In a few days time, HRH Erelu Abiola Dosunmu’s the Erelu Kuti IV of Lagos will be 70. She is also the Erelu of Egbaland. But all those who have met Erelu Dosunmu say she does not look 70. Truly so. She could pass for a 55-year-old. The answer to that is not far fetched. She lives well. And she takes good care of herself. Even her Lagos home shows this. Famously called The Lady In White, because that’s her signature color.
Erelu Dosunmu lives in a Penthouse, in a high-rise built by her at the center of Victoria Island in Lagos.
She has a terrace up there that overlooks the Atlantic Ocean and the breeze you get at her terrace will make any one look good.
Over the last 4 decades, this woman of substance, who had tread where her contemporaries dare not tread has seen it all. Be it fashion, business, beauty, tourism, hospitality, diplomacy, culture, name it, she has played in all these sectors. Recall that she was the first Nigerian women to open a shop on new Bond Street in London in those good old days. A few days back, City People Publisher, SEYE KEHINDE spent an afternoon with this dazzling woman who is aging gracefully.
Congrats on your new age. How do you feel?
I feel good. I feel happy. And I give God the glory. It’s a good feeling. I am not just celebrating now. I started celebrating the journey to my 70th from last year. We’ve had a few programmes over the course of the year, like Talent Hunt for Artistes in different categories and we already have the finalists. We’ve had school debates, I have had few gatherings for various events over time.
I wanted to do it in such a way that it’s not just partying. I wanted to be seen to be adding value to various sectors.
For instance, in some of the competitions the winners are going to be empowered. Some will be given scholarships and gifts some will be given referrals. That’s the way I wanted it to be, to add value.
Why are you celebrating your 2 Erelu titles this time around?
I wanted to use the opportunity of my 70th to celebrate my 2 Erelu titles I took from Lagos and Abeokuta to like, kill 3 birds with a stone. I am making 30 years of being Erelu of Egbaland and that of Erelu of Lagos.
As you turn 70 what is on your mind?
Its strange you know. As I prepare to celebrate my 70th birthday nothing really comes to my mind other than Nigeria. Just NIGERIA on my mind, not in terms of Politics or the Economy, but in terms of Nigeria as a country, as a great gift of God, in terms of Nigeria’s a well endowed country, human resources, natural resources, great beauties, great sites adequate for Tourism. I am just looking at Nigeria as a great gift of God. And I see her as an Orphan. And I just thought may be I should take up the crusade of taking care of Nigeria, so that she does not perpetually remain an Orphan. The problem with Nigeria is not the country itself because the country is beautiful, it is the people God has placed in Nigeria, to administer it that is wrong, that is terrible, that needs to have a mind-set change, to change for good in how we conduct ourselves and how we conduct our affairs. We need to be able to administer all the resources we have been endowed with so that the country can become great the way it has been designed to be.
Now, that I am 70, as I have joined the club of the elders. Let me begin to speak in defence of Nigeria and advocate better treatment for my country.
At 70, do you feel fulfilled when you look back at life?
Obviously, I am very fulfilled because I was not thinking of any thing. I was not hungry after any thing. I did not want to chase anything other than to champion the cause of Nigeria. To ask our leaders to put the people of Nigeria first. Leaders are called to serve. They should see this as their priority.
There is a way in which Erelu Abiola Dosunmu with the passing of each year keeping looking younger and younger. Many won’t believe that you are 70. You don’t look it at all What’s the magic or secret or formula?
My life has been transparent. I don’t have any formular or any secret other than to say it’s the Grace of God because he made me and he must have made we well for people to keep saying I don’t look 70.
Along side of that is perhaps the way you conduct the affairs of your life. I am a very fastidious person. I demand excellence. I always start with myself before I demand it from others. Most importantly I believe in live and let live. I believe that nothing is impossible for me to achieve. If I want something and I go for it and I still can’t get it, I will let it go. For me, doing things in moderation, doing the best you can and leaving the rest to God are my guiding principles. There is no hard and fast rules about life and there is no do or die about my life.
What is your beauty routine? How have you maintained your skin all these years in such a way that it glows…
I do the usual things. I have it moisturised. I have it cleansed everyday. I use moisturizer. I don’t joke with moisturisation of my skin and you can never be tired of catching up with what’s new. If you find something that is good for you go for it.
But don’t keep changing. I can tell you I have been using the same moisturizer for 40 years. I have been using the same perfume for almost 50 years.
And I never get tired of cleansing myself on a daily basis. Whether I go out on a daily basis or not I clean my face and I go through my beauty routine and I moisturize properly. You have to do them regularly. I have been doing them regularly so I assume that must be part of why I enjoy this sort of well being. These are all the things you have to take the trouble to do and you have to sleep enough. You must not overdose yourself with alcohol or food. You can’t do anything in excess. I think Moderation is the key word. You have to apply Moderation in the way you eat, drink and everything, otherwise the wear and tear will tell. You have to exercise. You have to sleep well. You have to drink a lot of water. They are simple things but you have to do them.
You have dominated that public space for over 40 years, and you have still remained relevant. How have you done it?
I think it is Consistency. The way I have been doing my things have always been consistent. It is the same way I have been conducting my affairs. I don’t go over board in anything or whatever I do, so that one is able to contain the joys, the ups and downs of life. I have always had a routine that I am consistent with, so whatever comes you are able to absorb it.
The secret is in the way I live my life in moderation, so that whatever comes, life continues. I think I have always been a very consistent person in what I do.
In the last 40 years, Erelu Dosumu has played so many roles in Fashion, culture, business, tourism hospitality sector name it. There is hardly any area you have not played in, with ease. How have you been able to accomplish all these?
I really don’t know the answer to that. You make it sound like it has been easy when you said with ease. It has certainly not been with ease. But if you are Focused and Fastidious it will look like that and if you are determined to succeed and you have interest, you will succeed. All these areas you have mentioned are areas of interest to me, like what I said I want to do now that I am 70, to be speaking out in the interest of Nigeria. It is because I am interested.
So, it will sound like it is easy. If I am interested in something and I want to do it, I will put all my energy in it and it will appear easy, but it won’t be that easy.
Many people are fascinated by the way you combine your white fabrics. It can’t be easy sticking to white alone. Is it?
(Laughs) Somebody cracked the same joke a few days ago. She said it seems I have turned wearing white into a hobby. I think it is a hobby for me now, because I am constantly on the case of white. Its always like what do I do with it? I think what has helped me is that I dress for me. I dress to please me. So I am not tied down by the current style or fashion or what’s in vogue. So, I don’t have to comform. So, I can easily break all the barriers. I have never been one to be confined to a particular style or what’s in vogue. Don’t forget, I have been in the business of fashion for decades. The business of fashion is to bring freshness, new ideas and innovation into fashion. I have always been very innovative. When I see someone come up with a new style, I won’t copy that; I will bring out a new angle and make it look different.
So I have always been very innovative with styles, especially when I had my store in London which was in the middle of the high fashion Street of the world. It was very competitive and as the only African woman from Nigeria on new Bond Street, in the West End in the early 80s, I wanted to be different. I wanted to bring out what is African I wanted to prove that whatever they are doing we can also do, if not better, so I started infusing the African touch into Western style. So that added a whole new dimension to the new area that we’ve had. A lot of Europeans were curious and so they were patronizing us. People wanted something unique for their events, like the mothers of the bride. They were all our clients. That stemmed from just doing my own thing and wanting to be different when it comes to style. And you know there is no limit to what your imagination can do.
How do you source for your white fabric?
I have a great network I have always been into fabrics. You know I am a diehard supporter of the African fabric, especially the Nigerian hand woven fabric. That is why I actually opened the store in London, to help promote and project the hand woven fabric and introduce it to the world and there were just 4 basic primary colours at that time and I brought them out in the colours of the rainbow and I took them to London on New Bond Street and Nigerians were coming, there to buy my Aso-Oke because they could not find the colours at home. I made them here but I used to take them abroad, and they don’t find the colours, especially men. They used to come to buy the strips for the fila.
I had wonderful colours and we also used it for the High Commissioners residence. I used White and Yellow for the curtains and the cushions. Ambassador Dove Edwin was there at the time.
So, I have always loved the Aso-Oke. And I am very loyal to it. Nearly every day you will see me one way or the other infuse Aso-Oke into the best Cotton, Voile or Silk dresses. And you know for Nigerians all you had to do is to do something, they will join the band wagon and fly with it.
You see what Aso Oke has become now since I started it. Before now the texture was heavy, though colouful. We were cutting it and mixing it with Chiffon but nowadays they have practically turned it into sequenced fabric. You have it in different width, and thickness. You have it thick or light, it’s awesome. Nigerians are amazing.
They pick up an idea, improve on it and it has become a billion dollar industry today. I feel so proud that I was part of the development.
When you chose to start wearing white years back, how easy was it?
I didn’t think of it that it will be easy. I thought about it that I should be truthful to my position as Erelu in terms of what the tradition demands from me. I became Erelu in 1974 I am currently celebrating 43 years of Lagos Erelu and 30 years of Egbaland.
I started wearing white because I wanted to be Truthful and Faithful to my position as Erelu.
You know I was very young and the old men were skeptical thinking that oh, she won’t be able to live up to the expectations and standards that is expected of her. Since they said the 1st Erelu used to sit at home and they could not stop me from going out, I decided to pick the wearing white aspect.
They said the 1st Erelu use to sit at home and wears white and adjudicates cases every 9 days and takes care of the community. So I took the white part of the tradition. I said I will still go out and still adjudicate cases.
So for me it was a duty which I was ready to take up, to be able to prove that I could do it. And to show that age is no barrier when it comes to Culture. Of course, at that time I had a lot of beauty haute couture outfits, designer outfits, amazing outfits that I had to stop wearing. Then, I would only wear them abroad and wear white here.
But with time, I got used to white. Now, I am so into white that there is no way, I would wear any other colour other than white.
So, wherever I am in the world now, I will wear my white. I wear white with Joy. Infact I wouldn’t want it any other way now, than white.