Two days before her show in Paris last October, the British-Nigerian-Brazilian designer Torishéju Dumi was sitting in a model casting studio when her mentor, the fashion editor and consultant Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, quietly pulled her out of the room. Karefa-Johnson had news: Naomi Campbell had confirmed that she would open the show for Dumi’s brand, Torishéju; Paloma Elsesser would close it. “Gabriella called in all her friends, called in all her favors,” says Dumi, at her home in east London. “She made it happen.” With 48 hours to go, “everything started to fall into place. When people heard that Naomi was doing it, they were like, ‘Can we do it?’ It was a mad thing.”
This was the first time Dumi, 31, had ever cast a show—in fact, the first time she had ever done a show. To get to the gilded ballroom in the Shangri-La hotel, where the presentation, titled “Fire on the Mountain,” was taking place, she traveled over an hour by car from a two-bedroom Airbnb on the outskirts of Paris that she was sharing with seven friends. The looks—21 of them on the runway, winnowed down from 30—had been sewn in her second-floor flat in the neighborhood of Homerton, above a bakery selling $9 sandwiches that she couldn’t afford to buy. “It was just me,” says Dumi, “pattern cutting, stitching, making all of the toiles. I was just crying. I was like, How am I going to do this?”
Dumi was born in Harlesden, a diverse neighborhood in northwest London, and grew up outside of the capital in Hertfordshire and Milton Keynes with her mother, brother, and sister. Her father died when she was 14, and an artistic career felt risky. “Everybody else in my family are doctors and lawyers. So when you say fashion, it’s kind of like, what are you doing?” But Dumi loved working with her hands, crafting and creating garments. Her mother was the one who nudged her to go into the industry. “When I was younger,” says Dumi, “all I wanted was to be in Dover Street Market. That was it.”
By the time she met Karefa-Johnson, in 2021, Dumi was completing her master’s degree in fashion design at Central Saint Martins. Karefa-Johnson was a judge for a university prize that Dumi didn’t win, but the two women stayed in touch. “What stood out to me about her work is that she was creating quite esoteric, intelligent, and abstract design,” says Karefa-Johnson. “For many reasons, that isn’t an aesthetic space often occupied by Black women designers. It’s very rarefied air.”
After releasing a cross-seasonal collection, “Mami Wata,” at the beginning of 2023, Dumi felt ready for a bigger stage. Karefa-Johnson suggested a show at Paris Fashion Week, and didn’t downplay the stakes. “I gave her the honest truth,” says Karefa-Johnson. “We don’t have infinite chances to say what we want to say, so when she was ready to make that statement and debut her vision, we had to make it stick.” There hadn’t been a show for “Mami Wata”—Dumi had gone to a local photography studio with the clothes under her arm and shot the looks with help from her friend and fit model Elexa Tanner—so preparing for Paris Fashion Week was an unfamiliar, occasionally exasperating experience. “But I feel like sometimes in life you have to be uncomfortable,” says Dumi. “I like to be uncomfortable. That’s how I work best.”
Many of the looks from “Fire on the Mountain” have apronlike silhouettes with deep pockets and ties at the back. Nigerian lappa clothing influenced the loose, unfussy draping, and there are winks at classic British tailoring in undone wool blazers and overcoats. The phrase “fire on the mountain” is part of a folk song that Dumi’s mother used to sing when Dumi and her siblings were young, meaning that everybody should hurry up and get going. “The idea for the collection was just putting something on and running out. You’re like—quick, quick, quick,” she says, snapping her fingers. “Get dressed, let’s keep it moving! Everything just wraps around you. The looks are almost like modular pieces that can be put into any other collection.”
On the day of the debut, Dumi was still sewing while simultaneously doing previews with editors, says Karefa-Johnson. Volunteers who had offered to dress the models didn’t turn up. The show was delayed, and everyone was glancing at the clock. “I was on my knees tying Dr. Martens shoelaces for pretty much the entire backstage lead-up,” says Karefa-Johnson. But once the show started, “my eyes were glued to the monitor—I saw how many editors and colleagues I respected were in their seats, and when their faces lit up and phones came out to capture the moment, I knew we had pulled it off spectacularly.”
While the rest of her team went out to celebrate, Dumi returned to her rented apartment. “I was so burned out and so tired. I just wanted to be by myself and go to sleep.” Naomi Campbell’s all-black opening look—a fitted blazer with inverted center front shoulder pads, a shirt buttoned at the neck and open to the navel, and baggy cargo trousers—was widely shared, and excitement about the collection snowballed. The CEO of Dover Street Market, Adrian Joffe, who had missed the show, asked Dumi for an appointment. “I hired out a studio for the meeting,” she says. “It was so expensive. I was like, I don’t have any money. But this is Adrian.” Starting this spring, all DSM stores will be carrying Torishéju.
In the living room of her London flat, stacked cardboard boxes with ss24 toiles written in marker contain the runway clothes from Paris. In a couple of months, Dumi will move her work to a new studio. That way she can reclaim her home, she explains, while she focuses on scaling her production for retail and possibly showing another collection in the spring. I ask if she’ll be leaving her flat too, where she worked at all hours for much of the past year. “No, never—so much has happened in it,” she says. “But I do have this fantasy that maybe one day I’ll buy the whole building.”
Saunders, Koang, and Robinson wear Church’s shoes (throughout); Tanner wears G.H. Bass shoes (throughout); Spreiz wears Grenson shoes (throughout); Adagunduro wears Manolo Blahnik shoes (throughout). Opposite, clockwise from top left: Odunwo wears Manolo Blahnik shoes; Neal wears Grenson shoes. Hair by Yumi Nakada-Dingle for Leonor Greyl; Makeup by Crystabel Riley for Dr. Hauschka at Julian Watson Agency. Models: Mayowa Adagunduro at The Milk Collective; Dor Koang at Elite Model; Jonathan Neal, Raphaela Odunwo at The Milk Collective; Matthew Robinson, Saunders at Premier Model Management; Katarina Spreiz, Elexa Tanner. Casting by DM Casting; Casting Assistant: Brandon Contreras; Produced by Valon Ballabani; Production Coordinator: Dea Poriazova; Photo Assistants: Federico Covarelli Federici, Daiki Tajima; Digital Technician: Damian Flack; Retouching: Studio RM; Fashion Assistants: Luiza Cirico, Kornelia Lukaszewicz; Production Assistant: Thedore Cody; Hair Assistants: Mayuko Nakae, Nao Sato; Makeup Assistants: Temi Adelekan, Sasha Chudeeva.