San Diego fashion designer watches dream come true when dress is worn at 2021 Met Gala

It’s a good thing that Ugochi iwuaba took this random message in her Instagram inbox, seriously. This led to a dream come true – to see one of her dresses among the most famous fashion designs, at one of fashion’s hottest events, the Met Gala.

Iwuaba, CEO and fashion designer for her eponymous brand, was approached by stylist Nina Parker, host for E! Entertainment Television, about dressing the TV personality for the event. Parker, who released their own format clothing line with Macy’s earlier this year, was particularly interested in wearing something created by a black designer who could create something that matches the theme of the Met Gala earlier this month, which celebrated the ingenuity of American style. Iwuaba created a floor-length gold dress with intricate beading and mirrored embroidery, a deep v-neckline and a matching gold cape (photos can be found on Parker’s Instagram account, @mzgossipgirl).

“At first I didn’t want to believe it too much, so as not to wake up and find that (the opportunity) wasn’t real. Then I started to worry about anything that could go wrong. I didn’t realize this had actually happened when she yelled at me on E !, as a designer. I cried and screamed, ”she says. “The Met Gala is the biggest fashion event on the international fashion calendar. Very few designers get the chance to wear their clothes at this exclusive event, so it’s a big deal, and I’m thankful that God allowed me to be one of the very few.

Iwuaba, 37, lives in National City with her husband, Cyprian Iwuaba Jr., and three children. Her Ugochi Iwuaba line debuted in 2017 at the San Diego Fashion Fest. She went on to showcase her work at fashion week events in London, New York and Orange County, as well as partnerships with brands such as Aston Martin. She opened her flagship store in Mission Valley in 2020. She is also a mentor and volunteer with young creative people in the San Diego Community College district. Iwuaba took the time to talk about her experience dressing a celebrity for something as visible as the Met Gala, the differences she sees in San Diego style versus the style she grew up with. in Nigeria, and adapt to being a bit more of the spotlight.

Question: So this year’s Met Gala. First of all, congratulations on selecting and wearing one of your models at such a remarkable fashion event. What was your experience working with Nina Parker?

A: Unbelievable! She is a wonderful and very respectful person. She didn’t look pompous about it, and I honestly felt like I had designed pieces for her long before now. She specifically wanted to introduce a future black designer, and that’s exactly what she did. She made sure I got all the recognition and made sure I got all the photos from the event. She didn’t really have to do this, but she did. She used her platform to spotlight another minority talent, and for me, that’s it.

Question: What was your goal in dressing her for the occasion? And how did your dress fit into the theme of the gala this year, paying homage to the ingenuity of American style?

A: She’s a queen. It symbolizes the ray of hope that is America, a land where an immigrant like me can live a dream. I wanted her to shine like Lady Liberty, and she did. There is no more American than the Statue of Liberty. Shining and majestic, Nina Parker’s gaze symbolized the hope that every minority in America carries in their hearts: the ability to live freely and prosper on this land.

What I like about National City …

It’s very close to my in-laws. We all live within a five minute drive of each other, and my in-laws have lived in Encanto for almost 30 years.

Question: What is your own perception of the American style? How would you describe it, especially having grown up in Nigeria?

A: The American style is very, very diverse. Coming from Nigeria, where our fashion style is mainly influenced by our local culture and the infusion of British style, American fashion is very diverse. It is influenced by so many cultures, the depth of history and the diversity of topography. I mean, we don’t even all live in the same time zone in America.

Question: Other than yours, which look did you prefer at this year’s gala?

A: It would be Iman, dressed in the Harris Reed design. Not only is this design exceptional, but the story of Iman also tells the story of dreams come true.

Question: Was your goal to have your work carried by someone who attended the Met Gala?

A: I don’t know what serious designer doesn’t dream of their designs gracing the Met Gala red carpet. I had this dream but, quite frankly, I didn’t expect it to happen and so quickly.

Question: Let’s take a step back and talk about how you started. Does your website say you are from Nigeria? And that you have degrees in history, international relations and real estate?

A: Yes, I am from Nigeria, I was born in Onitsha and grew up in the city of Lagos. I have a BA in History and International Relations from Obafemi Awolowo University, where I graduated in 2009. I was a licensed real estate agent in California and have about 10 certifications in business and real estate.

Question: How did you go from these fields of study to a career in styling? What was this path like for you?

A: Fashion has always been the only career path I wanted, ever since I saw a brochure from FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising) when I was a 9 year old girl in Nigeria. I’m still not sure how I got my hands on this brochure, however, no one in my family took fashion seriously as a viable career path; my mother wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer. I couldn’t even imagine following my dreams until after I arrived in America 10 years ago. After I arrived here, everyone told me that I had to find a job before I could think of a career. This is how the diversion to real estate was born. I didn’t get into fashion until after I was fired from my job, and I was fired because I got pregnant almost immediately after returning from maternity leave. After that, I was also told that my baby would have Down syndrome. He also had heart problems, which meant returning to regular work might not be an option for me. These were the darkest days of my life; fashion saved me, however. I have embarked on the creation of my new fashion business, and here we are.

Question: What inspires you about your work as a fashion designer?

A: The royalty that lurks deep within each of us.

Question: If you could loot someone’s closet, who would it be and why?

A: Coco Chanel. I know it’s very cliché, but honestly I love the way she can take the simpler things (like costume jewelry) and make them look luxurious. I also loved the fun she had with fabrics and sports concepts, to create trendy pieces.

Question: How would you describe the San Diego fashion scene?

A: Hmm, honestly? Relaxed. We are the most beautiful seaside town, after all. So quite “beach”, but I’m changing that! I host two shows every year and see women step up the fashion game at these events. I would like to say that I am doing something to encourage this.

Question: How does San Diego fashion and style compare to Nigerian fashion and style?

A: Oh my god, they’re at two far removed ends of the spectrum. Nigerian fashion is flashy, colorful, creative and daring, where San Diego fashion is cozy, not colorful and perfect for soaking up the sun.

Question: You opened your flagship store last year; what’s next for you?

A: I would love to walk into stores like Neiman Marcus and select upscale boutiques across the country.

Question: What has been difficult about your work in this area?

A: Network and meet the right people in the industry to push my brand further.

Question: What has been rewarding about this job?

A: The ability to be my best myself and to live my dreams. It is a blessing because not many people can live their dream.

Question: What did this job teach you about yourself?

A: That I am more than I think I am.

Question: What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

A: It is all in God’s time, so worry less and do your best.

Question: What’s the one thing people would be surprised to find out about you?

A: Lol, actually, I don’t like being in the spotlight. I think that’s why I loved making clothes, it was just me and a piece of fabric. I guess that has changed a lot now!

Question: Please describe your ideal weekend in San Diego.

A: At my in-laws, with my big family, eating a lot of Nigerian food and watching Nigerian movies. I look forward to Sunday evenings.

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