NATIVE Exclusive: Dunsin Wright Is Just Getting Started
"I'm really not limited."
"I'm really not limited."
The driving force behind Tems’ inspiringingly firm sense of style is Dunsin Wright, a Nigerian stylist and expert who is the Nigerian singer and producer’s close friend and collaborator.
“I actually met someone on her team a couple of years ago, maybe two years ago,” Dunsin tells the NATIVE about the fated meeting. “At the time, [styling] was meant to be more of a side thing. Then I met someone on the team who had seen my work and he just pitched me. I guess Tems must have liked my work because then they sent me a mood board.” Having grown up in Lagos in the 1990s, she developed an affinity for home-grown luxury brands and had her first gig in the game with the global artisan, Lisa Folawiyo. “I think working in Lagos and with a female led brand definitely informed my idea of what was even possible,” she recalls of the experience.
Now, Wright is the in-house stylist for the Grammy and BET award winning artist, Tems and forms a core part of Tems’ small yet undeniably well-oiled machine. In such a short time, both Tems and Wright have embarked on an awe-inspiring trajectory that has birthed the global star a polished and sleek image direction. Working as Tems’ right hand, Dunsin ensures she looks breathtaking for all these moments. From her baby blue Brielle moment for the Global Citizen Festival to the ethereal custom Vivienne Westwood piece donned at the Grammys earlier this year, Wright is crafting and redefining the singer and producer’s entire wardrobe, one awe-inspiring look at a time.
Off the back of the 2023 MET Gala, the NATIVE sits down with the stylist to discuss her entry into the fashion industry, working with Tems, her creative process and much more.
View this post on Instagram
Our conversation, which follows below, has been lightly edited for clarity.
NATIVE: Hi Dunsin, thanks for joining me on this call. Can you talk about your first introduction to fashion?
Dunsin: I would say that I was very heavily influenced by my mom. From when we were children, my mom was always super intentional, very creative and always made me think or see fashion from different lenses. It was very intertwined with my idea of self-expression. I think I always admired that creativity and it’s something that has informed the way I look at clothes and style to this day. From a career standpoint, I never really looked at it as something I would go into professionally. It was just always very fun for me. After I graduated from university, I wasn’t loving some of the jobs that I tried to get into. I was going for something more corporate, but I just never really had a lot of fun doing it. I decided to get some experience in the fashion industry and started off working fashion PR in London. From there, I met the clothing designer, Lisa Folawiyo. I moved back to Lagos and I started running her comms and marketing.
So you had the opportunity to understand the fashion industry on a closer level.
Yeah, I had a lot more time to build experience and grow my contacts as well then I pivoted into styling and creative direction. That’s really it.
What are some of your early fashion inspirations?
One of the biggest ones was my mom and older sister. I would say now it’s kind of everything and everyone, down to people on the street. I always say that I really love and appreciate street style especially in Lagos and London. Right now, I would say it’s a bit of everything. I can’t really pinpoint it to one person. I also love old music videos and fashion shows. Some independent designers here and there. So yeah, I would say it’s a mix of everything right now.
As a young Nigerian woman, how were you able to chase your creative passions and get into that industry? You already mentioned working with Lisa Folawiyo, do you think working with a woman influenced your journey?
I think pursuing my creative career was not easy at first because there was a social stigma attached to it. When I was growing up and even within my family, it wasn’t looked at as a lucrative career. Everyone was encouraged to study a more serious subject and fashion was not that at the time. It wasn’t easy at first but I was invested. I knew I’d really be denying myself of who I really am if I didn’t pursue this. I think working in Lagos and with a female led brand definitely informed my idea of what was even possible. Working with someone as strong as Lisa, who has so much respect in her industry, really paved a way for other fashion designers. It changed the way I looked at everything. I just realised that as long as you’re able to work hard and put as much effort in your work, it will always speak for you. It definitely informed the way I look at my work and possibilities.
How would you define your style now?
I think I am a lot more comfortable in my skin. I speak to so many designers everyday and I’m taking in a lot more fashion and style than I would ever have. I think that has translated into me being a lot more comfortable and I know my style a lot better. Now I gravitate towards things that feel like me. I connect with pieces a lot more. I feel like I have a wardrobe that is more reflective of my personality. I found that before, I’d probably look for clothing in a limited amount of places. I don’t think it’s possible to really have clothes that reflect all the different sides of you if you’re looking in limited spaces. And so now, whether it’s from markets and labels to thrift stores, to Depop or more high end clothing, I think being able to understand style from that space has allowed me to build on what reflects the different sides of my personality.
View this post on Instagram
Let’s talk about Tems. How did both of you meet and how did you decide that this is something that you wanted to do with her? How did you guys hit it off?
I actually met someone on her team a couple of years ago, maybe two years ago. They were trying to put together a press shoot. At the time, I was working with Lisa, and I had just styled my first shoot with BOJ and Davido. So it was something I was starting to consider. I had also done some work for Lagos Fashion Week with NATIVE and Momo Fashion. I co-styled that shoot and I was just starting to consider styling. At the time, [styling] was meant to be more of a side thing. Then I met someone on the team who had seen my work and he just pitched me. I guess Tems must have liked my work because then they sent me a mood board. I got some clothes together. I actually got a lot of custom pieces made at the time with Lisa which was also very helpful.
We had to shoot and I think what stood out to her at the time was how well the clothes actually fit. It was rare for her at the time because a number of clothes didn’t tailor to her proportions. As African women, you’d know it’s sometimes hard to find people that cater to our body type specifically. I think that’s something that Lisa Folawiyo is able to do quite well. That experience directly impacted my next experience, my next chapter. We really just had a great time. I think that was probably the most fun I had from a shoot. It was chill. It was very easy. At the time, I didn’t have a single approach to these things. It was on a job to job basis. I think later, they were about to go on tour or for a couple of shows and they came back to me. We just kind of fell in love from there. It was very easy, very organic.
I see you and Tems have very unique and different styles. How are you both able to marry your creative ideas to pull together amazing looks?
I think that because of the nature of our relationship. We’re pretty close and we’ve built a lot of trust in each other. When pieces speak to me, it’s easy to translate that into something she’ll like because we spend so much time together. She’s quite vocal about things that she does or doesn’t like as well. I think as a stylist that’s one of the most important skills; to understand each person that you work with. Understand their creative vision and see things outside of yourself. I think the key thing here is probably just the trust, the relationship and the friendship that we have. I actually would say that it’s not as different as it may come across. The way we put things together will probably be quite different but in terms of the foundation, the sorts of pieces that we both gravitate to, I would say there’s a lot more similarity than you may think. So regarding that, it’s actually pretty easy. It’s pretty seamless.
What message would you say you’re trying to pass across in Tems’ look as she crosses over from the Nigerian audience to a worldwide audience?
My approach was studying her as opposed to passing across any strong political messages. I say political because I think in recent times, a lot of people have probably thought that was the goal. I would say that it’s really not. My approach to styling her and working with her is really just wanting her to feel the best in what we’re putting together. It’s wanting her to feel the most confident in every piece. I think in my work, generally, I just want women to feel their most confident and beautiful. From day one, I’ve always reminded myself it can’t be about what people think, you know? It has to really start with self because that will translate most naturally. She has things that she loves based on her body type or background. Like is said earlier, it’s about letting the young girls everywhere know, you can actually take up these spaces completely being yourself. I think with the age of the internet, it is not uncommon to receive that kind of backlash when you’re being daring and confident, especially as a black woman.
View this post on Instagram
What would you say takes precedence for you working with Tems: style or comfort?
Definitely what she’s comfortable in. I could have a vision for something that I think would be amazing but if she doesn’t feel good or doesn’t feel herself, that will translate. It won’t even allow her to wear the piece in the way that it’s supposed to be worn. So yeah, it comes back to comfort. Of course, the looks are important but there’s also everything else including beauty.
What’s this selection process like for the beauty and glam teams that you work with?
I mean naturally you look at people’s previous work, that’s one thing. The next thing is definitely their attitude I think. With everyone that we work with, the reason I work so well is because of the personalities we all have. So I think that’s definitely the next thing. For choosing the actual looks, we decide on the pieces first and what sort of vibe we’re going for. This could be a range of things. Based on the outfit, we then decide what sort of look we’re trying to create. We’ve been pretty lucky. In each city, we’ve worked with hair and makeup artists that are local and we’ve had some really amazing talent. They always bring in their own touch to whatever vibe we’re trying to create so that’s been really good.
How does your creative vision differ depending on the artist that you’re working with? How do you manage to keep those two visions separate?
It’s really just trying to get clothes outside of myself or jump out at me for my own style. What’s also quite special is that the people that I’ve worked with, I think there is some part of me that resonated with them and vice versa. It’s important to me to work with people that I also appreciate their style in a way, or they appreciate mine. I feel like if I’m working with the wrong people, then we might not be able to make some things work. But yes, building references out of film or music videos, cartoons, runways or anywhere. So it’s about reaching into whatever mood or collections started building. You know there might be some similarities, some crossovers but you find yourself building completely new collections or references for each person. Each person that I work with as well is willing to experiment. Again, there has been a lot of trust for them to let you work. I think again each process is with each project is quite different.
How do you feel about taking risks in your fashion? Are there any that you’ve taken that haven’t paid off?
I think it really takes out the fun if you’re not taking risks. For me, I feel like what even really constitutes a risk? it’s like, okay, you were just confident and did what you wanted to. It doesn’t really cross my mind that this could be a risk. It’s like, yeah, this may have a reaction, but ok. Yeah this could cause a conversation and I think that’s a good thing. As long as you’re not doing anything offensive. I guess everybody’s idea of what is offensive is different. But I think if you’re not harming anyone or not putting any messages of hate or whatever, then I personally think you’re good. People may not think that but whatever.
You had an exhibition 2121 last year, how was this experience like?
That was my first exhibition. I had wanted to do it for a while before I actually got a chance to do it. The first time I wanted to, we entered into the lockdown. Last year just felt like the perfect time. It was very heavily influenced by my love of film and the way my love of film had influenced my love of fashion and sort of trying to marry the two worlds. It was about putting together ideas of what fashion in the future would look like.
It was very important for me to put those things together, to get the people – African creators – in a space to dream bigger than what is right in front of us, especially when things seem bleaker than ever in Nigeria. It’s like giving everyone that space to keep dreaming because if you can’t dream, then you’re never gonna get out of reality. I asked different fashion designers to create according to what they feel fashion will look like in 100 years from now. I also wanted my audience to come dressed in their own interpretation of that. Even with the music that we had, the DJ created a playlist with her idea of music or artists that represent the future of music.
What can we expect from you this year, if there’s anything you can tell us?
Definitely more activations to do like 2121. I’m working on a few exciting projects, starting with creative direction and potentially directing music videos.
Featured Image Credits/ The NATIVE