Written by Zach Hardy Photographed by Daniel Nwagbara
"I’m self-taught and self-inspired.”
Many fashion designers and contemporary artists can feel too pretentious, too purposefully obscure, and too out of touch to be meaningful. DMV native Daniel Nwagbara takes the opposite approach. Throughout his work, whether it’s photography or clothes for his fashion label New Burgundy, Daniel aims to produce creative works that are at once simplistic and aesthetically pleasing, and rather than looking to high culture or famous names for ideas, Daniel instead chooses to find his inspiration in the everyday: objects in his apartment, people he sees on DC’s streets, and the people close to him.
Daniel was born to Nigerian parents in Silver Spring, Maryland; his last name means 'child of the spirits', a name that he decided to keep- even though other members of his family changed theirs- in order to preserve his cultural heritage. Though his family hoped he would follow their footsteps to an ‘American Dream’ type lifestyle, Daniel said he always felt an impulse towards the creative arts in their diverse forms: “It’s just a tick in me. I just see something and I feel as if it should be this way, or if I change this it might look better, or more visually pleasing.” He then joked, “I’m self-taught and self-inspired.”
While he has loved photography since he began experimenting with his father’s camera as a kid, Daniel’s major breakthrough has been the development of the New Burgundy clothing line. New Burgundy began around 2014 as a vision Daniel had for a creative agency; he approached three of his friends- a marketer, a photographer, and a blogger- and pitched his idea. After launching the group and feeling the group needed something more concrete to work with, he brainstormed a clothing line on his own as a definitive product to market and sell. “People tend to believe what they can see,” Daniel recalled. “So I was thinking to myself, what can I create to show people that I can create something from scratch? And what I thought was the best bet was a clothing line, because you need everything for a clothing line. You need the media, the content, the photography, the design, the website, everything.”
Around early 2016 New Burgundy finally launched, and over the next few years Daniel ironed out the complex logistics of running a clothing company from the bottom up. For the company’s first releases he sourced materials from overseas through whatsapp and produced two lines per year. Soon, he realized that sourcing fabrics domestically was more cost effective and developed the model that he has maintained into 2019, which consists of a once-yearly collection focused on fall/winter core essentials.
New Burgundy's name captures Daniel's vision for the label: Burgundy's purplish tones to him represent a plush calm, along with added associations of graceful royalty, and its red tones stand for the bold pop of strength and confidence. When mixed these colors reflect the brand’s understated, versatile pieces. Pieces currently collection include the smart but office-friendly ‘One Button Blazer’ or the ‘Grandfather shirt,’ a subtly striped buttoned shirt with a French collar.
Most items include a red button for a signature pop. “New Burgundy is subtle, but it’s bold. It’s saying that you can be bold without being the loudest person in the room,” Daniel explained. “It lets people know that you can wear a simple button-up and pants and still be fashionable.”
Daniel embodies this vision of New Burgundy in his own style. When I met him his ensemble included military-style cap, a black velvet jacket, blue slacks, and oxblood shoes. Any one item on its own may seem unusual or loud, but taken together his selections added up to an outfit that was simultaneously understated and outspoken. It somehow just worked for him in a way it wouldn’t for a typical DC 20-something. "I've always been like this. I always wanted to step out of the box" he said while looking back on one of his unusual, but unexplainably cool, outfits: a suit with a ruffle collared shirt that he was inspired to put together after watching Christopher Nolan's film The Prestige, set in 1890s London.
"I just try to picture putting something on and saying this might work, and that's it. Or I'll see someone on the street wearing something and say that might look good with my red shoes. I just get inspired by people. I don't know if its stealing or jocking, but that's really it."
Although New Burgundy and his photography frequently mesh, he is currently curating a collection of shots taken entirely from his iPhone as a stand-alone project. The iPhone series represents his aesthetic sensibilities- simple but striking, everyday but elevated. "The theme that connects New Burgundy and my photography is simplicity. Both things are very minimalist," Daniel said. "I like things simple; simplicity is pleasing- artistically pleasing. It's easy on the eyes."
He also hopes to break into the world of film, envisioning short, aesthetically simplistic but pleasing, films that tell a story of everyday life. But he isn't just stopping there, he told me about several other ideas up his sleeves off-the-record.
Daniel has lived in different neighborhoods throughout the East and West sides of the district, and says that the city is full of potential creative energy. For anyone in the city looking to launch an idea, he says the most important thing when cultivating a creative idea is to keep up the momentum and stay open to new ideas. “Once you start, don’t let up because once you do you’ll end up giving up,” he said. “And to anyone who wants to be creative, don’t be afraid to be inspired.”