‘Love In Isolation’ portrait series celebrates the beauty of Black Philadelphia creators

Grounded by the pandemic, the world-famous fashion designer behind Ikiré Jones went searching for inspiration at home.

Philadelphia artist Leroy Johnson, as photographed by Wale Oyejide of Ikiré Jones

Philadelphia artist Leroy Johnson, as photographed by Wale Oyejide of Ikiré Jones

Wale Oyejide / Love In Isolation

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West Philly designer Wale Oyejide is world famous for his Ikiré Jones fashion line. His scarves and kerchiefs often reimagine classical European artworks with African protagonists, and his bespoke tailored sport coats and suits are cut from bright, African-inspired fabrics.

Worn by Chadwick Boseman in “Black Panther,” Andre 3000 in “Dispatches from Elsewhere,” and singer Aloe Blacc, the celeb-favorite label is known for its international imagery.

It’s branding execution is usually just as global — last year around this time, Oyejide was in Florence, Rome and Lisbon. The brand’s campaign film, “After Migration” tells the story of Black immigrants in Italy, and was shot on location.

When Oyejide was grounded by COVID-19, he came to the realization that there’s also plenty worth celebrating right here in Philadelphia.

“I’m guilty of trying to travel the world to tell these beautiful stories,” he told Billy Penn. “It’s just a reminder that that stuff exists right where we all live and you often don’t have to look that hard.”

The brand’s most recent campaign forwent models on set for “ordinary people who happen to be beautiful in their own homes,” Oyejide said.

After that, he forwent branding at all for an ongoing portrait series exploring stories of beauty and joy in Philly’s own backyard.

“Love in Isolation” is a photography portrait and interview series spotlighting some of Philadelphia’s renowned (if underrated) artists and community builders. Since November, Oyejide has photographed Ellis Ferrell and members of the Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club, 80-something-year-old artist Leroy Johnson, and Black Star Film Festival founder Maori Karmael Holmes, among others.

Alongside the portraits, Q&As explore how the creators have managed during pandemic quarantine.

“Philadelphia has just as much beauty and inspiration within its city limits as these distant places I often go to,” Oyejide said. “It’s a great rediscovery. This is normal now and so we just have to still remain inspired.”

The Ikiré Jones brand is as much about storytelling as it is about clothing, Oyejide told Billy Penn. Tailor Sam Hubler does the bespoke stitching, while Oyejide — a former musician and attorney — does design, creative direction, and crafts afro-futuristic sci-fi tales or nonfiction narratives to live alongside the looks.

“From a culture standpoint, it’s going as good as ever if not better,” Oyejide said of his business. “From a numbers standpoint, it’s lower, [but] we’re lucky this brand has always had a long view.”

Selected images from ‘Love in Isolation’

Philly-based filmmaker and artist Rashid Zakat told Oyejide the pandemic led him to ponder more about his loved ones and find his strength in theirs.

World-traveling Philadelphia saxophonist and composer Immanuel Wilkins said he strives to practice his music everyday during the pandemic, to bring peace to himself and others.

Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club founder Ferrell talked about how he’s continued teaching children living near his Strawberry Mansion stables to ride for no cost.

Said Eastwick native artist Leroy Johnson, “There wasn’t anyone rushing into our community to call us geniuses. But we knew who we were.”

BlackStar Film Festival founder Maori Karmael Holmes told Oyejide about the strength she gets from her ancestors.

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