Who is Russian-Ghanaian, born and raised in Ukraine, with blond hair and an acute sense of what’s on trend? Renowned fashion designer Bee Arthur of fashion house B’Exotiq. A golden girl on account of her success, iconic blonde hair and origins in the former Gold Coast (not her age!), Bee has over the past few months, taken me on an unedited, on the spot visual adventure of interior design through her eyes. Having successfully (albeit informally) designed the interiors of two homes, she taught me to embrace color, my inner DIY quirkiness and what it means to go Exotiq!
Me: What has being a citizen of the world meant for your design aesthetic?
BEE: “Being a citizen of the world means primarily that I am free and have no mental restrictions to represent just one culture. I don’t feel like I am borrowing or stealing if I draw a Chinese symbol on a piece of Aso-Oke from Nigeria. A Russian nested doll makes sense to me on a piece of Gonja Cloth from the North of Ghana. I can mix and fuse beautiful elements from everyone’s culture: Asia, Africa and Europe. What counts is that the result of such fusions is appealing to the eye and that people from across the world recognize the elements of their heritage, incorporated into a piece of art. Because fashion and decor is pure art really.
Me: Your fashion brand is known for bold colors and pushing boundaries. Given that the typical home in Africa is a million shades of beige, what is your advice to bringing some pizzazz to the house?
BEE: “Indeed, a typical African home is pretty subdued in terms of colors. I think this is because folks interpret such colors as sober and serious and sophisticated or “godly”. I prefer homes that have warm tones and exude coziness and style. I love paintings, fresh flowers and at least one or two colorful or interesting throw pillows on the sofa that will give a punch to the decor. I also think that each room in a house should have a different atmosphere and color scheme. Smaller rooms should have lighter walls and less furniture and a mirror on the wall that creates an illusion of space.”
Me: Your Nigerian peer, Duro Oluwo launched a clothing and home accessories line with US retailer JCPenny. Are home accessories the natural progression of fashion designers? In your opinion, why are there not more African furniture and homeware brands?
BEE: “I can’t speak for other African designers, but personally I am a fabrics and textile person. I have no experience in designing furniture. I do not believe that every furniture designer can design clothes nor can every architect design a car. Design is a specialized field and every person must focus on their forte. Fashion designers in Europe possibly employ specialized teams to design furniture for them. Eventually, African designers might learn to do the same and broaden their horizons. Personally, I have the eye to decorate a home from A-Z including furniture, paintings, lights and cushions but I don’t feel the need to actually have to produce every single thing. I can collaborate with other designers.”
Me: You are said to do a lot with Gonja cloth. Why is this fabric one of your favorites?
BEE: I love Gonja cloth because it is a bit more understated and simpler in pattern: it is either plain or stripped. No zigzags, no symbols. This gives me more possibilities to add more of my own art (beads, appliques, sequins, paint) on the cloth. Also, I like it because women are involved in the weaving process of Gonja cloth, unlike Kente which is reserved only for men due to traditional taboos.
Me: You recently sent me a picture of your couch reinvented…
BEE: “Indeed, I constantly reinvent my couches by covering them with indigenous handwoven clothes. The cloth in question was a gift from Cote d’Ivoire. Its an Ivorian version of Kente which they call Kita cloth. It has a dark blue background and colorful strip running throughout. To break the monotony of the colors, I decided to paint on the cloth and add a bit of glitter for luster. Independently, I was also recycling pieces of wax cloth and remnants of Gonja cloth into throw pillows. When I covered the old couch with the Kita Cloth I threw the pillows on it and it worked beautifully together! I was very happy with my work and was even happier when my friends and family also found it beautiful. The cloth has added a lot of richness to the couch and to the room.”
Me: Tell me more about that and your other home decor projects.
BEE: “Currently, I am making more pillows because unlike African-inspired clothing that some westerners find too ethnic, pillows give just a touch of exotic. They are less overwhelming. Many European and American tourists like to buy decor objects and items to embellish their homes. Maybe that is why designers naturally include home decor into their repertoire. It is good business and less expensive to produce than furniture.”
Me: What is your favorite room in your home and why?
BEE: “My favorite room is my living room. Its big and spacious, has 6 windows that look into the garden. The predominant tones are orange, salmon and cream. I always keep a vase with flowers or foliage. There are a lot of African tribal art objects, lots of books on art, a big mirror on the wall by the dining area. I feel happy lying on my couch in the living room reading a book or working on the dining table.”
Me: My personal pet peeve when it comes to Africa-inspired decor is the overuse of animal print! What would you like people who are unfamiliar with the continent to understand about African decor trends and taste?
BEE: “I actually don’t find animal print to represent African-inspired decor at all. Its a romanticized colonial perception of Africa: zebras and giraffes running around the Savannah. We don’t have gorillas and zebras in Ghana. What we have is a rich culture and a tradition of weaving cloth, making brass symbols and jewelry and making beads with recycled glass. We also make fantastic cane furniture.”
Me: You have the same name as one of the characters from the American hit TV show, the Golden Girls. What do you hope will be your legacy when you are old and grey?
BEE: “I am still quite some years away from becoming old and grey! But if I were to die tomorrow, I think my legacy would be my effervescence, the originality in my work and the contributions I made in trying to change erroneous perceptions about modern Africa and the fashion industry on the continent. I remained true to my vision and lived outside of the box, never fearing to experiment by breaking stifling conventions. By doing so, I made the people I love proud, and I made my country proud of me. Who knows which mountains I would have moved by my Golden Girl age!