VALENTINA UTOH: Luxuriously 40tified
By Jemi Ekunkunbor
Standing at an impressive height of 5″10, she could have passed for a model. Even though she doesn’t get to walk the runway, every where she goes is her runway as she acts as a walking advertisement for her luxurious creations that bring design and embellishment in a beautiful creative mix.
Valentina Utoh is Founder and Creative Director, Onyx by Valentina; a female clothing and interior design brand that brings art to life through handmade embellished pieces.
The beautiful mother of three who turns 40 today, rolls out the drums to celebrate, with a special luxurious collection that marries art with sophistication and themed, “40fied”.
The native of Imo State, who holds a Bachelor’s degree in Applied Chemistry from the University of Uyo in Akwa Ibom State, here talks about turning 40, life at 40, dream for the future and why she is interested in luxury goods.
With the name Valentina, one would have thought you were born on Valentine’s Day. What were you told about your name?
I was born exactly one month after Valentine’s Day, and my father was truly happy to name me Valentina as he was still in the euphoria of love. I believe it was significant for my parents, being exactly one month after Valentine’s Day. I find it a truly unique name because it drives a really unique aura of love in my life, and passion for anything I put my heart to. My father was also very well travelled and exposed to foreign ways of life and imbibed it in a lot of family choices and parenting.
Were you the product of a special kind of love then?
I was surely a product of a special kind of love, as I am the first child of two parents who redefined the true meaning of love. My father is late now, God bless his soul. My parents lived out their lives practically in love. I was surely a product of a special kind of love. It reflected hugely in our childhood and upbringing. My mother would always say, “You cannot give what you don’t have.” We received so much love as products of a special kind of love and only equally showed it the best way we knew how to. Being a product of a special kind of love, gives you faith to believe in yourself; that, indeed, you can achieve what you put your mind to by God’s grace.
Love is the greatest gift of all, and it is also the greatest gift we can give to our children, to give them the confidence to thrive in life wherever they find themselves.
You turn 40 today. How does it feel to be 40?
Forty feels refreshing, it feels very peaceful and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to God.
I wasn’t sure how 40 will feel but as I approached closely, I found out that it was more of becoming who I have been destined to be; to live a more purposeful life, to enjoy every step of the experience and not hold challenges too seriously. I truly want to make everyday count by gratitude and purposeful milestones, enjoy more family time and above all, to love God much more every new day.
Do you truly feel like life is just beginning for you?
Couldn’t be said better. I truly feel younger and lighter at heart. I feel so joyous about the future and looking forward to greater heights. Forty has a different view, a different feeling that I’m so grateful for, a feeling of contentment, loving myself and my journey so far. Some people ask me how I am always calm and put together, and yet, able to run my company and home and achieve so much. I found out that as I approached 40, my gratitude lifestyle to God became much more than my requests to him. It quietened my spirit and gave me a deep sense of discernment and direction, both in my creativity and life choices and decisions. It has brought me to this new age 40, feeling young and renewed; and I’m loving it.
What lifestyle changes do you intend to start?
It will be first, drinking more water and taking more walks in the estate where I live. Making more, conscious effort to eat in good time despite my work schedule, and engage a little more in social life amid family and work. Have more vacations with family and solely, start a Salsa dance class at least once in a while. I love to watch Salsa dances. I’d love to try it out. In all, live much more!
In your 40 years walk here on earth, what events would you say helped shape your life?
Motherhood and parenting! Parenting has shaped me greatly. I have been married for nearly 17 years and parenting our children with my husband, has hugely taught me patience, hardwork, tenacity; being a teacher, counsellor, home doctor, chef and enjoying it all at the same time. It shaped my life and prepared me for the world and all life had to bring. It literally made me strong and gave me hope. Above parenting, my true encounter with God in a personal relationship with Him and total acknowledgement of who He is to me, as well as and his unwavering love for me, has been the greatest experience that has shaped my life, my marriage, parenting, business and relationships with other people. It has ordered my steps on all sides.
You are marking your big 40 with a collection themed “40fied”. What is 40fied about?
40fied is simply about gratitude to God for bringing me this far, renewed, revived and fortified; and all his promises being kept. I themed it 40fied because it has been quite a journey from my very humble beginning. When I look back from where I started, and how He kept it going and now 40, still waxing stronger, it is most definitely how I feel, 40fied, yet again by His love.
What does the collection entail in terms of fabrics and designs?
The 40fied Collection entails a more vibrant, elegant, youthful vintage pieces with modern twist. It is really expressive of how I feel at 40. The textures are phenomenally a rich mix of unique, exotic fabrics; fabrics ranging from damask to jacquard, tulle, cotton, all infused and hand-beaded in an artistic pattern, to bring to life the true essence of sophistication in a clothing form.
Most of your creativities are on luxury. How did you develop this knack for class and sophistication?
Our pieces are luxury with also a second line which is an affordable luxury line. The knack for class and sophistication was born out of the love for art; artwork on luxury materials and the intricacy and detail of the beadwork, gives it the class and sophistication.
Since this collection is tied to your 40th birthday, what should your clients expect from you?
They should expect classy, modern twists to very beautiful body flattering pieces. We made the 40fied Collection more flattering, more feminine and sultry. Every woman wants to feel young at heart.
You do hand-made embellishment for your clothes. How do you bring art to meet sophistication?
Art simply means sophistication. The beadwork brings out the sophistication after production. It is like using the beadwork as a tool to tell our own art story on the clothes.
Luxury goods have suffered big drop in sale due to COVID-19. How have you fared?
My designs, like art, is timeless. By God’s grace, the clients are buying and this has given the business a good edge to thrive even in turbulent times.
We have had clients from all over the world buy our pieces all throughout the globally- challenging times. Collecting art is psychologically soothing too for some people, and a huge way of retail therapy or indulging in what makes them happy.
Now that 40 is here, what do you look forward to now?
I look forward to ageing gracefully in good health, and putting my best foot forward in my creativity at large. I also look forward to empowering upcoming, passionate entrepreneurs in the same industry.
If you were to get an all-expense-paid trip for a birthday gift, where would you like to go?
It will most definitely be The Maldives. The wind against the palms in the beach side is nothing short of divine. Its serenity and beauty will definitely give birth to a breathtaking collection when I come back home.
What’s your style secret?
My style secret will be incorporating texture and layering. I love vintage with a modern twist. Vintage never wears out; it is timeless.
What won’t you do in the name of fashion?
I most probably will not wear extremely tight spandex dresses. I believe that it’s important to dress age appropriate. Very fitted clothes, I most definitely love; but extremely tight clothes in spandex fabric might be off for me as I feel it is quite age inappropriate.
Who is your style icon?
They are so many people with such a great sense of style but Audrey Hepburn stands out for me. In Nigeria, I have a lot of ladies whose style I admire but Olori Sekinat Elegushi, is one of my favourites. She is always truly gracious.
If you could turn back the hands of time, what would you do differently?
Every day is a pure gift and filled with love. Every new day is a gift to be bettered than the previous. I humbly grew the brand and didn’t put myself in immense pressure to be a global brand. I just showed up everyday, and kept putting my best foot forward all by God’s grace.
What kind of support do women in business need to succeed in the home front?
Women in business need to be encouraged. They need more emotional support from the home front than financial. In as much as every start up needs a push, any hardworking woman who is supported emotionally and made to know that she has a family rooting for her, will psychologically put in her best in her field of endeavour.
It’s Mothers Day today, from your experience, how can young mothers achieve work-life balance?
Mothers can achieve work-life balance by truly enjoying the journey. Everything that makes you a mother is a win-win situation. When you know this, and plan properly, family and work-life becomes a thing of pride and joy.
What hard lesson did your mother teach you?
Being true to myself and learning from every process the journey of life brings.
What do you look forward to now?
I look forward to a healthier life and more actualisation of my gift and talent. I also look forward to contributing to society by impacting other lives.