Jimi Owobo Ogunlaja wears a Fabiani suit at the 2011 Cape Town Fashion Week. Picture: Simon Deiner / SDR Photo

Pretoria - The most booked male model in Cape Town not only “owns” the clothes he wears on the runway, his magnetic presence commands attention when he walks.

For Jimi Owobo Ogunlaja, or just “Jimi”, 30, it’s a combination of the right posture, attitude and putting one leg in front of the other in a way that appears natural.

Most people think it’s only female models who have to perfect their runway walk. But a lot of work and craft goes into getting that nonchalant male-model catwalk just right, says Jimi.

The Nigerian-born model is represented by Base Models.

“There used to be a time when my older brother complained about the way I walked. He used to say: ‘Jimi, everything about you is perfect but the way you walk. I can’t stand it.’ “

“There was just something wrong with the way I walked. My legs were all over – I was not in control.

“I started to understand that maybe there was something wrong when I started modelling, going to castings for fashion shows and never getting booked.”

When Jimi, at 21, was still new to the industry, a female co-ordinator told him: “No designer will ever book you walking this way”.

“I understood right then what my brother was saying and that I had to correct it.

“I met a friend in the industry in Nigeria and liked the way he walked. I told him: ‘Teach me.’ And he thought I was humble enough and showed me. My life was never the same again.”

His mentor had a controlled walk.

“His walk was calculated and with a rhythm. From then on I just started to march. After two weeks my brother stopped complaining.

“I came to South Africa, and the industry loved and accepted that walk.”.

Jimi now runs his own school of modelling, Jimisterio Catwalk Academy, which teaches aspirant models how to strut.

This week, Jimi will join a line-up of more than a 100 models from across the world at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa in Joburg.

Leading models who will grace the catwalk include New York Fashion Week regular Ania Charlot from the US; Nigeria’s Next Supermodel 2007 runner-up Bunmi Ademokoya, who was recently in the New York and Berlin fashion weeks; last year’s Miss Cameroon Valérie Ayena; Adau Mornyang from Australia, who is a favourite of top Parisian designers like Kenzo; last year’s and 2011’s Nigeria’s Next Supermodels Favour Lucky and Imade Ogbewi; American Ero Esoimeme, fresh from London Fashion Week; and the face of Adidas’s latest campaign, Sanele Xaba from South Africa.

Jimi arrived in Cape Town 10 years ago with just a suitcase and a plan to stay for a week and try for a career in modelling.

He never left, but cautions that “rejection is part of the game”.

“When you’re starting out it can be damaging. But you have to be strong and believe in yourself. Be able to look past someone who says: ‘You can’t do it’, as they don’t know your strength and what you’re capable of.

“We now have a new name for it (rejection) and we joke about it in modelling circles. We say things like: ‘I was probably too good for that brand,’ just so we can feel good about ourselves.”

Asking for feedback is also very important when you’re starting out.

“I always wanted to know why clients didn’t book me so that I could adjust and meet their standards. That helped me a lot. I also asked questions and was open to criticism. You have to have a thick skin. It comes with the game.”

And the model body?

Unlike many who have to work hard on their physique, Jimi is one of the lucky ones who is just naturally ripped in all the right places.

“In our family we are naturally fit and chiselled. All my four brothers are ripped. I haven’t been to gym in three years, but I run, skate and hike regularly. I’m very active and basically eat whatever I like. I don’t follow any strict diet.”

Jimi treats himself to a Zinger burger and chicken wings now and again. “Some male models are so strict that they hardly eat anything – they get so intense that they actually starve themselves.”

In preparing for fashion week, Jimi has been watching what he eats: “More beans, more water and less alcohol.”

Jimi has lost count of how many fashion weeks he has featured in, and only knows that he will be walking for several labels at Fashion Week Africa.

He says most fashion weeks run like a well-oiled machine, except once at a Cape Town fashion week when the stage almost collapsed.

“Fashion weeks are not tiring. Models want to do shows, because the more shows you get, the more important you are.

“Some models collapse from not eating enough, or they are too stressed. But a professional knows never to step on stage under the influence of alcohol.

“The after-parties, that’s when we go crazy.”

And he advises model hopefuls: “Get a taste of everything, from non-paying commercials to big magazines. The more you put yourself out there, the more brands will want to associate with you.”

On grooming, Jimi says: “You have a reputation, a standard you have created for yourself. You want to keep that alive and interesting for people.

“Be careful of what you say or do, but don’t allow it to let you stray from normal life. You should be able to party and enjoy your life as well.”

Jimi is a big fan of taking regular selfies. “I love photos and the mirror, too, just like any other model – it helps you understand how you look in different looks and styling.”

On his future in modelling, Jimi says: “The market in Cape Town is very cosmopolitan, with lots of international clients that will request cappuccino and white models, but we blacks still get our chance.

“The market is broad enough for everyone to shine.”

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