Words Kirk Truman
Portraits Etienne Gilfillan
“For me, it was about creating a beautiful label with the right clothes to help tell the story of my Gabonese culture…”
We first meet at Marylebone’s Ivy Cafe, going on to wander through the backstreets of the neighbourhood, crossing the border into Fitzrovia. We pass window after window, discussing London’s high streets, men’s and women’s fashion, Paris, New York and the eternal, magnetic pull of the metropolis. Teddy Ondo Ella is witty and smart, with an eye for design. He has a keen eye for Soho, too, as he makes his way around the neighbourhood on a visit from New York. His trip is the perfect mix of business and pleasure as he gets ready to launch his eponymous brand, Teddy Ondo Ella, while exploring the area’s rich and dynamic culture.
When we first meet, Teddy is dressed mostly in black: a bomber jacket, denim and sneakers. Less than 24 hours later, across town at the Rosewood Hotel off Chancery Lane, he looks fresh out of a Savile Row fitting, sporting a two-piece turquoise suit. Teddy grew up between continents, living in Gabon and France, and has developed a distinctive style of his own, mixing formalwear with streetwear in his day-to-day life. He draws inspiration from French fashion, but with a distinctively African sensibility. He remains passionate about his youth in Gabon and his original muse – his mother.
“More or less, the creativity in my work has come from the experience I’ve had in my life,” he says. “When I was younger, I never knew I was about to be in the fashion industry. The clothes came into my life, because my mother was running a clothing store. I was working with her in the store, which she named Teddy after me, and learning the ways of the business. I’ve lived in three different continents in my life. And when you only live in one place, you can only understand one side. You have to live on the other side to understand how the other half live, and learn from their culture. This is how my brand has come to be born; through the learnings of culture and people.”
Teddy Ondo Ella wants to create something that’s expressive of the wider world around us, a label that incorporates traditional Gabonese culture and the contemporary fashion world. Produced with only the finest fabrics available, TOE is a balance of luxury and craft, with each garment incorporating a subtle reference to Gabonese culture and Teddy’s own heritage. “These clothes are for the people. For me, it was about creating a beautiful label with the right clothes to help tell the story of my Gabonese culture. The signature piece of the brand will be the abacos, which means ‘against the suit’, Teddy explains. “It was created by Africans in the 1970s as a symbol of anti-colonialism. The Abacos is worn without a tie and with short sleeves. It was a peaceful way for them to show Europeans that they weren’t down with what they were doing. I revisited this piece by making it more modern and more fitted. Teddy Ondo Ella will have an urban line, and a ready-to-wear line. The urban line is called ‘Only Made in Gabon’. This is how I feel men should be dressing – mixing things up, and breaking the barriers of formality and informality,” he says.
Always looking to develop his brand and broaden his own cultural influences, Teddy recently visited Soho on a business trip. Meeting many of the creatives who work in the neighbourhood, he got a first-hand taste of Soho’s traditional flair for fashion. “I want to bring something to my brand and products, and English elegance has come to have an influence over this. Soho has an energy at every turn, which is just as rich during the night as it is during the day. It is magnetic, and the spirit of artists such as Bradley Theodore and Robi Walters, and Exposure PR Founder Raoul Shah, make up the bricks of this place. That energy, and their energy, is something which I want to be at the centre of my brand. Soho feels to me like home; after all, it’s an international village filled with eccentricity and creativity at every corner.”
Teddy is obviously drawn to Soho and feels that, if his business continues to expand, it would be a likely location for a new TOE store. After all, the new Teddy Ondo Ella line – simple, graphic and stylish – perfectly expresses the creative spirit of neighbourhoods like Soho, and the many villages which make up each metropolis Teddy has lived in. Teddy is already a true Sohoite in spirit.