fearless. Audax is a Latin word meaning Bold. We have exaggerated sleeves, exaggerated silhouettes, shoulder pads, and a stunning head dress.
What do you believe should be the foundation of every woman’s wardrobe?
I think that as women we are all very different and unique and we choose to celebrate that uniqueness. Of course we all have a few basics – personally I like the way outerwear transforms a look and makes it cool and edgy – jackets, blazers, coats, sweaters. It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing underneath, it could be a simple t-shirt, joggers, whatever – but when you rock it with an edgy blazer, all of a sudden it’s a new exciting look.
You just showed at Paris Fashion Week! That must have been super exciting. Why was it important to you to show there and how did you find it?
It really was exciting. We are a London-based brand so naturally the initial plan was to show only in London. However, because of the pandemic, we had a digital show (fashion film and look book) under the Fashion Scout umbrella. Fashion Scout is an exciting opportunity for any new brand but we yearned for the excitement that comes with a runway show. With fashion, and especially for a new brand like mine, you have to physically see it. For SS21, our photography / lookbook was excellently done, but personally I’d still prefer to see clothes in reality any day. With a runway show, you get an immediate reaction from the audience (press, buyers, influencers, consumers etc.) and this was a great feeling. Paris is also such a fashionable city. I felt like the audience really understood our style and brand aesthetic. They completely got it and loved it.
In light of COVID-19 and other industry challenges, many have questioned the need for fashion week and its value, especially for emerging brands. Was fashion week a valuable experience for your brand?
It certainly was, for the reasons listed above. I started the process of creating this collection in May (2020) and spent hours on it, sleepless nights, lots of zoom calls and virtual meetings with my team. It was a unique but enjoyable process, and it’s important to be able to release that creativity to the world. Does this have to be in the format of a specific week dedicated to fashion? Does this have to be constrained by seasons or could
it be seasonless? Does it have to be virtual or could it be a runway show? Maybe, Maybe not. As time goes on we may or may not see the rules change. However, to succeed in fashion, one must be visible and at the moment, fashion week is a time dedicated to creativity, and the visibility it provides is certainly valuable for emerging brands.
Who is the April & Alex woman?
She is Bold, Edgy, Fearless, Outré. The woman who is daring, fearless, a risk taker. The woman who needs no permission to be who or what she chooses to be. The woman who needs little or no validation, that is the woman we want to work with. We have a certain style – very bold, out-there, sculptural, dramatic pieces – so we are naturally drawn to all women who like their fashion bold.
Where do you get style inspiration?
I have always been drawn to dramatic pieces so my brand aesthetic will probably never change however inspiration comes from many places and each piece has a different story of its own. For our statement piece which is the Show Dress, I was inspired by the Ghonnella, the traditional head dress of Malta, which I learnt about on a trip to Malta. To me, it signifies boldness and power in women. It is so elegant and graceful yet super bold and in- your-face, with its large hooded cloak. There’s also the Tami Dress which was actually sketched by my very artistic 7 year old daughter. We also have a lot of quilted fabric in the collection (the Jumpsuit, the Black Toksy Dress, the Black Puff Top etc.) inspired by the quilted style of the building that houses Tokyo’s Prada store (which I fell in love with on a trip to
Tokyo). There’s also the Abi Suit and the Ama Pants – inspired by the flamboyant style of two of my best friends – who I would say certainly influenced the way I dressed in my late teens and 20s. However, what is unique to each of these pieces is the idea that ‘More is More’ so there’s a lot of exaggeration.
Where can we purchase pieces from the brand? Are they only available on the site?
The SS21 collection is available to Pre-order on our website www.aprilandalex.co.uk and we will be launching the collection at a trendy boutique in SoHo, New York from December this year. We also have a popup coming up in London next year, and one in Lagos. It’s been a great LFW and PFW debut; we’ve had appointments with buyers from some of the major department stores in London, Paris, and the Middle East. To be able to attract attention from some of these names, so early in the game, is something we are very proud of and we are keeping our fingers crossed for