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'What's important in a dress is the woman wearing it'

Psychologies’ image expert Mandy Lehto talks to aspiring fashion designer Danielle Bodjo about fusing heritage and habitat

by Psychologies

How to look like yourself

Aspiring fashion designer Danielle Bodjo, 28, enthuses: ‘London is great for expressing diversity through style. I like wearing clothes with a story. We all have a story to tell.’ Her developing fashion line, By Bodjo, is a potent advertisement for the modern, cosmopolitan woman. Her story spans two cultures. ‘I grew up in Scandinavia,’ she says, in a Danish accent. ‘But my ancestry is African, from the Ivory Coast.’

The first time I meet Danielle, she is dressed in a quintessentially Scandinavian way, sleek and understated. When we meet again for the interview, she’s wearing an African kaftan in colours that pulse. ‘I’ve really struggled to fuse together parts of my heritage and personality,’ she says. ‘I often can’t find what I’m looking for in the high street, so I’m creating it myself.’

Danielle describes her style as a mix of a European silhouette with an African vibe. She is quick to add that cultural touches are inclusive, never exclusive. ‘You don’t have to be African to wear these colours or vivid prints,’ she says, gesturing at her outfit. ‘It’s about embracing our individuality, femininity and power.’

Wearing prints and colours like she does says more about the woman than about fashion or trend. And that is precisely her aim in her clothing line. ‘Over the years, I’ve learnt that what is important in a dress is the woman who is wearing it. The neutral clothes I used to wear in my former job as a marketing manager really limited my vision of myself. I used to stand there on front of the wardrobe and wish for something with a little wow! I wasn’t being authentic, not fully.’

So much of what Danielle says chimes with what many of us struggle with – wanting a ‘little something’ to bring our wardrobes to life. That, she says, starts with being truly comfortable with who you are. There’s a Danish word hygge, which means cosy, comfortable. ‘You might say I have it in my personal style,’ Danielle says. And her truth is also about embracing her ‘specialness,’ as she calls it. ‘I’m creating a new identity that’s more aligned with the real me.’

Dress to express your style

  • Play with fusions: mix bold with plain, hot with cold 
  • Explore your culture, or a culture that appeals to you 
  • Give yourself permission to stand out
  • Embrace the challenge of avoiding the high street 
  • Mix ethnic and modern for a current look
  • Don’t be afraid of print
  • It’s OK to go slowly; start with accessories

For more about Mandy Lehto, go to mandylehto.com or read her blogs on LifeLabs

Photograph: Ki Price