When the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands asked fashion designer Isy Obi to create a womenswear collection for an innovative new exhibit called “The Art of Fashion,” she immediately saw the artistic potential. Although clothing design isn’t viewed as a traditional art form, for Obi the creative process is similar. And, if done at an elevated level, clothing design like a beautiful painting can also evoke emotion and tell a story.
“This project pushed me to look and think outside the box when it comes to what can be done,” says Obi. “For most of this process, my right brain was on fire.”
Obi was born in Nigeria and grew up in London and was influenced by her mother, who also loved designing clothes in her free time. But it wasn’t until Obi moved to Grand Cayman as an accountant 14 years ago that she began nurturing her creative side that would eventually lead her into a path as a full-time fashion designer.
With her sixth collection set to launch in early 2019, Obi’s underlying aesthetic has always been creating a modern Caribbean look, incorporating the vibrant colours of the region and translating them into beautiful, contemporary designs that can also hold up under the tropical heat. Obi has shown her work in Cayman Fashion Week and London Fashion Week and has won the Emerging Lifestyle Designer of the Year award at Phoenix Fashion Week. Her clothing and accessories are available at Sand Angels at Camana Bay, and her jewellery and handbags are sold at La Boutique at The Ritz-Carlton and The Spa at the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa.
The concept behind “The Art of Fashion” was to create a collection inspired by the artwork of renowned artists on display at the National Art Collection. With such a wide-ranging body of work, Obi was inspired by pieces that visually drew her in and felt she could continue the story from her point of view. She then experimented with conventional and unconventional materials. This is how she found herself in a booth spray-painting layers of tulle and at the farmers market with thatch artist Eileen McLaughlin constructing a dress.
The result was a 14-piece womenswear collection inspired by works from 11 Cayman artists, including Gladwyn “Miss Lassie” Bush, Nickola McCoy-Snell, Gordon Solomon and Nasaria Suckoo-Chollette.
For all of Obi’s commercial success, “The Art of Fashion” is particularly meaningful because it represents a recognition of her contributions to the burgeoning fashion industry in her adopted country. And for other clothing designers, it demonstrates that the fashion industry is emerging into its own.
Looking to find some balance in her hectic business, Obi makes time for early-morning bike rides, meditating in her garden and practicing yoga. She is also taking a drawing course, which isn’t about developing her sketching skills but, rather, focusing on the intuitive side of her brain.
To aspiring young people who are looking for a way to get started in fashion design, Obi recommends seeking out as much work experience as they can, whether it’s through internships, mentorships or other part-time experience, which will help them learn about the complex world of the fashion industry.
“If you’re a designer, pursue collaborations with photographers, models and make-up artists who are looking for interesting and dramatic projects and then start posting on Instagram and other social media. Instagram is the cheapest way I can imagine to get attention to any creative person in Cayman or anywhere,” says Obi.
Cayman Airways recognises the vibrant role the arts play in our culture and has a long history of supporting the National Gallery of the Cayman Islands, Cayfest, Cayman National Cultural Foundation and the Cayman Arts Festival.
“The Art of Fashion” exhibit at the National Gallery features fashion designers Isy Obi and Jawara Alleyne and runs through November 28.
Inspired to take some Caymanian art home with you? You can ship your artwork with Cayman Airways Cargo services. We ship to/from Cayman Brac; Miami and Tampa, Florida; Kingston and Montego Bay, Jamaica; and La Ceiba, Honduras.
Author: Shurna DeCou
Photographer: Jeremy Walton