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Modupe Ogunlesi: The Quintessential Luxury Retailer

MODUPE OGUNLESI, the CEO of Adam & Eve, has been in luxury retail for more than two decades. In this interview with FUNKE OSAE-BROWN, she shares her love for luxury and belief in the functionality and aesthetics of luxury products. 

Modupe Ogunlesi comes across as an easy-going woman and a goal-getter too. For more than two decades she has left a strong footprint in the Nigerian luxury retail sector as one of the earliest pioneers. I didn’t think twice about featuring her on the cover of The Luxury Reporter magazine.

Many times, I have visited her flagship store located on Isaac John Street, Ikeja, Lagos, a location that speaks to her kind of clientele, the old money bags. Revisiting the store on a warm January morning was exciting. She wasn’t at her desk when I arrived. Her Personal Assistant led me to where she was at one of the sections in her expansive store. Walking through the store afforded me another chance to absorb the beautiful and unique homeware on display.  

She was seated at a table with her husband of 43 years, Lanre Ogunlesi, and our creative director, Segun Adekanye. They were in a meeting.

“Hello Funke”, she said to me, while rising to her feet. She introduced me to her husband, “Funke, The Luxury Reporter. “

“Pleased to meet you,” said Mr Ogunlesi, stretching his hands for a handshake. 

Trained as an accountant, Ogunlesi’s foray into the luxury retail sector means she is doing what she loves and living the kind of lifestyle she wants. She has been able to apply her accounting and auditing skill to her business. 

“Luxury retailing is a matter of what kind of lifestyle you like, and this is me,” she tells me. “I like to be able to eat a perfect meal. I like space that I can feel relaxed in, that I can feel comfortable in. And this is it.” 

For her, a luxury brand establishes itself by offering comfort and beauty. A luxury brand should be able to provide a bit more than the norm. This explains why her luxury retail space is a natural habitat for her and her venture into luxury retail.

Adam & Eve Homeware started off as a proposition to her newly married daughter who needed a business so she could have flexible working hours to look after her baby. 

“This was the idea that was between my husband, myself and my daughter”, recalls Ogunlesi. “They came up with this idea, but after a few years, she felt that it was a lot of hard work. She found it boring, maybe she was a bit too young for this. He was like let’s shut it down, and I felt that instead of shutting it down, with all we have put in, even within the first three years, I think I will prefer to run it. She was bought out and then had the capital to do something else.”

After she took over the management of the store, Ogunlesi transformed it from a small wedding gift store to a world-class luxury retail store that stocks global luxury brands in homeware with a speciality in fine dining.

“When I took over”, says Ogunlesi, “I decided to expand the dining section. Till today, our dining remains unbeatable. We have covered every aspect of dining very well.”

Customers’ request for other aspects of home furnishings led to the expansion of the store into a full-fledged home store with the addition of a bathroom, outdoor, kitchen and other sections.

“We have had some people who drove past come in to say can you do my bathroom? And then we look for supplies and move into it,” she adds.

Adam & Eve stocks dinner sets from renowned luxury brands like Royal Derby, the official designer for the Duke & Duchess of Cambridge’s royal wedding, Aynsley, Belleek, Porcelanas da Costa Verde known for elegant porcelain; Faria & Bento (hard wearing stoneware), Bon Vida (somewhere between elegance & casual), and Porcel who is fond of adding unique twists to its design.

One of the pieces at the store you will find attractive is the Versace Rosenthal classic signature, Vanity. The beauty will surely have left you in awe. However, if you want to add a touch of the orient to the table, The Marco Polo dinnerware will just help you achieve that. The Meandre D‘Or comes in classic white with the Versace stamp, while the Dedalo is a combination of black and platinum for the distinct flavour of macho.

Adam & Eve offers a total home experience to anyone who walks into it. It is a place where well-curated art pieces interact freely with exquisite home furnishings through the annual art exhibition ‘The Content’.  The work of master artist, Bruce Onobrakpeya was one of the artworks seen at the exhibition. There were interesting works from Stanley Dudu like, ‘Counselling’ and ‘Supplicant’.  It was interesting how each art piece on display beautifully completed the home accessories and furnishings on display throughout the entire store. The store brings to life the fact that space in the home is incomplete without a piece of art adorning it.  

Over one thousand objets d’art from notable luxury brands like Clive Christian, Versace, Bugatti and others interacted with artworks from renowned artists like Onobrakpeya and Kolade Oshinowo including third generation artists like Lekan Onabanjo, Francis Uduh, Juliet Ezenwa Pearce among others.

How easy has it been for Ogunlesi to build the business, from start-up stage, growth stage, and the expansion stage?

“Sometimes, quick is not the best, you can do slow and steady, she advises. In this kind of business, I think slow and steady works. Some people would say yes, fast, you just start, and you push it and then it doesn’t work, and you move on. But gradually testing the waters, producing new departments as time goes on.”

Ogunlesi tells me she didn’t start off with ten departments. She started with two departments. A big department which was a Kitchen Section and then a smaller Dining Section. With time, she increased the Dining Section. She concentrated on the Dining Section because she felt it is essential to dine at home rather than eating out all the time. Later, she added the bathroom.

“It was a gradual growth”, she explains. “Within this slow and steady, we came to know what people like. We tend to look at the different things because we are getting feedback from the customers. If you get two departments wrong, that will pull down the rest of the building. So, slow and steady, you try it, you expand, this is what customers like, you lean towards that, and slowly and steadily you keep on.”

Often, customers desire beauty, which Ogunlesi says is “always in the human mind, it now depends on who will go for it. It depends on how much you can afford to pamper yourself. Once you know that this is comfortable, you go for it. It could be about your cooking, something as basic as a rice cooker. When I had the children growing up, we went on holidays, I don’t want to stay in the house, cooking all the time. I would have a rice cooker, put the rice in when it’s cooked, it’s going to put itself off. You know that is so comfortable because then you can do other things, and then you come home, your food is hot. Things like this in the kitchen makes life easier when you have a busy lifestyle.”

Ogunlesi believes there is a luxury product designed for those who love to live the good life. These are products that make life easier.

“In every part of your life, there is always something that’s supposed to make life easier, even now, can you imagine you have a robot cleaner so it would work for two hours, you put it in your room, it would clean under the bed, it would do everything. That makes life easier. It is not cheap, but it makes life easier.”

For her, luxury is not luxury if it does not offer comfort as most luxury goods manufacturers think in terms of that. 

“If it is an expensive shoe if you are not comfortable in it, there is something wrong. If something starts to stress you, you have to re-think that thing, so it is not important enough to get hypertensive, but that is it. I have found a lot of people, who are so bent on the imagery, this is the latest thing. If you are stressing yourself too much to get what is in fashion, then it is no longer luxury for you. That means that there is something wrong. It’s one life, you live it only once, and then you have got to enjoy the ride.”

Selling luxury is not easy, but Ogunlesi has been able to sell luxury for more than two decades, and she argues that luxury sells itself.

“It is a matter of how much do I have? You can have a look-alike, but the difference will be clear. It is like you have a handbag, a Louis Vuitton. There are always differences because even the copy-cats, they try to put in everything the luxury brand they are imitating into the fakes. It becomes just as expensive, but they probably cut off a few corners because they cannot imagine why that is there.”

It is a combination of comfort and quality that Ogunlesi is selling at Adam & Eve. She understands how much work original luxury brands put into the making of their products.

“The brands are working really hard to make sure that the luxury products are luxury. When we look at homeware, there is always that extra twist that makes it easier to use. The Bugatti electric kettle, for instance, will tell you the temperature. If you are making your Chinese tea, it will tell you that this Chinese tea tastes best at eighty degrees. You can even set the alarm to tell you when it’s eighty degrees. As a matter of time, at 2pm of my day, I would like to take a break and have Chinese tea, the alarm would go at 2 p.m. and the temperature would be at eighty degrees. That’s the real meaning of luxury. When you look at it, the shape is nice.”

Hence Ogunlesi affirms a good luxury product must be a beauty to behold. In its usefulness, it must offer comfort. “The product can truly live to its name as a Bugatti. For example, you can pick a Bugatti toaster. Let us say you want to toast a slice of bread, do I like it very brown, do I like it light brown, do I want the outside hard and the inside soft, that is all you put in when you want to use a Bugatti toaster. You just program it, and you drop your bread. It goes down on its own and comes up when it’s ready with the specifications of what you want. That is what you are paying for, the comfort of not having to work that out on your own. So, the brands are working continuously, the research is going on, daily to make luxury look more luxurious but then you have to be ready to pay for it.”

Based on her last summation, I couldn’t help but ask how expensive is a luxury? She is quick to tell me it depends on the value placed on the product by the manufacturer and the satisfaction the consumer wants to get from it.

“It depends on the value you put on yourself and hours. The Yoruba have a saying that if you can’t do it, you should send your money on the errand. That is what you are doing with a luxury brand. With this same money, you can buy ten cars, but are you riding ten cars? It now falls under imagery, it’s not only the love. Some people would spend money like that under imagery without considering their comfort. Is that how you want to live this one life that you are going to live once? It’s up to you.”

Finally, Ogunlesi says pricing is vital in luxury detail as she considers the price of the brands she stocks. She believes some luxury brands are too expensive. “Sometimes, for some brands, it is not the efforts that have gone into the production, it is the effort that has gone into the marketing. It is the cost of marketing you are paying for, not the product. And so, the price issue is also there for what you are giving. The other thing is the beauty and how it fits into our own style, the average lifestyle of the Nigerian. For instance, some brands like animals, but an animal on your dinner plate is un-African. Sometimes, it is also the style of the designer. You consider the gender sensitivity of the brand. Women do the buying for homeware, but they are trying to please the men. Basically, the way I shop is I look at how beautiful the product is. Then tell me what practical things it can do because beauty is not enough, it must be able to be functional. I look at the function, and then you see how this fit into the Nigerian lifestyle.”

Ogunlesi’s love for the home is holistic as she believes a space in the house is incomplete without a piece of art. This has driven her into the annual The Content Exhibition which she organises at the store for her clients and loves of art to see how well art interacts with the home.

At last The Content exhibition, she featured the works of Francis Uduh. His sculptures blended perfectly with the exotic bar stools and tables made of an aluminium base with the raw wood finish; in the background in the Boys’ Den created at the store, was a Eurographics wall art in 3D and on the floor, is a Cascade carpet to complete the entire set up.

Likewise, Versace Home Collection made a good pairing with any of Onobrakpeya’s piece at the exhibition. The subtle flecks of gold which catches the light, opulence of the dining set which sets the tone for that excellent dining experience complemented perfectly the shades of colours on Onobrakpeya’s works. The same way, realist painter, Olumide Oresegun’s piece, ‘Allow’ would light up that empty space in the bedroom or bathroom.

Adam & Eve Homeware is a place where you can get all your bathroom, living room and dining solutions. 

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