Parsons School of Design graduate Jacques Agbobly, 22, has always been intrigued by the color orange. The Brooklyn-based designer’s work is inspired by colors and patterns from where he grew up in Togo, West Africa, before moving to America when he was nine. Orange is a recurring color in his personal clothing choices and designs, where his work aims to subvert the narrative around the color orange and incarceration, while being worn by Black men in particular.
“My brother was incarcerated and throughout my childhood… that really took a toll on my family,” Agbobly tells Teen Vogue. Despite associating orange with his brother’s situation, he believes that Black people look amazing in the color and hopes his graduate collection for Parsons can help highlight this in a more optimistic view.
Another theme running through his designs is an emphasis on patterned knitwear, inspired by the incredible craftsmanship in Togo. As a child, Agbobly often stayed with his grandmother, who rented part of her home to seamstresses. He remembers hiding under the tables to watch them do their work. “It’s custom as part of the culture in Africa to get clothes custom made,” he says. For Agbobly, fashion design seemed like a natural career path.
“Togo culture has a lot to do with textile, and growing up I was very much into handcrafts,” he says. “I’m fascinated by the idea that you can continuously work on something until it becomes bigger.” This attention to detail and focus on craftsmanship is evident in Agbobly’s collection, where ruffles, beads, and embroidery meet chunkier knitwear.
Drawing from the garment-making skills he grew up around, Agbobly’s designs are deeply personal tools for self-discovery and expression. “What it means to discover yourself through making [clothing] is that through every single thing that I do, in learning about silhouettes and dress practices, I’m learning about almost little artifacts of history,” he says.
In addition to Togo, the women in Agbobly’s life serve as inspiration for his designs. “As a queer person and someone who’s inspired by Black women in my life growing up, I always wanted to be like them,” he says. “I always wanted to dress like them.” Using voluminous, often more traditionally feminine, silhouettes, the designer aims to translate his inspiration from women into menswear, although he wouldn’t strictly call his designs menswear.
“I feel like I’m on the spectrum of both womenswear and menswear. I was really inspired by the greats growing up. You know, Alexander McQueen and the work of Chanel,” Agbobly explains. “I started to subvert that reality and think about myself, people like me existing in those high-fashion garments, and ask myself what it would look like for a Black man to be in a very stylized, couture garment.”