Literary star Chimamanda Adichie, in equal parts feisty, intelligent and beautiful sits down with Anne McElvoy, the senior editor of The Economist for an interview with Porter magazine where she spoke about fashion being the true meaning of democracy in Nigeria and shared her thoughts on her cultural identity.
In the interview, Adichie comes across as composed, candid as usual and speaks on the reaction to her controversial view of transgender issues, feminism, fashion, her relationship with Dior and her unwavering support of Nigerian designers.
The author looks absolutely breathtaking as she is styled simply in Dior pieces.
See excerpts from her interview below:
On her first brush with the idea of feminism
Her first experience of feminism came about in way that reflects her upbringing in Nigeria. Her family had live-in help, whose son she would play with after school. After one stand-off, he cried crossly: “You are a feminist.” She giggles at the memory: “And I really didn’t know what he meant,” so I said, ‘Yes, I’m a feminist.’ You should have seen his face. Then I went home to look up what it meant. And the more I read about it, the more I thought: yes, I really am.
So I was a feminist before I knew the word.” I tell her that my own early immersion in the subject of feminism came from reading miserable tomes written by Marge Piercy or Marilyn French, which turned me away from the feminist section in bookstores for a while.
How does she avoid preaching to the converted? “I agree there was a sense that we weren’t taking people with us in the argument, especially men,” she says, not entirely addressing the question. Her background, however, was storytelling, rather than politics. After gaining a prized place to study medicine at the University of Nigeria, she pestered her alarmed parents to take literature in America instead and sent off applications “really not knowing much about the whole business at all, except that America was the aspirational center of the world.”
One thing that intrigues me about Adichie is her keen interest in fashion, particularly for a writer associated with strong causes. This was highlighted when her “We should all be feminists” slogan was adopted by Dior’s artistic director, Maria Grazia Chiuri, who sent models down the catwalk at her inaugural 2015 show with the slogan emblazoned on plain white T-shirts and handbags.
Did she have doubts about turning up to fashion shows or fear that her core audience might think it frippery? “As well as being flattered, I thought it might start a conversation or inspire someone, so why not?” Fashion clearly comes naturally to her.
She often gives speeches wearing beautifully striking Nigerian clothes to support home-grown designers. The Dior connection means she can borrow dreamy dresses for special events. “So I am a muse!” she laughs heartily at the notion.
On race and fashion
On race and fashion, she’s less forgiving of the delay. “For too long the view has been, ‘We already have a black model’, as if one is all you need.” More racial diversity in the fashion press is, she reckons, “a moral obligation, and if the sales aren’t great at first, then you might have to go through that.
But fashion has such broad appeal, we can change the status quo. If you put me in charge, I could find the models and sell the issues!”
On fashion being the true meaning of democracy in Nigeria
More irritating to her, I sense, is the notion that being interested in fashion is unworthy of those with leftist consciences. “In some ways, fashion is the true meaning of democracy. You can see women in Nigeria, with really low incomes, but beautifully dressed and proud of their appearance.”
When I ask her who she’s fond of wearing at the moment, she says she’s going through a “fashion nationalist” moment and points me to her Instagram of Nigerian designers. “My defense is, I’m bringing aspects of Africa to the global stage. But, fundamentally, I’m having fun too,” she admits, with a smile.
If she has a quest at the moment, in an America riven by divisions around the Trump presidency, it is to keep debates lively on feminism, race and the difficult stuff of democracies, where we often grow tired of challenging themes. She’s courted controversy with the American Left, who she refers to as “my natural tribe.” “The assumptions run quite deep that you will think the same.
And I want to make the case that it’s okay not to know something, or to use the wrong or not approved word.
The important thing is to be curious.
Photography: Heather Hazzan, Getty Images
Styling: Calvy Click,
Hair: The Yoko Project,
Makeup: Mali Thomas,
Set design: And Or Forever,
Production: Erin Estelle Productions