Imagine dreaming of becoming a fashion designer and seeing all of those doodles and sketches in your notebook transform into physical garments one day. Well, for 23-year-old designer Taofeek Abijako, his brightest dreams have become his reality. Most recently, Abijako was named as a 2022 finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund and this year also marked the first time that the Nigerian designer created not one, but two looks for the Met Gala.
While achieving monumental success, one can only imagine the challenges that come with managing the momentum of two major back-to-back wins and trying to find the time to celebrate. “I’m feeling really good. I just haven’t had time to properly celebrate everything yet,” Abijako tells ESSENCE. “I found out that I was a finalist for the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund while I was in a fitting for the Met Gala. We had two very last-minute urgent requests for outfits, so I was sort of stressed out about that and couldn’t properly soak in the fact that I was a finalist.”
Before Abijako could process what being a CFDAVFF finalist meant for Head of State, he had to first tackle the dream job in front of him. “It’s like one of those things you have always dreamt about and then eventually when it happens, it’s weird that you can’t soak it all in because it requires more work, but I feel really good overall,” he says.
On designing for the Met Gala, Abijako shares, “I’ve done this thing every year when they would announce the theme. I would sketch looks and reimagine what HOS would look like as a part of that theme – just doing it for fun. The last few years I’ve always had sketches for the theme and for this year when I got the call, it caught me off guard, but I also kind of already had sketches for what I wanted.” To say the least, when Abijako was called to design a menswear and womenswear look for the Gilded Glamour Met Gala, he was more than ready.
“When they reached out to me to do Danai [Gurira] and Evan’s [Mock] look, I thought it was very interesting because they are the type of characters I would expect HOS to dress,” says Abijako. “It makes so much sense because they’re not the type of characters that would necessarily belong in the world of this year’s Met Gala theme. It’s not a theme that has them in mind whatsoever and the whole idea of HOS is to figure out how to tell stories that don’t fit in the norm of traditional storytelling.”
Historically, Abijako’s creative process begins with detailed research and finding reference images. However, while searching for images from the Gilded Age (late 1800s), he had trouble locating references of Zimbabwean women like Gurira during that time and the same thing for Mock, he couldn’t find images of Hawaiian kids that embodied his youthful energy during that time. Abijako’s safety net was to reimagine the silhouettes and cuts worn during the Gilded Age and marry them with his interpretation of Danai and Evan’s essence.
For Mock’s look, Abijako infused his feminine menswear touch on a butler-inspired tuxedo. With Gurira, he replicated the wings of an eagle across the front of her gown – the eagle is a known symbol in American and African culture. For the bottom half of her dress, the big volume referenced Gilded Age silhouettes, and the horsetail she held, which usually accompanies one when attending an upscale event, was also a nod to African culture – his intention was to capture the essence of NYC during the Gilded Age while also honoring Gurira’s heritage.
As a 2022 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist, Abijako will receive mentorship and funds based on his business needs. On what he plans to utilize the fund/mentorship for, Abijako says, “Definitely on creating more structure for the business side. I need more help than ever right now so I can get more HOS products out there.” He adds, “I also want to focus more on my DTC. We are mainly gearing the mentorship and the fund towards production and brand visibility – I want to be walking down the street and to see HOS.”
Prior to this interview, the last time we chatted with Abijako he told ESSENCE that he had been interviewing his dad for the last two years for Head of State’s next collection. When asked about that journey with his dad and the status of the next collection, he provides us with an update, “I have two collections in mind. One is my dad’s story, which I do not want to rush and I want to do it at the right time and the other one is also a very strong collection, but I’m just working through it as I’m dealing with everything else.”
Abijako adds, “I’m still deciding if I’m going to do a show in September because I have other things I’m interested in like creating films and wanting to do a fashion film for the next collection, so I’m juggling a few things in my head. My dad’s story is still something I really want to tell, but the question is do I tell it now? Or do I tell it when I feel like the brand is at a point where I could do the story justice? I don’t want to half-ass or do it on a low budget.”
Although Abijako is not disclosing what Head of State will present next season just yet, he says, “One thing I will say about the next collection is that we’re taking it there.”