“I dressed Nelson Mandela without knowing him…”

He is a modest, warm and simple man. Yet, he was commissioned by stylist Maria Grazia Chuiri to create the flagship piece for Dior’s latest fashion show in honour of Nelson Mandela. Hamaji Magazine met the man who dressed Africa’s greatest heads of state during his visit to Lubumbashi, DRC in June for his participation in the “Dress Up, Dress Up Me” parade organized by Le Complexe La page.

Under his real name Pathé Ouédraogo, the designer has made shirts for several African personalities, the most famous of whom is the late Nelson Mandela. Pathé O is an icon of African fashion, a model of combativeness. The stylist met Hamaji Magazine’s editor for an exclusive interview… 

HAMAJI MAGAZINE: You became famous in the fashion world. Your work has marked the evolution of fashion design in Africa, particularly the enhancement of the wax. What is your story? 

Pathé O: It is not much of a long story but I will try to summarize it! Indeed, contemporary fashion is a little new for Africans. Many simply want to look like someone else, to have the same look as the Milanese, the Parisian, the New Yorker… But there are designers who are fighting to make Africans understand that Africa also has its own fashion and identity. I am committed to this mission since 1969. I am Burkinabe and Ivorian, so I am an African.

HAMAJI MAGAZINE: The designer Maria Grazia Chuiri, artistic director of Dior, presented in Marrakech a powerful collection conceived as a dialogue with artists like yourself. How do you see the work of couturiers in Africa as an inspiration for fashion in general and for great couturiers in particular? 

Pathé O: It is better late than never. We have so many talents in Africa, we have untapped materials, but all this still remains at the local level, which is why fashion is perceived as coming from the West. It is true that designer Maria Grazia Chuiri, who is the artistic director of Dior, came to Abidjan to prepare the 2020 collection, which was to be entirely dedicated to wax fabric collections from Côte d’Ivoire. The Moucheté fabric we created impressed her. When she saw the picture of President Mandela wearing one of my pieces she got inspired. She approached me for a collaboration which I was of course open to, especially to pay tribute to Nelson Mandela by bringing back to life the blue shirts signed by Pathé O. 

HAMAJI MAGAZINE: You are also known as Nelson Mandela or Mickalene Thomas’ designer. Madiba loved your shirts. Do you have a nice anecdote to share with us?

Pathé O: I dressed President Mandela without knowing him! It all started thanks to Myriam Makeba whom I knew well and who at the time lived in exile between Guinea and Côte d’Ivoire.  Towards the end of the apartheid regime in South Africa in 1993, she told me that President Mandela enjoyed wearing shirts and she took about four shirts to offer to him as gifts. Can you believe it? From my village to Abidjan, I could have never imagined designing the shirts Mandela would wear one day. Nelson Mandela was exceptional. When I arrived in his villa there was no one, just a white protocol agent who spoke English, a language I do not speak. He said to me, “Come on, the president is waiting for you”. I followed him and the president was already there. Oufff! Seeing him, my God, was more than moving! He rubbed my head as if to say, “This head is small but, there is a lot in there”. Imagine a head of state who receives a simple villager and wears his shirt…

Later, President Mandela sent me a letter, written with his own hand, at the end of which he wrote: “The Africa of tomorrow belongs to the creators of wealth”.  

HAMAJI MAGAZINE: What are your next projects? 

Pathé O: I am creating my headquarters in Abidjan with everything I need! And I will be waiting for you there!

HAMAJI MAGAZINE: Pathé O, thank you.