The first thing I noticed about Osoré Ale Oyagha was his gangly arms. They hang so far past his waistline, I thought. Maybe this guy should be a wide receiver instead of a fashion designer. I caught him digging through a dusty record bin in the back of Ale et Ange, the Lower East Side boutique that he started in the fall of 2006 alongside his friend and fellow designer Eloise Ange Simonet. Osoré was the only one in the store, which is the size of a suburban kitchen and has that same kind of lived-in feel, with big windows that let in natural light. The narrow, almost claustrophobic space is peppered with expertly crafted versions of traditional men’s clothing items like dress shirts, trousers, and baseball caps—but tweaked with global-minded flourishes such as the vibrantly colorful African Ankara fabrics they use for their now-signature hats. These are the pieces that have brought them attention from sites all across the internet like theFaderand Complex, and scored them nods in the printed pages of Vogue.
Osoré barely gave me a nod as I browsed the dress shirts and trousers— he was too busy searching for another Broadcast record to plop on the store’s turntable before dead air set in. When the question of the next song to be played was finally settled, he spoke up.
“What’s up man?” he greeted me with a nasally accent I couldn’t place. I hadn’t called ahead, so he had no idea I was a writer for VICE scoping out the store to see if it lived up to its hype. Not that he would care. The shop isn’t one of those space-age boutiques with wi-fi or iPod docks and it’s clear Osoré’s not the kind of guy who sits up late reading blogs or fashion forums. He’s consumed by vintage fabrics and collecting old, obscure records to care what the internet peanut gallery thinks.
The insular aura of Ale et Ange is one of the things that leaves such a lasting impression on anyone that visits the store. But it’s kind of unsustainable. You can’t be quaint when fashion mavens like the Street Etiquette crew, Mos Def (now known as Yasiin Bey), and Pusha Tare devotees of your shit. And their success is not without its pitfalls. They complain of practically getting stalked when they are shoping for fabrics and they’re adamant that their distinct aesthetic, personified in their allover print caps, is being aped by bigger fashion brands for big bucks.