11 Dec Mai Atafo Features in the latest Issue of Blanck Magazine. Read Excerpts From the \interview.
Words by Franka Chiedu, Photographed by Kola Oshalusi
Whatever you call ‘IT’- talent, charm, allure, style, swag, fame- Mai Atafo has ‘IT’ in droves. There’s no denying, he is one of, if not the most charismatic fashion designer in Nigeria. With a wildly successful career in fashion spanning nearly a decade, he has successfully worked his way up and currently sits on top of a multi-million Naira fashion business.
Woolwich, London, United Kingdom– Our shoot location is suddenly alive with everyone talking over themselves wanting to get his attention. It is his gravity that draws all the eyes, his dusty baritone all the ears, and his easy, frequent laughter that breeds all the excitement. I’m partly amazed and partly pleased to see him after so long.
It’s been 10 years since we worked together for a cover shoot. We laugh at how the images from that collaboration have been used in many unauthorized billboards and corner shop adverts from Lagos to Abuja, Onitsha to Aba. A hilarious but mostly nostalgic conversation, one that carries with it a lorry-load of memories about the industry we built. Today is not about the past, but what is the present and future without the hardships and glories of days gone by.
Mai, 41, inhabits a natural command that radiates at times with the kind of quirky charisma of a mystic guru, with an industry cult-like following, he exudes an ease to life like a man with little or no worries at all. His larger than life persona deceives the mind of the beholder in believing that they know him beyond his fashion.
When he smiles, there’s a sparkle in his eyes but behind the brilliance, is a man whose light has been dimmed by shame, pain, loss, 10 years of infertility and most recent, fire. Behind the blinding brightness of fame, I seek to unravel the man behind the brand.
Who is Ohimai? I ask as we begin our conversation- one that will eventually generate a torrent of over ten thousand words- don’t be afraid, it is not nearly as verbose as ‘Becoming Michelle Obama’.
“Ohimai is just a chilled guy who somewhere in his mind believes he is a comedian because he loves to make people laugh. Contrary to popular belief I’m more of an introvert than an extrovert because you will never randomly find me at a club or a sit out for the fun of it. I come from a very humble background- my dad worked at a university and my mum was a caterer in the same university. My dad started out as a junior registrar then progressed to an assistant senior registrar, so we basically grew up in a university environment”.
Mai’s popularity is undeniable; you will think that in all that fame, details as little as his marital, parental status and sexual orientation will be as glaring as the sun, but surprisingly not. “Most people don’t know about my personal life,” He said when I asked what most people do not know about him. “A lot of people do not know that I even have a child. They also don’t know I’m married and that I got married to my university sweetheart. We’ve been married for 15 years and have a 5-year-old daughter.2
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