Jean Pierre Nugloze looks dapper sitting in his workshop/retail space. He’s wearing a collared button-down in a red African wax print with black zigzags, skinny jeans and oxford boots, with a measuring tape draped around his neck, and talking about setting up N’Kossi Couture Fashions & Alterations. That’s his downtown shop, where he sells accessories like Kente cloth clutches alongside the racks of his colorfully printed handmade suits, dresses, and shirts. Raised in Togo in West Africa, the designer had a close friend successfully make the journey to Portland, inspiring him to follow suit. “It was a little bit difficult to be gay in our country, and I thought I could live here as myself and do what I was doing there,” he says.
Nugloze, 45, learned the craft of tailoring as a teenager. While “fashion designer” might sound glamorous, he says becoming one was a practical decision: “Here it is a choice, but in Togo if your family doesn’t make enough money for college, you learn something like tailoring to make your life better quickly.”
He may have learned his craft out of necessity, but Nugloze has a passion for design and for the home he left behind. “All the fabrics are sourced from West Africa. I have some people there who send me different wax patterns,” he says about the vibrant textiles he uses in his increasingly popular custom-made pieces. His comfy, waxed-cotton two-piece suits in brilliant patterns start around $350—an incredibly affordable price for comparable bespoke work, meaning a buyer might not need to wait for some once-in-a-lifetime occasion to order a custom suit. An order usually takes two to three weeks (though he can do a rush job, too). “Everyone knows Portland is not a dressy city. But we sell dressy people can wear.”
130 SW Harvey Milk St, nkossi.com