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“A foot in the door”: Ophelia Akande’s Graduate Showcase story

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  • Written byRachel Segal Hamilton
  • Published date 11 May 2023
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Photo of Ophelia Akande

Like with many creative industries, getting into film and TV is often about who you know. For LCF BA (Hons) Costume and Performance 2022 graduate Ophelia Akande, Graduate Showcase led to the all-important first job that kick start her post-university career...

Film and TV can be notoriously tough to break into. Nepotism is rife any confidentiality is prized when projects are in development. Many jobs aren’t advertised publicly, instead roles are hired on personal recommendation. It can be difficult to see a way in when don’t yet have a network. “Costume is competitive and very niche compared to fashion, say,” says Ophelia Akande. “But all it takes is that first opportunity.”

UAL’s Graduate Showcase website provided that initial steppingstone.  A Netflix costume supervisor, herself a former UAL student, was scouring the platform for potential costume trainees when she spotted Ophelia’s work.  Following an interview, the BA(Hons) Costume and Performance graduate found herself working on the set of A Whole Lifetime with Jamie Demetriou by autumn 2022, just months after leaving London College of Fashion. “Every job that I've done has led to the next one.  For me, as a working-class person of colour, it’s about getting your foot in the door and then making sure you always act accordingly. If people like you, they’ll want to bring you with them on future projects.”

Photograph of a rattan samurai costume
African Samurai by Ophelia Akande

Ophelia’s Showcase project, African Samurai, is inspired by the story of Yasuke, an African man who came to Japan in the 16th century as an enslaved person and rose through the warrior ranks to become the country’s first foreign-born Samurai but there is no registry of his armour. Ophelia came across this tale in a Netflix animated series and decided to pay homage to him by creating a body of armour made of Raffia, a nod to her own British-Nigerian heritage. “I wanted to, like contemporise it and put it into my context as someone from the African diaspora,” she explains. “Raffia is a staple African textile.”

After her model had pulled out last minute, she created a display for the costume and photographed it herself against a backdrop made of paper. Although she already knew how to use a camera having studied media at college, she appreciated the specialist lectures during third year on how to photograph costumes. “They really went into the different movement and angles you need to show certain parts of costume,” she says.

“Showcase gave me a reason to display my project. That motivated me to put effort into making the pictures look professional,” she adds. At that stage, Ophelia had not yet set up a website of her own so having the option to present her work on Graduate Showcase made a big difference to how she could promote herself online. “Making visual art, it’s important to put your work out there so people know what you’re doing.  But I think it is important to put it in a respected space – like Graduate Showcase.” When she did decide to launch her own site, she was good to go with images and copy ready to use on there too.

Photo of a man in a string vest smiling
Still image from A Whole Lifetime with Jamie Demetriou

Ophelia had also worked at Pinewood Studios during her degree, but it was the costume trainee role on Jamie Demetriou’s show that gave her a proper taste of how things work day-to-day in TV production. Getting that role has had a snowball effect. Recently, she’s been working in museum display and conservation for the V&A and William Morris Gallery, helping prepare for Ashish: Fall in Love and Be More Tender, a major retrospective of the fashion designer Ashish Gupta’s work. She is also currently working on a film production at Warner Bros Studios.

Looking back on her Graduate Showcase experience and the impact it’s had, she says: “Not everyone is able to come to your exhibition in person,” adding: “I’d 100% recommend it. You never know where it could lead. You don't know who’s looking at your work...”

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