Risky Biz: Wonderland’s Fashion Director Toni-Blaze Ibekwe

Trusting your gut, casting strong women and dressing Lupita. You’re gonna want to read this one.

 
As the Fashion Director for Wonderland Magazine, Toni-Blaze Ibekwe is the at the center of the kind of progressive, zeitgeisty and downright iconic fashion imagery coming out of London today. As a stylist, she’s dressed with the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Mary J Blige, Charli XCX, Paris Hilton–yeah, the rest of the list pretty long. As an image-maker, she’s behind some of the UK-based indie mag’s progressive–and inclusive–casting choices, opting to infuse her work with the more niche aspects of black culture, 90s hip hop, and good ol’ fashioned millennial drama than adhering to the status. Fresh off a panel talk at our London Pad Pop-Up, we sat down to discuss pushing her creative limits, all things Hype Williams, the power of strong women, and why she’s cool with not following a path to becoming the British Beyonce.

What does your typical day look like when working as a Fashion Director for an independent magazine?
A typical day at the office is a whole lotta emails! A lot of shoot prep goes on from emailing PRs and brands to make sure you can secure your favorite looks or pieces to fit a brief or mood board. Mood boards drive the creative for an editorial as well as the magazine’s issue theme in general. Sounds easy, but it sure ain’t!

So how did you get to where you are today?
I always knew I wanted to get into fashion. At first, I thought I wanted to be a designer but quickly realized that wasn’t the path for me. I studied Fashion Communication at Central Saint Martins, which allowed me to find my one true calling (lol) which of course is styling.

What first inspired you to take this career path?
My grandma owned her own tailoring company in Nigeria, so I think fashion has always been a part of my family. My mum always had a strong sense of style, and she was always pushing me to dress to express myself through clothes. I loved the Spice Girls–obviously I was Mel B! 90’s music videos were always so creatively driven, quirky, and inspiring to me. Like old Missy Elliot videos–I always felt there was so much creative energy there! I also loved B2K, which was this iconic RnB boy band all the girls loved. Their videos and styling had a massive influence on how I work today. And of course icons such as P.Diddy and Lil Kim influenced my taste level in a big way. I loved–and still love–the work of video directors such as Hype Williams. I’m also obsessed with David La Chapelle and John Galliano, so basically I live for the drama. The romanticism of those cultural icons and my love of hip hop really explains my aesthetic today.

Has working for Wonderland taught you anything you didn’t know about yourself
I think it’s taught me to always creatively push myself and constantly strive to produce content that feels aspirational–images that I hope people will one day reference. It has also taught me how to work fast, make decisions quickly and trust your creative decisions always.

How do you hope to shape the fashion industry by working for Wonderland?
I always strive to be inclusive in my casting and styling for the editorials I create. With such heavy criticism on the industry to be more inclusive of people of color, I make sure that I cast and style every girl/woman from every walk of life. I think there’s a power through sexiness and strong femininity, which is why I love designers such as Galliano and Gaultier because they did (and still do) this in such a creative and empowering way. I celebrate within my work the more niche aspects of black culture, but I want to create images I hope a young girl or boy can look at and relate to through the choice of casting or quirky styling.

You’ve styled the likes of Lupita Nyong’o, Charli XCX, Paris Hilton and Mary J Blige. Any favorites?
I loved Paris! She was just real. She came by herself with no team and no publicist. She was just super happy and ate our Tesco sandwiches (shoots don’t always have lavish catering!)

With such a demanding job, how do you balance your work and personal life?
I think it’s definitely a tricky one and any creative will tell you, you can become too obsessed with work. But it’s important to have friends who aren’t in the industry who can put you in check and tell you chill out.

What does the next 10 years look like for Wonderland?
10 years is a long time, I usually take it one issue at a time! I think it’s a very exciting time for Wonderland. We’re still pretty new on the scene, so I think the talent and creative will only get bigger and better. 2018 is already looking like an exciting year.

“I celebrate within my work the more niche aspects of black culture, but I want to create images I hope a young girl or boy can look at and relate to through the choice of casting or quirky styling.”

What’s the most challenging thing about your job?
I think there is a pressure to produce bigger and better content. Sometimes I’ll do a shoot that I’m really obsessed with, and by the next week I’m over it and onto the next project. It’s the struggle each creative faces which the relationship between learning and evolving, but it’s also pretty exciting to see your personal worth grow.

What did you want to be when you were growing up?
Lol, so when I was like 8 I thought I was going to be a singer and the British Beyonce. As you can see, that never quite worked out.

Advice for anyone trying to land their dream job?
WORK! Put in real hours and you will see results. I also always say, “be your own cheerleader.” No one else is gonna root for your talent like you (unless it’s your mum). Stay iconic, positive and true to yourself!