Arnold Muriithi may soon be Kenya’s equivalent of an Yves St Laurent or a Calvin Klein. At least that what his fans in fashion shows in Maputo and Addis Ababa fashion weeks told him. Fashion scouts from the UK who were on the lookout for fresh new fashion talents and invited him to attend fashion weeks in London, Paris, Milan or New York also suggested it.
“But as I just came from Mozambique where I showed my Voyager collection this past December, I’m not prepared to present my newest designs just yet,’’ says Muriithi who’s been moving in the fast lane ever since 2015 when he was picked by Equity Bank’s talent scouts.
“I got selected after passing several tests on knowledge of construction and originality of my designs,’’ says the young designer who was still a student at Kenyatta University when he won that jackpot.
“Winning with Equity meant I went to show my first major collection at the Addis Fashion Week. As it turned out, they liked me so much I was invited back in 2016 and 2017,’’ says the designer who admits he has been making dresses since he was eight years old.
Having older sisters who left him a closet full of dolls, Muriithi got fascinated early on with the colourful clothes worn by his sister Claire’s Barbie dolls. His mother who loved beautiful garments also inspired him. She also read fashion magazines like Marie Claire, which he says is how his older sister got the name Claire.
Admitting he was never fond of toy cars or video games like most of his peers, Muriithi says he used to give away the cars to his friends since he preferred disassembling Barbie dresses and teaching himself how to reconstruct them using different materials.’
“I actually made my first wedding dress for Barbie when I was 10,” says the man who now creates custom couture-wedding gowns.
Working with his own tailors and women who help him hand-stitch finishing touches to his gowns, Muriithi could easily work full-time creating wedding gowns.
“I love making my own lace which I often stitch onto my wedding dresses myself,’’ he says, adding that trims can also include elegant snowy-white flowers that he carefully laser cuts, then hand-stitched strategically.
But the 27-year-old who originally went to Kenyatta University to study economics could not give up his primary passion which was and still is fashion design. His family finally accepted his first love for fashion and for creating not only exquisite gowns, but also amazing pantsuits, skirts, shorts, tops and even matching leather handbags.
Working mainly with crepe chiffon that he gets from one shop in Westlands, Nairobi that imports materials from all over the world, Muriithi says he might work with Kenyan kikois one day. But for now he prefers elegant silks and chiffons that he describes as light, delicate, comfortable and wrinkle-free.
What actually kicked off his fashion career, he says, was his making the lead gown for Miss Kenya in 2014.
For Lydia Manani, he used a Japanese chiffon that he got from the shop known as Memsaab. That gown went all the way to the Philippines where Lydia didn’t win the title of Miss World. But that dress is the one he submitted to Equity Bank for their fashion search. Muriithi also had to be vetted to make it to the Maputo Fashion Week since only one East African designer was selected by fashionistas from France, Japan, UK and the Commonwealth Fashion Council.
“Being selected to show my ‘Voyager’ collection in Mozambique was a big honour since there were designers there from all over the world,” he says.
But Muriithi hasn’t allowed the adulation to go to his head. “I still want to get my creative identity right,” says the man whose designs are earning him invitations to show everywhere from Cape Town and Jo’burg to Paris and London.
However, for now he can be found either in his workshop or at his new office at Nairobi’s Rosslyn Riviera Mall.