Anarchists of Style: Iké Udé

 

Artist, dandy and generous spirit Iké Udé spoke with Worn Through about the art of sartorial excellence, his inspiration to pursue it and the importance of costume as an index of culture. A resident of New York City, in addition to making our streets a more beautiful place to stroll, Udé shares our passion for icons of style, whom he celebrates in aRude magazine and his recent book, Style File.

I’m interested in the origins of your personal style. You certainly do justice to the idea of a modern-day dandy, but was this always your chosen form of self expression?
Since childhood, the visible/visual world has been the one constant that fascinates, excites and inspires me—perhaps above all else. Naturally, part of this visible world encompasses clothes and how we employ them to best effect.

The act of dressing—though quotidian—is essentially the act of composition. We can all agree that certain songs—whether instrumental, vocal or a combination of both—are better composed than others; we can all agree that certain pictures, buildings, furniture, gardens, etc., are composed better in relation to others. In light of these examples, in the visual hierarchy of things, some excel in using clothes to better advantage than others do. And, I fear, that those who excel in this sartorial hierarchy are a minority, especially in our age. In  previous epochs, the average person’s daily style  surpassed today’s “well-dressed,” you see. On one hand, clothes are an unyielding, daily performative ritual taken for granted by the majority; on the other hand, a minority of us, say, dandies, do not take the seemingly tedious demands of sartorial quotidianity for granted—but rather, with open hands, we welcome it as an exciting daily opportunity to exalt in each moment of our fickle and perishable existence!

Cover Girl series, 1994

What is it about the dandy aesthetic that appeals to you?
The discipline of it all is profound for it checks against a larger picture of the self—sloppiness of mental alertness, self-disregard, unconscious self-loathing, slovenliness, disrespect to society; it desires an overall harmony of being alive that celebrates the attendant beauty of it all, the aristocracy of it all, the Godliness of it all. Moreover, dandyism is a generous, picturesque, instructive art in which the artist shares his picturesque, well-composed self with the public, free of charge.

Sartorial Anarchy, 2010

I wonder, like Brummel and his quest for the perfectly tied cravat, do you follow any daily rituals of dress? Do you plan ahead? Or is each morning an impromptu sartorial jazz riff?
My clothes/accessories are precisely akin to a painter’s palette and my body, akin to the canvas. I’m conversant with my wardrobe and often dress according to mood. My mood—be it romantic, wistful, edgy, impish, etc., informs my daily dress. Often, when I imagine an outfit ahead of time, it turns out that when the day/occasion arrives, my sartorial mood/desire cancels out the imagined outfit for something suitable.

That said, while composing the outfit of the day, I of course, start with say, a jacket, a trouser, a color or a garment with a particular fit and fabric—and from there on, I seek to find other elements to act as the sartorial protagonists of the overall ensemble. This completed, I submit to the mirror, with zero expectations. And depending on what the mirror decides, I may or may not return to finesse the ensemble in question. Thus, it is akin to jazz riff, to borrow your phrase.

Cover Girl series, 1994

As a resident New Yorker, is there a typical response by city dwellers? Is the response different when you travel outside of the City? Does attention drive your efforts in any way?
I’m originally from Lagos, Nigeria. I’ve lived here since the 1980s. Yet, every day, people ranging from vendors, taxi drivers and various service industry workers to the smart set I meet at various social/cultural functions, invariably assume that I’m a visitor even before I speak a word. And when I lived full-time in Nigeria, in cities such as Lagos and Enugu, I met with the same, “are-you-visiting” type reactions. Same thing when I’m in London. Moreover, the responses I get from places like say, Italy, Paris, Vienna and Berlin are even more intensely dramatic. So, I seem foreign, a perpetual visitor, wherever I am. For better or worse, I’m used to it and even use it to my advantage–in the sense that as a visitor or brother from another planet, I’m not supposed to conform to the petty, tedious, low laws/ethics of the land.

Cover Girl series, 1994

Do you consider yourself “of” the fashion world, or an observer? What about this world are you most interested in reflecting in your art?
I’m not of the fashion world. I’m more or less an observer who occasionally engages with a handful of the talents in the fashion world. Other than that, the fashion industry is mostly commercial and too unnecessarily shrill for my temperament. My work is not about fashion in the general sense, but rather about the critical role that past and present costumes/fashion—as the index of culture—play in our cultural/societal construct.

Sartorial Anarchy, 2010

I completely agree with the idea of costume as the index of culture, and I’m sure many of our readers will as well. Can you address how it is reflected in your work, especially in the Cover Girl and Sartorial Anarchy series. In Cover Girl series (1994) I employed magazine titles such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar to critique the exclusionary practices and tendencies of massive media organs to exclude and marginalized those in the minorities—be it ethnicity, gender, sex, religion, weight, intellectualism, individualism, etc. It also served as self-portraits but that was secondary to the critique.

The charting of men’s attire, across the board—across geographies/cultures and time/epochs and reconciling the various found items in respective self-portrait, is the aim of  Sartorial Anarchy. By mixing varied men’s costumes in concert with the now and then, we begin to realize how arbitrary, subjective, fleeting, even absurd—no less wonderful—our “real” cultural construct is. Sartorial Anarchy demonstrates a debt to artifice while acknowledging an on-going, back-and-forth between culturally subjective ambiguities in men’s dress codes and their attendant beauty, flaws and contradictions.

You’ve been wonderful and an inspiration. What is the perfect thank-you gift for an artist and dandy? An excellent art-book or perfume of my choice!

 

Sartorial Anarchy, 2010

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