Kanayo Ebi shares how she became a stylist to the stars

Kanayo Ebi finds time from her hectic schedule to give the lowdown on her life as a celebrity stylist

Who is Kanayo Ebi?
I’m a 33 year old Nigerian–American, image and brand consultant and fashion/style enthusiast. I’m also a keen literature fan and psychology major, I’m actually still planning on a Phd in Clinical Psychology one day. I love learning, I love improving myself and I just always make sure in everything I do, I do it with my whole heart.

Where are you from?
My family is Nigerian, however I was born in America in New York City but raised in Nigeria. I spent my summers between London and New York before finally moving back to NY to finish my schooling. I now live in New York.

How did you get into styling?
I happened to stumble into it. I always had a love for fashion, being influenced by my travels and different cultures, and also growing up in a household where both parents where unapologetically stylish, which came so naturally to them. I was always surrounded by fashion, so I always loved to put pieces together, go shopping and create looks but never really thought about it or even considered it as a career. In college I had friends who modelled on the side and occasionally needed to do test shoots to keep their portfolio updated and one day, one of my friends had a last minute photo shoot and asked me to help her style and put together looks for the shoot. I was hesitant at first but just decided to go for it and I had so much fun on set. It worked really well with the hair/make-up and photographer, that they were convinced I had been doing this for a while. The excitement and rush I got from that shoot, but most importantly the fulfillment, made me realize that, this was what I really wanted to do. I decided to find, with the help of my friends, other stylists that I could work under in assisting, so I could learn the business properly and really get to experience the professional side of fashion/styling.

African parents usually want their children to succeed in the professions like medicine, law etc, did your parents encourage you to become a stylist?
I am so thankful and grateful for my parents because at that time it was not something that was popular or even understood, however they were always encouraging. Of course, don’t get me wrong, they had their doubts and their concerns but they just felt like if it was something I really felt so strongly about, then it was worth me seeing it through, even though I know a part of them was hoping that it was a phase that would pass and still wanted me to have a conventional job, while pursuing this on the side, as more of a hobby than a career. I understand, as parents that they wanted the best for me and it was/is their job to worry and look out for my well-being and their main concern was- is this sustainable? Would I be able to live off it? But like I said I thank God for them everyday, because despite not understanding or having a full handle on what it entailed or what this crazy daughter of theirs is trying to do with her life they encouraged and supported me in every way. All they needed from me in return was just to help them understand and keep them abreast, so they knew how to help and support me, since this was not something they were used to. I remember every time my dad came to visit, he would bring back a whole bunch of magazines with him i.e. GQ, Hello, Stylist and Vogue and he would carry all these reading materials and say “I figured you would enjoy these, as it could help with your work somehow,” and those were the little moments that meant so much. Even if they didn’t completely get it and were struggling with the idea of me taking this unconventional route with my career, they trusted and believed that it was worth it to me, as opposed to fighting it because they didn’t understand it. Instead they supported it as my purpose in life and find ways to help me fulfill it. I do believe God had a part in that.

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Describe the power of clothes
Clothes (more so style) speak volumes. It’s a way of self-expression and a way to create. It tells a story of culture, history and geography. With fashion, it’s a universal language and people don’t necessarily care about the origin of a certain style or garment, as long as it looks good and they like it, they will wear it. It has a way of bringing people together from different parts of the world. Clothes/style also sets you apart from others; it speaks for you before you get to introduce yourself. It has a way of defining you, your personality and most importantly, it has a way of making you feel good about yourself. When people feel like they look good or are dressed well, it’s a self-esteem booster, it gives them a sense of relevance, power and courage.

Kanya & angela pingpong

Kanayo Ebi (left) poses with Angela Simmons

You style the Simmons sisters Angela and Vanessa, can you describe their individual styles?
Vanessa is more feminine, classic chic with a bit of edge. She taps into old Hollywood i.e. your Billie Holliday, Phylicia Rashad, Dorothy Danbridge and Audrey Hepburn. She likes clean lines and feminine silhouettes but she also likes to experiment with fashion and add on a bit of flare and fun to it and pushes the envelope a bit but always keeping it chic. Angela is more of a fashion maverick, anything goes with her, and it all depends on how she’s feeling or what phase in her life she’s in. She can go from tomboy to completely feminine and wear it so effortlessly. I think that’s the fun part of styling her, she’s always willing and ready to explore and always looking to push the envelope somehow. Its a great balance with both of them because they both have their moments and it’s good to be able to work with people who are open minded and see fashion as an extension of who they are or a way to define themselves at a particular moment.

Do you have any other celebrity clients you can tell us about?
I have been blessed to work with some amazing people i.e. Sanya Richards-Ross, J.Cole, Diggy Simmons, Adrienne Bailon, Dawn Richards, Rocsi Diaz, BET’s 106 & Park and Rip The Runway, Hype Hair Magazine, Tatler Magazine and Lagos Fashion and Design Week.

You work in an industry where the going out uniform is bodycon dresses and heels – how do make celebrities stand out?
There is so much going on in fashion now, so many trends that are in, so many options to chose from, why limit yourself to the norm? It gets boring and old. When working with clients, I always take into consideration four things;

1. Their personal style

2. What they are comfortable in or with

3. Their body shape and body image (what is their favorite part of the body to accentuate and what part they aren’t too keen on etc) and

4.what is age or event appropriate.

All these things matter when dressing or deciding on an outfit for a client. I try to have my clients have fun with fashion and use it as a form of self-expression and also a form of identity. If you approach fashion in this sense it becomes less of a task and more of a way of expressing yourself/mood, leaving room for improvement and growth.

What has been the highlight of your career so far?
I cherish every aspect of my work experiences- I feel in a way they have all contributed to my growth in the industry, as well as life. I’ve learnt to grow thick skin and not to dwell too long in a situation or moment, because things move so quickly but most importantly I have been fortunate enough to come across so many amazing people that have contributed in my journey so far. So if I should say what the highlight of my career has been, I would say being able to work with so many different people and designers with their different sense of style, being able to travel and visit so many amazing places and work from these great locations but most importantly still being able to do what I love everyday and being able to grow in it, in different aspects.

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Who else would you like to dress and why?
I would love to dress a list of people; Gwen Stefani, Kelis, Rihanna, Idris Elba, Iris Apfel, David Beckham to name a few. I like the fact that they march to the beat of their own drum and pretty much do what they want. They are not afraid to have fun with fashion, take risks and set their own trends. They dress how they feel and they make you respect it, while making it work for them as well.

You have a reputation for wearing out there clothes. Do men get your fashion sense?
Ha! I like what I like but I do get bored easily and I have this thing, where if I think of something I just need to see it manifest asap. When I think of an outfit, sometimes I feel like this doesn’t even exist yet but there has to be something like this somewhere or somewhere I can find it. …and I think that’s why I have a thing for independent, new and emerging designers because they are bringing something new and refreshing to the scene most of the time. Actually, people/men seem to get my fashion sense. I guess it somewhat goes with my personality or maybe people are just so used to me being me that when I do something “different” or “out there” its not so out there because its me doing it. I don’t purposely do things for shock value or to be different, I like to be inconspicuous and somewhat of an introvert (believe it or not), so I just do it because that’s how I feel at the moment and I just need to get that idea or look out of my head by executing or else it will haunt me for a while. People seem to get it and even if they don’t they accept it (I think)

Has anyone ever said, ‘No way am I wearing that!’
[Laughs] but of course, there have always been moments at first glance when a client sees an outfit; it may look like something they are not used to or out of their comfort zone but most times, I try to sell it to them or just tell them even if it’s just for fun, lets just see or try to add to the fun of it and for the most part they are good sports about it. I try not to go completely overboard when trying to push the client, you have to make sure most importantly in whatever they are wearing they feel comfortable and confident.

How would you encourage a young girl to get started in the industry?
This industry is very cut-throat and fickle, so it is very important that you know first and foremost, this is what you want! You have to trust your vision and gift. Trust yourself, most importantly. I always say it is important to find your niche, what it is that will set you apart from the others trying to do the same thing you’re doing. Believe in yourself. There are a lot of people that will try to discourage you, tear you down, doubt you, or even belittle you but you have to believe this is where you belong, this is what you’re supposed to be doing and you’re setting yourself apart. Stay persistent, positive, and resilient and you will persevere.

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What are the items we should be wearing this summer?
A maxi, midi or skater, a-line dress is a must this summer, they are the easiest things to throw on. Also you can never go wrong with a pair of Converse Chuck Taylor’s; they go with pretty much everything and some nice comfy, dressy embellished pair of sandals.

Describe your off-duty style
I like very easy and simple; – Rocker chic with a hint of Boho flare. I love distressed denims and a graphic t-shirt, denim dresses, sneakers, and comfortable boots. I’m also obsessed with leather jackets and blazers. I love being able to piece things together and mix and match.

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Friends always try to talk me out of my hairstyling ideas

Who does your hair?
For my wild colours and styles, I started off by doing them myself (please do not try this at home). Like I said earlier, I come up with different ideas in my head and most times people try to talk me out of it because it may sound so bizarre to them or they can’t picture it but if I can picture it or see it vividly then that’s enough conviction for me and I find my way around it. The first time I shaved the sides of my hair I did it myself, then my friend (who was a barber) used to do it for me. The first time I went blue and then grey, I did it myself (oh the joys of Google and YouTube) but now I get my custom colour from Wig’n Out hair. It’s so much easier than trying to achieve the colors myself. I also have Nik Nelson of Pressed Hair ATL to do my installs (extensions) most of the time.

Have you embraced the natural hair movement?
I did for a while, but I admit it didn’t last too long. I have very fine hair and it’s so hard for me to maintain and take care of it, when it’s natural, so once in a while I have to put a relaxer in my hair to help make it manageable. Plus I’m always being so adventurous with my hair, i.e. shaving my sides or dyeing it, so I get bored easily and feel the need to explore.

On the desert island, which three items couldn’t you be without?
Smart Phone because there’s an app for everything and you can do almost any and everything on it – I can phone home like E.T. Deodorant/body spray – I have this pet peeve about body odour and my signature red lipstick.

Fave fragrance?
At the moment I love Paco Rabanne’s One MILLion (the men’s cologne), Balenciaga Paris and Florabotanica Perfume.

Heels or flats?
Hmmmm funny enough I love both…I love the sexiness of a heel and the comfort and easiness of flats…. but if I had to chose one, being a New Yorker and being constantly on the move, I would say flats. I love sneakers, boots as long as it’s cool, easy and stylish I’m with it.

Designer or chain store?
I’m a mix and match kind of girl. I like to mix it up, so on this one I would say both. It’s always good to invest in some classic designer pieces especially when it comes to shoes and bags that you know you can always rotate in your closet and it will never go out of style. It’s always good to have the chain store pieces because fashion is constantly changing at a rapid pace and sometimes it’s good to have the trendy pieces but not necessarily having to spend a fortune on them.

Where can we find you?
Twitter
Instagram
Website

2 Comments

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