“Yesterday, I came to a personal conclusion, that I’m living my AfricanDream. Dreams I envisioned yearssss ago…! To ‘model’ and be the female representative of #ScentOfAfrica is only a small part of my many dreams! And some of my dreams came with difficulties, obstacles and many delays but I will NOT stop living my dreams. Even if I must personally create my dreams to LIVE it in Africa! #HappySunday”—@oluchi1 (Instagram)
Regal, pepper soup and purpose are the first words that spring to mind when I think of Oluchi. I consider her one of the realest, most official of souls in an industry founded on vanity and outward appearance. She has a heart of pure Ashanti gold. It’s that genuine character which has allowed her to flourish for almost two decades.
Oluchi is a success story. In 1998, at the age of 17, she entered The Face of Africa, the first continent-wide modeling competition. What followed reads like a fantasy. She won the competition, moved from Lagos to New York with a three-year modeling contract, became the face of campaigns for Gap, Express, Gianfranco Ferré and Victoria’s Secret. Oluchi graced the covers of Vogue, ID and Marie Claire, and strutted down catwalks around the world for top designers John Galliano, Christian Dior, Chanel and Giorgio Armani.
In short, she is a supermodel.
Oluchi currently lives in New York, but we caught up between interviews and photos in Accra, Ghana, where she was unveiled as the face of the first luxury fragrance from Africa: Scent of Africa. Tanal Ghandour, founder and managing director of Ghandour Cosmetics, gushes about assigning Oluchi the role as ambassador.
“Oluchi reflects our vision for Scent of Africa, not just because of her achievements but also because of her commitment to give back to her homeland as a philanthropist and entrepreneur,” says Ghandour.
At a time when Africa is stepping into the light, Oluchi took the opportunity to discuss how to avoid the pitfalls of fame, African and African-American relations, and her mantra for success.
EBONY: As an African woman of color, do you feel a connection with African Americans in the States? And how has that culture influenced you?
Oluchi: I’ve lived in Africa for the first half of my life and the other half in the States, New York to be precise. So having spent half my life in Africa, I remain unchangable. Even though work and career has taken me to America, I don’t know how to be anything different than who I am. Even though there is a connection there, there’s a part of me that is always African first. So I am still who I am.
So in regards to living in New York and African Americans, yes, there’s a connection there. But I am ultimately an African.
EBONY: Do you feel like you have influenced African Americans?
Oluchi: No. Not to the extent to what I would like to. I wish they could experience some more of who I am. You’ve spent a great amount of time in Africa, so you might probably understand me better, like I would understand you very well because of my time in New York. There’s a great connection between the two of us. But for the majority of African Americans, I wish they could experience some of Africa and then we can understand each other better and influence each other more positively.
EBONY: How can you bridge that gap?
Oluchi: Well, I already do a bit of that, but not in a concrete way like I should. I mean, I do have African-American friends, but it could be more. What could I do to change that? Off the top of my head, I would say that I would suggest that more African Americans should come see Africa. If they have a holiday, they should just go! It’s a life changing experience. It gives you more of a sense of who you are, beyond just being an African American.
And I have to be careful how I go about conveying that message. Because it is not just a conversation you can throw on the table. I don’t want to be rude to their culture. Because they have their own beliefs as part of that culture, so it takes a while to break in. But when I finally do break in, I want to bring them home!
And I don’t want to disrespect them, because home to them might be America. But I’d love for them to experience a little bit of Africa. I’m fortunate I was able to leave Lagos to visit America. It makes you a whole 360-degree person. For me, I wish that more African Americans could visit Africa. I promise you that they would never be the same.
EBONY: In Nigeria, Wizkid, Davido and D’banj are some of the greatest acts, pulling in millions of dollars in endorsements in Africa. They don’t need to break in the US to make it, but the US is warming up to them. It’s very similar to the process of the world fashion industry warming up to you and other African models and models of color. You’ve done this. What’s your advice to them?
Oluchi: In terms of music, I hope they keep the originality. It is normal, it’s part of the journey of life to become disconnected. And some of them lose their way. I hope that as they try to sell their African music to the world, they don’t get watered down in hope of becoming more famous. I hope they don’t lose their way.
Music can speak for us as individuals and as a people, the same way Jay Z can represent a part of what it means t be African American. Our musicians don’t need to Jay Z it. Let Jay Z do that for New York, he’s good at it. The same way like a Shaggy can represent Jamaica or Rihanna can wave the flag for Barbados. Our music represents a part of our identity and it shouldn’t become watered down. So my advice would be, don’t get lost along the way.
EBONY: Have you ever felt lost along the way?
Oluchi: Maybe for a tiny little bitty second. But there’s nothing I want to change about my life, because I learn from my mistakes. Every day I wake up and I try to fix it. How can I make it better? How can I live a life with purpose and remain full of wonder? With or without inspirational people, I will be my own inspiration. Even if it takes me longer, so be it. Even if I lose everything, I will be inspired.
Suede has spent a decade between the America, South Africa and Tanzania creating content for print, TV, radio and digital media. His interests include photography, pop culture, social media and travel. Follow him on Twitter @iamsuede.