Interview: Ashley Okoli, the Creative Director Behind Your Favorite Alté Music Videos
We sat down with the Nigerian creative director and stylist to talk about her journey, as well as working on videos for Lady Donli, Santi, Nonso Amadi and more.
Lagos' creative and alté scenes are held together by a small band of city youth who are pushing and making experimental art, music and videos. At the center of this scene is Ashley Okoli. When I meet Ashley two days after our first interview at an art party attended by young writers, photographers and artists, this is more obvious than ever.
As she makes her way across the hall where the exhibition and party is taking place, several people rush to her side attempting to take selfies. Ashley, who is wearing a black crop top and jeans, seems to not mind making videos and taking pictures. Under the blue light surrounded with the bubbling energy, she looks at home in a scene similar to the ones she's directed for your favorite singers.
Ashely is many things and she is good at all of them: her clothing line Sillet is a favorite among Lagos youth, she has styled several artists and is credited as a stylist and creative director for Santi's "Raw Dinner," Nonso Amadi's "Comfortable," and more recently, Lady Donli's "Corner" video among several others. ''I like to work on projects that have stories behind them.'' Ashley tells me. ''Even if they don't look like they have stories, I like to give them stories. I like to give characters to my cast, I like to give characters to projects. I like to see life in things I work with, I like to like the things I work on. I like when they also connect with me.''
We sat down with the multi-faceted creative to talk about her journey as a creative director, working on "Corner" and more.
Lady Donli - Corner Ft. VanJess & The Cavemen (The Movie) youtu.be
Can you tell us about your journey as a stylist and creative director?
I started with Sillet. I launched Sillet in December of 2017. Before then, I've just always enjoyed putting clothes together creatively, for myself at first, and occasionally for my friends. But then after I launched my own brand, I thought 'if I'm able make people look sexy in my own clothes, I might as well just make it a profession.' So, making people look sexy in my clothes and even other people's clothes, sometimes.
You've directed and styled several videos already, was there anything about Lady Donli's "Corner" that was different?
Nothing really. I enjoy styling videos that have stories behind them, because when I style I like to give the cast characters. So yeah, that's why I prefer styling videos with a storytelling element as opposed to just regular videos in which people are just coming and going, perambulating.
As a creative, what made you choose clothes, style and images/videos as a medium of expression?
Well, growing up, my mum used to take us to bend-down-select, which is like a second hand market, to pick clothes. My mum was such a huge fashion person, she really enjoyed mixing and matching for us. To be honest, looking back at it, we were pretty much her mannequins. Literally, even if we looked crazy, it was still an expression of her style, what she wanted us to look like. So, growing up like that, I began to thoroughly enjoy putting clothes together, no matter how simple the exercise was.
Santi - Raw Dinner (Official Video / Short Version) feat Kida Kudz youtu.be
I've also always really enjoyed being in front of a camera. I think it's like a gene thing, because my mum is obsessed with taking pictures and just looking at herself. So I think all of that just really just influenced my love for being in front of a camera and my love for dressing up and just being creative with how I look and not being afraid of to look a certain way, even if it's a way that people don't exactly agree with. Yeah, I think my childhood experiences were great stepping stones to me falling into visual media and me being comfortable to just be myself whilst doing it.
What's your creative process like?
For videos, when I get sent a treatment I like to read it over and the ideas that come as I'm reading it, I jot them down. Then when I go to bed, believe it or not, I sleep and dream ideas of what I want a certain project to look like, so when I wake up I write them down. Then I sketch, go to the market, buy fabrics, find tailors, all of that. It's so hard to pull clothes from other designers cause they don't exactly fit my aesthetic, so I have to go to the market, source for fabrics and find tailors to bring my vision to life.
What plans do you have for this year?
To be honest, I don't know. I just want to work harder and find myself in a different space. I feel like I've done a lot, or I've done enough or, rather, I've done as much as I can for Lagos for now. My plan this year is to widen my horizon and leave Africa, or just Nigeria. I want to find other opportunities everywhere else, find more competition, more drive, more inspiration.
Nonso Amadi ft. Kwesi Arthur - Comfortable (Official Video) youtu.be
Do you think the perception of alté creatives is shifting?
I think it is very much shifting. Before, it started as alté music, and now it's alté dressing and now it's an alté way of life. Even the people who never succumbed or liked it or went with it are now with it. So, alté creatives, what is shifting? I mean you can see literally every one of us excelling in our different fields. So, alté is literally just a name, it's just us still struggling and trying to find our way out of this or here.
How do you pick projects that you work on?
There are just projects that once you look at it, once you look at the brief or once you start thinking about it, you just start stressing. Then there are ones that once you look at it or when you see the brief your creative juices just start overflowing – I pick these ones.