After studying marketing for the luxury industry as well as finance, designer Steves Hounkponou started working for the Bon Marché as a retail specialist. Years later, after gaining experience working with various premium brands such as Cartier, Burberry and Coach, he decided to start his own brand and business. His first fashion collection is set to launch in September 2017, stay tuned!
What inspired you to become a designer?
I have very vivid memories of undressing my sister’s dolls (I have 6 sisters) and dressing them with fabrics I found at home, around the age of 4. My mum runs her own business in the textile industry and was already distributing African wax fabrics back then, the type of fabric women wear where I’m from. I guess I grew up with a passion for women’s fashion. When I worked at Yves Saint Laurent back in 2007, this thirst and passion to design came rushing back. I started working in luxury fashion to be on the safe side, but when you’re made for something, you just know it will come back out naturally one day. And there I was, on 21st April 2016, on a regular day with a client at my second job as an image consultant, and I snapped out of the usual and found myself designing a wax dress for her. The rest is history.
I created my own agency, myBlackHats Paris, an image consultancy. We strive to help people build the best image for themselves or their company through various methods. It starts with the usual makeover and fashion tips but also for influencers, we help to negotiate contracts and build the right network to further develop their brand and promote it.
Who would you say are your best role models, who do get inspiration from and why?
Monsieur Yves Saint Laurent without hesitation. I love Yves Saint Laurent for his charisma and his relationship to art. He really made history. Think Le Smoking tuxedo suit, the Mondrian dress, and his love of travel, particularly his nod to Morocco. I visited the Jardin Majorelle many, many times and to this day, it still is the most beautiful garden I have ever seen, and yet, I have travelled to more than 50 different countries throughout Asia, Africa, Oceania and Europe. There is so much culture, so many things to learn in each country. I like to take people on a trip too; the best books to me are the ones that take you right into the heart of the most colourful, inspiring and fascinating scenes and stories. I love the rock & chic fashion style he represented and particularly his most androgynous collections, which enable a couple to share their wardrobe.
What message do you try to convey with your own collections?
I’d like to share my mixed culture, my dear Africa, and I’d like people to feel dressed up by simply wearing any of my pieces. I’d also like to help improve the living conditions of my fellow Beninese. I was lucky to come to France so young and learn about the country’s values. I was lucky to be given a sound education and spectacular living conditions. I am lucky to have this bicultural identity, which makes me the strong person I am today. In France, people are incredible, loving, and they have a thirst for life. It’s similar in Benin, except people are happy from the simplest things. I’d like to bring them a little bit extra and some of that fun, carefree attitude that you can find in France.
I’d like to share my love for these two cultures through ethical principles. I also aim to develop the image of Benin and Africa through this cultural mix.
Can you remember the first time you ever tasted Cognac?
The first time I had cognac was with my dad back in 2006. I had just started my Bachelor degree in International Management in Cambridge. We were in Paris then, in his flat, and he looked me in the eye and told me how proud he was of me and how certain he was that I was destined to do great things in the future. There is perhaps nothing more precious for a son than to hear their dad believing in them.
Translation: Fabrice Blanchefort