Do you want creativity? I present to you Marianne Sodogandji, 24 years on paper, 100 centuries in the head and designer at Eldior Sodeck. Eldior Sodeck carries within her the essence of the “Irawo”: originality, a story to tell, determination, difference and so much life. It is as if in each of her creations she cries out to the world her existence and belonging. Eldior Sodeck is a way of being African and Beninese in the 21st century. This brand is the expression of a resourceful youth, born in the pure African culture, modeled in the Hip Hop culture, which seeks its own marks in this cosmopolitan universe.
Eldior Sodeck is simply amazing by her intelligence and her ability to create, without complexes, a unique lifestyle. What is her fuel, even? It’s the Trap girl, the salsa girl, the break-dancer, the raper, the small-scale architect, the stylist, the businesswoman and a fox of marketing. It’s Eldior So disconcerting, So talented. So put on your headphones, forget everything you know and discover a new reason to be proud to be African. Welcome to the world of an awesome girl.
From Marianne Sodogandji to Eldior Sodeck, there are many miles. How did the transition happen?
It’s funny. I was Eldior Sodeck since the 8th. My mother used to offer me Christian Dior because I was obsessed with it. I was in a rap crew with Jupiter, Prestige Gust, Osama and a certain Kenzo named after a perfume. I thought I could be the Dior.
Me, my life is great. I put myself off my feet, In a warrior outfit Cause I am Sodomarie I'm going to paris Drinking Campari
I saw “El Diablo” written on the toilet walls of my school. El Diablo, El Dior … I wondered. I was then Eldior Sodog. But one day, a girl made a bad joke, saying that I was “so … dog”. So I wanted to change. It was childish things. After my father’s death, I became attached to my mother’s family. I noticed that she always signed her maiden name: H. Deckon. We wanted to create a name that just represented my father’s Sodogandji. I tried all possible combinations. I finally figured that Sodeck was the best. That’s how I became Eldior Sodeck.
How did you go from the rapper to the stylist?
I’ve always been a stylist. It just became a business five years ago. My mother sold Vlisco for 30 years and she had always explained to me the difference between fabrics, between the “Tchiganvi” and the “Vlisco”. You knew she used to choose the best fabrics when you saw her sublime in her “Bomba” cut. The first Mother’s Day after my father’s death, I wanted to give her a gift on my own, with my own money. I took her unused pieces of fabric of different patterns but alike colorations, and I presented them to my friends of EFE Montaigne. I explained to them how to use the loincloths, how to offer them. They had several options: either I would design a model and get them a discount from my own tailors, or I would sell them to them only. At school, I would sell it to my clique. We used to wear similar outfits to go on excursions: overalls, pants, braces, ties. It worked so well that I had more money than I needed. I then sewed a dress to my mother and offered roses to my aunts. I kept creating.
But one day, you went to New York to do interior design!
When I was younger, I had a notebook where I used to draw clothes and houses. Those were my two interests. I used to see interior design as decoration but it was architecture at a small scale. When I arrived at the Art Institute of New York City, I wanted to stand out by putting on loincloth. The board even mistaken and sent me in Fashion Class but I was there to do interior design.
How did you develop your business far from Benin, your tailors and your clique?
The school happens to be a networking ground. It helped me a lot. I made friends in graphic, design, fashion, and so on. I could see how stylists work. I used to break-dance. I would wear Timbaland. I was a real tomboy. One day I went to the University with a “drove crotch” sewn by my mother. My guidance counselor wanted one too. Ding ding ding! I felt the opportunity! I talked to my mother who offered to scan my models, so that she would help me sew them. She would bring them to New York, saturating her suitcases with my creations. At the beginning, I used to draw no matter how, but the tailors hired by my mother, would reproduce exactly my sketches ending up with atypical models.
What about the demand?
I do not know where people came from, but whenever I posted photos on my Facebook page, people were excited. My customers were Western, Asian. I sold all my stock! At one point, I was bothered by waiting for my mother to bring me back my creations. I started doing Tee-shirt customizations myself. I would sew with my bare hands, I discolor with bleach water. I eventually understood how clothes were made.
Wasn’t hand sewing limiting for your production proficiency?
After school, Urban Outfitters and other odd jobs, I started a formal job in a textile company that had nothing to do with fashion. On a holiday, I went to the office dressed in Eldior Sodeck. A lady at the Human Resources department offered to sew for me, because she saw me struggling to sew by hand. She charged me almost nothing. She took me as a daughter.
For you, when did the adventure really begin?
In 2013, a friend of mine, Andy Agbennonci, invited me to Montreal for Miss Africa Montreal. He said, “Bring your clothes! People may want to buy them”. We made a photoshoot, a communication on social networks. He invited all his friends. That’s how I made my first sale in his living room. It all began there.
Eldior Sodeck could not have, therefore, been born without her mothers.
They helped me a lot. My mother knows everything about the fabrics. She knows where to pay them, what type to choose, how to create links with suppliers. She knows the business. When you are too much involved in financial matters, you lose your creativity trying to accommodate everyone. My mother forced me to make maxi long skirts. But skirts sell! All girls wear skirts! (laughs). 10 people can make skirts and they would all sell some. All women will find something attractive in the skirts of a creator. I thank my mother for having me make skirts. That’s what brings money back to business, she sees what works according to the seasons and I put my touch. And when she goes too far in the commercial, I know how to stop her. I am partisan to let people do what they know best.
How do you fix the prices of your creations?
Those who sew their own creations have high prices. Putting a price on your work is painful. Click To Tweet If the tailors have to sit down and fix the value of their work, Yo, it’s going to be way expensive. I count the price of the fabric, the cost of the tailor and I double them to make my percentage. The fashion girls I used to know, they charge the hours of conception and realization of the pattern, the price of the fabric, what they would have perceived if they were in a company, aso. I do not want to be the kind of person who has trouble letting go of his creations.
Who has the most talent between the one who comes to imagine the dream of a designer and the one who imagines the future of a tailor?
The most talented is the one who can do both. It is good to have an idea but if you come across someone who can give life to it, it’s a chance. The tailor, despite doing exactly what you ask him, will put a bit of himself in it. There will always be his personal touch. I work with several tailors and I know what I ask to each of them. I had, for example, four kinds of maxi-skirts, not according to my drawing but because each tailor interpreted my sketch in his own way.
Someone who can do everything is the most talented but not necessarily the most successful. It is very easy to be excellent at one thing but at many things, you become average. However, I have more respect for someone who has mastered only one thing. Everyone can be average. Being average everywhere is something you learn. Interior design is a craft where you need to know a bit about everything, depending on your customer’s environment. When you have a talent, everyone forgets that you are null in other areas. Who will ask a piano virtuoso child if he is good in maths? No one ! Except the Beninese (laughs).
Would women feel more comfortable wearing Eldior Sodeck at night rather than day with all those inquisitive and censorious looks?
I have clients of all ages and all social classes. My creations are made to be adapted and worn as desired, and each time always differently. I sold a CropTop in Atcho-Oké * (African woven loincloth) to a conservative Texan of 46 years. His first reaction was: “I do not want to show my stomach!”. I explained to her that she could wear it in high waist, or with a black or banded dress. She bought 2! I am personally very modest. I do not dress inconsolately. Eldior Sodeck can be worn at any time, any way, from morning to night. Everyone can be himself by wearing Eldior Sodeck. Click To Tweet
What is the universe of Eldior Sodeck? Does Marianne slip in from time to time? Or is she only the genius’ shell?
I can be the Trap Girl, Salsa Girl or Parent Pertussis. I am a chameleon. I try to make people comfortable. Being versatile and unforgettable, that’s the universe of Eldior Sodeck. When you wear Eldior, people see you! And Marianne is Eldior. Eldior, it’s Marianne.
What is the border between design and interior design? Aren’t they separated by a no man’s land of thousands of hectares?
Interior design is to Architecture what Fashion is to sewing. The architects create the structure but the interior design gives life to it. It’s as if I was dressing up a house, as if I saw one and asked it, “What do you want to wear today, little house?”. To enter my school, it was necessary to produce an essay. I wrote that I wanted to do three things: When my client comes, I want to give him a place to live, create his lifestyle and finally his style. I literally help him build his way of life from where he sleeps to what he wears. This is what defines an individual: where he lives and what he wears.
What would you do differently if you were given the chance to start over?
I would take the business seriously earlier, from school, from my first sales. I would have been on time. I would have pushed on all the opportunities I had but dropped. I would have thought about my stock management because I have had many opportunities with famous people that I avoided. I really would have started earlier.
There are three mistake I would not make again: Being late at some sales, getting too familiar with some people I was in business with, think that everybody want . You don’t have to be afraid to think as you think. You don’t have to be afraid to speak, when something is wrong. You are given what you ask for.
Should we be surprised that your female creations are of the “Trap girl” type?
Trap girl, it’s just the music I’m listening to now but everyone can wear Eldior. I make gala dresses, always with a sexy touch of course. My guy shirts have something. You can not be completely serious/classic with my clothes. There is always a little different feature on the cloth. I do not “tag” myself. I do everything. High street, street wear, etc. For my Fashion shows, I always play Angelica Kidjo, “Naija” and hip hop. I would say Eldior Sodeck is “Urban Chic”. My collections vary following my moods. My motto is be unforgettable with Eldior Sodeck. Be unforgettable. Click To Tweet
Since your body is in New York, does your mind often fly to Africa?
My mind is glued to Africa. The reason I use so much African fabric is to show people where I come from. In New York, I wanted to tell them: “Look at me! I do not belong here! “. It was really the “vibe”. It was very kind of “in your face! “. Me, it’s Benin or nothing! I am a patriot to the maximum.
But your models look very Western, nevertheless.
When an African create something, it is African. Click To Tweet As long as it comes from the spirit of an African, there are no limits. Beninese fashion is made by any Beninese who creates something. It’s typically him. And him being Beninese, it is typically Beninese.
The wax is currently very decried or even putrefied …
I use Wax prints as a 30-year-old family legacy. I understand when people ask that we produce Wax in Africa, but the Wax was very much consumed here rather than “out there” where it is produced. Tell me, doors are western, right? Did your parents use doors? I do not like to categorize things. When an object becomes of a permanent usage, it belongs to the place where it is used. We can not say forever: “Oh my God, that’s something white people brought”. Are you using that, yes or no? Have you used it for the last fifty years? We used to live in huts, didn’t we? Why are we living in houses today? Because if you have to apply this reasoning to Wax, you will have to do it for all the other things.
The pure African culture will eventually disappear. With what kind of Africa, are we going to end up at this rate?
We end up with a world which, like all the others, evolves. Even if there had been no colonization, we would do things differently today because we would have learned new techniques. I am deeply conservative, I know my roots, my language, and my traditions. I know where I come from. I always spill water three times when I visit someone. I still greet my aunt by bowing myself.
But it is not because we innovate, we do things differently from our parents that we lose our culture. No, we are creating a culture. There are things we do now that are not what our parents used to do and that are not what white people do either. The culture is created. It is not a question of external influence, it is just evolution. I do not touch roses because one of them stung me once and not because I saw a white not touching them. I am frustrated that we – Africans – put up so many barriers.It's not because we are innovating that we lose our culture. No, we are creating a culture. Click To Tweet
I want to show a different way of thinking, a way of retrieving our culture, putting it ahead without being unsecure, to do it differently.