Fashion Models

Model Interview: Oluchi Onweagba-Orlandi


It seemed like only yesterday when Oluchi Onweagba-Orlandi won the 1998 Face of Africa Model Competition. Her win was significant not just because she would grace the covers of numerous publications or catwalk the runways across the globe, but because she would become the first Supermodel to emerge from West Africa. True to form as a Supermodel and after her win, the long legged beauty has become a fashion ambassador and icon for Africa.

Oluchi has graced the covers of Italian Vogue, i-D, ELLE, Untold, and Surface Magazines. She been featured in Nylon, Marie Claire, Allure, and other national editions of Vogue globally, strutted on runways of highly coveted designers such as John Galliano, Christian Dior, Costume National, Chanel, and Giorgio Armani in London, Milan, Tokyo and Paris; and posed for high-caliber photographers such as Steven Meisel, Nick Kight and Patrick Demarchelier.

Oluchi’s face is also recognizable as the face of campaigns for Gianfranco Ferré, Victoria’s Secret, Gap, Express, Banana Republic, and Ann Taylor. In honor of her achievements, pays tribute to the quintessential Supermodel “Preneur” with our heart to heart talk with her on work, family, business of fashion, politics and her deep love for Africa. Oluchi, I must say I am very proud of you. You have been such a delight to watch as you’ve evolved from a young girl to a full fledged woman/modela!
Oluchi: Thank you Uduak! I am proud of your work that is why I am a part of it. [Awwwwww. Thank you.] Share with us some of the key lessons you have learnt, so far, in your journey to the top?
Oluchi: Well, I have been in fashion for too long that I wonder if I have learnt anything. . .One thing that I do know for sure with fashion is that it is not about your current ADs or jobs. [I]t is about all that you are yet to achieve. So, I just apply that to every area of my life and it works. Oluchi, as far as I am concerned, African Models have been highly instrumental in putting Africa’s fashion industry and fashions on the world’s fashion map, from Iman , you, Alek, Waris Dirie and so many more. Can you cite some progress in Africa’s Fashion industry and where do you think there are rooms for improvements.
Oluchi: My career as a model started in Africa. So, over the years, even though I was doing very well in Western countries, it has always been very fulfilling for me to be a part of Africa’s Fashion Industry. It has grown so much especially in South Africa where I think it is so much more structured than any other part of Africa. Nigeria is trying as well. We are looking forward to Lagos Fashion Week some time soon. Speaking of being a part of Africa’s Fashion Industry, one of the things I admire about you is that you are always giving back to Africa. Tell us about some of the projects you are currently involved in, in Africa?
Oluchi: I don’t necessary have projects per se. I consider myself a global individual with a local heart for Africa. I was born and grew up in Nigeria for 17 years. Whatever I have to contribute to this world [will] only be for Africa. Right now, I co-own a modeling agency in Johannesburg, South Africa, O Model Africa, with hopes to do so much more. We will talk about O Model Africa in a minute but before that, you now hold a Bachelors in business, correct? NYU?
Oluchi: Actually, I am yet to graduate from NYU. I have a semester to go. Studying is a pleasure for me. I enjoy it. I just had to take a break from it. It was just too much with my precious little Prince [Oluchi just had a baby boy his name is Ugo], work, me and all that good stuff. But, I will go back in the Fall or Spring to finish. I have too much on my plate. I hear you. But, Congratulations so far!
Oluchi: Thank you. When did the vision for a modeling agency come about and why O Models Africa?
Oluchi: When I started modeling, the only African models that I knew of were Iman and Alek, both of whom I respect very much. But, I just felt they were imaginary. So when an amazing opportunity was given to me and I did well I did not want to be imaginary. I wanted to do more than the usual charity. I wanted to empower young adult women to make a living at an early age so they can have a voice of their own even if they do not make it to the Western countries like I did. That is why I created O Model Africa. I have intentions of doing so much more . . . I am working on it. Do you plan to expand O Model Africa to other African countries?
Oluchi: Yes. Absolutely. We have people calling every day. We just have to make sure it is done right. You recently stood up for the lack of black models in South African [SA] Magazines. Could you elaborate what exactly you were trying to communicate to the SA fashion industry about black/African models?
Oluchi: Well I have an agency that represents mostly black models. If black models and black celebrities can not be acknowledged on the continent of Africa then we have a problem that needs to be addressed. I understand that South Africa is made of up diverse races and they have all certainly come a long way. But, for me, in terms of fashion, I am sick and tired of picking up a magazine in South Africa and I feel like am reading American magazines. All I am just saying is that I would like the editors to embrace the diversity in which the country is made up of. I am very proud of Vogue India and I would like to see the same in AfricanMagazines. Speaking of issues SA has to address, as you know lots of models across the continent go to SA to realize their dreams. Can you speak on the crazy attacks we’ve been hearing about recently by South African Blacks on other African groups?
Oluchi: I have not really looked into that, but I heard about it. It is very unfortunate but I can understand the frustration. I just think that South Africa is considered the London of Africa that is why so many neighboring countries migrate there. But I am glad that my country is doing so well so we don’t have to go to the South. On a lighter note, I have read that you are venturing into the world of music. Should we expect to see Oluchi the musician?
Oluchi: Please that is all rumors. I can’t sing to save myself! I sound like a man. I only sing in karaoke with friends and in the shower. [Laughs] Let’s talk about mommy-hood and you now being a wifey. How does it feel to be a mother and how do you balance the demands of motherhood and wife with a very busy work schedule?
Oluchi: For me, family comes first but when blessed with an opportunity to combine both, I can’t complain. Many, many girls across the globe and especially in Africa look up to you. You have inspired many to want to become the “next” Oluchi. What would you say to the many hopefuls about achieving their dreams?
Oluchi: If you have what it takes go for it but try and find your other passion in life so you can combine it. Thank you Oluchi and keep achieving and lifting many as you climb higher and higher up that ladder. We here at Ladybrille are so proud of you!
Oluchi: Thank you Uduak. I wish you tremendous success. I am so proud of your work. I remember few years ago, the world-wide-web was empty with quality positive information on everything African. For that I say, “thank you” because now I know I can always count on Ladybrille for a wealth of reliable information about my beloved Africa. You are kind with your words. Thank you.

-Uduak Oduok

First Published 2008
Photocredit: Getty Images