Words by: Victoria Taylor
Step into the world of sartorial sophistication and impeccable craftsmanship with renowned designer Kabiru Abu. With a keen eye for detail and a passion for creating bespoke suits that transcend time, Abu’s collection is a testament to his mastery of the art. Delve into a harmonious fusion of classic tailoring and vibrant Nigerian influences, as each garment tells a unique story of cultural heritage and personal style. From the basketball courts of Nigeria to the illustrious Savile Row, Kabiru Abu has emerged as a true visionary, redefining luxury menswear one stitch at a time. Below, we have interviewed Kabiru Abu himself, gaining insights into his fascinating journey and creative process. Discover the mind behind the designs as Abu shares his inspirations, challenges, and his unwavering commitment to cultural representation in the fashion industry.
Can you tell us about your transition from playing basketball for Nigeria to becoming a bespoke suit designer on Savile Row?
My childhood in Nigeria involved playing a lot of basketball, and I was lucky enough to play for the national team. When I came to the UK at the age of 18, I continued playing basketball at a high level while starting a university course. The journey into becoming a bespoke suit designer started when I designed my first suit as a favour for a friend who was struggling to find a good fit. Understanding the difficulties myself, being 6’5″ tall, this experience inspired me to start my business, and it quickly gained momentum as word spread.
How has your Nigerian heritage and cultural background influenced your designs and approach to fashion?
The traditional attires from the different regions of Nigeria are known for their vibrant colours and prints. This has been the case for decades, from the lively tie and dye patterns to the intricately embroidered handwoven Kaftan garments. In my designs, clients can request a combination of these traditional features with the classic styling of a suit, such as creating a silk-lined print or incorporating detailed lapels.
What do you believe sets your bespoke suits apart from other high-end fashion brands and designers?
The precision of made-to-measure accuracy is vital in my work, along with taking the time to understand the unique needs and desires of each client on a personal level. This allows me to capture their essence and incorporate it into my designs. We start with one-to-one consultations, either on Savile Row or at a location of their choosing. Additionally, my close working relationship with Scabal, renowned fabric purveyors, grants me access to a wide range of exclusive and top-quality materials.
How do you draw inspiration for your designs, and how do you ensure they meet the unique needs and preferences of each individual client?
The client plays a crucial role in the design process as their vision and tradition guide us. My job is to transform their concept into reality, reflecting their own unique style, pattern, and sizing.
Can you share with us any memorable experiences or collaborations you have had with Premier League footballers, World Champion boxers, and big names in business and entertainment?
I have had the privilege of designing for Ghana and Arsenal’s Thomas Partey since he reached out to me during his time with Athletico Madrid. I delivered his first bespoke creation to Spain, and we have developed a strong relationship. I have also designed for Thomas’ teammate Sambi Lokonga, currently on loan to Crystal Palace.
In the realm of boxing, I am fortunate to design for several famous boxers, including Anthony Joshua, Derek Chisora, Joe Joyce, and Lawrence Okolie. However, my closest collaboration is with David Haye, with whom I regularly work. Across the pond, I create bespoke garments for US music video and movie director Daps and Grammy Award-winning Gospel singer Bebe Winans. Notable business clients include Mike Obaseki, Vice President of BP West Africa, and Kabiru Rabiu, Forbes African Richest from the BUA Group.
Can you talk about any challenges or obstacles you have faced in your career as a bespoke suit designer, and how you overcame them?
The advent of Covid-19 impacted the entire industry, catching everyone off guard. Fortunately, my core clients remained loyal due to the high level of service we provide. What’s truly advantageous is that if an existing client needs a new piece, a simple phone call allows us to begin creating a new garment since we already have an in-depth knowledge of their requirements.
How do you stay up-to-date with the latest fashion trends and styles while maintaining your own unique design aesthetic?
While we have the luxury of creating whatever we want to a certain degree, we are guided by the production of seasonal fabrics from esteemed brands like Scabal, Loro Piana, and a few other mills. The classic cut of a suit will always be timeless, and the additional luxury of contemporary silks and jacquards adds a captivating touch to each piece.
Can you talk about any specific African fashion trends that you have seen emerging recently, particularly in the world of bespoke suit design?
We have noticed a slight shift towards the acceptance of wearing traditional attire. The Agbada and the Kaftan are increasingly showcased at highbrow formal events, with the use of luxury fabrics for tailoring.
Can you discuss any challenges or misconceptions you have faced when trying to introduce African fashion into the global market?
The challenge lies in achieving acceptance and conforming to the norm, as it takes time to change a generation’s perception of style. However, some of the larger brands like Louis Vuitton subtly incorporate African prints and designs in their campaigns.
Can you elaborate on the importance of cultural representation and diversity in the fashion industry and how your work as a bespoke suit designer contributes to this?
Cultural diversity is fundamental to us. We frequently receive positive feedback from clients who appreciate the option to patronise our business, not only because of my Nigerian origin but also because we deliver a level of luxury that matches that of the larger, well-known brands. We aspire to inspire the younger generation by showcasing that establishing a flourishing business in a globally recognised location like Savile Row is indeed possible.
Can you provide any advice for African men who are looking to elevate their style and incorporate traditional African elements into their wardrobe?
I would always recommend starting with a classic suit, which will stand the test of time. As we build the client’s wardrobe, we can gradually introduce outstanding pieces with traditional features that make the wearer feel regal.