From apprentice to fashion icon: Ivorian Pathe’O, 50 years later

When 20-year-old Pathé Ouedraogo left his village in Burkina Faso in 1969 in search of a better life in neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, his dream was to return with a bicycle and a transistor radio to prove he had success.

He was too skinny to work on a cocoa plantation, so he took the opportunity to learn how to make clothes – a decision that propelled him to the rank of a fashion star. “The most accessible job at the time was to be an apprentice tailor,” explains Ouedraogo.

The man primarily known as Pathe’O is now celebrating a 50-year career in which his iconic casual shirts and dresses in vibrant African prints and fabrics graced the shoulders of celebrities and political figures, including Nelson Mandela.

Her big break came in 1994 when South African singer Miriam Makeba bought her four shirts as a gift for the former South African president. Mandela wore one and mentioned Pathe’O’s name when asked about his origins during a trip to Paris.

The advertising sparked a wave of orders and sales that emptied his store and propelled him to the forefront of the fashion scene.

He met Mandela in 1998. “It was a meeting that changed my life,” Pathe’O told Reuters. “In the village, we would hear about Mandela and Apartheid and all the rest, I never thought I would be a tailor, let alone dress him.”

He marked his five decades with a glitzy spectacle and the launch of a new boutique in an upscale neighborhood of Abidjan, the walls of which are adorned with photos of him with figures such as Nigerian billionaire Aliko Dangote and the King of Morocco. Mohamed VI, and presidents such as Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Alpha Condé of Guinea wearing his shirts.

Pathe’O now sees its mission as doing more to promote African fashion.

“Africans themselves are always opposed to wearing what is made in Africa. This is the real problem … This is the real struggle today,” he said.

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