First Lady: Where Margaret Kenyatta buys her clothes

 She has dressed former First Ladies Mama Ngina Kenyatta, the late Mama Lucy Kibaki and now Maggie

Regal bearing: Spare of accessories, she sometimes steps out in her nipped monochromatic skirts with a sovereign, timeless cut.

By Shifa Mwihaki

Feature writer/Essayist

Kenya’s First Lady Margaret Wanjiru Kenyatta is now cucu wa Ciru. That is Ciru’s grandmother after her daughter in-law Fiona Achola gave birth to a girl named after her.  

But cucu wa Ciru is not your usual grandma. She is pretty fashion savvy; be it when she spots flowing African prints or well-cut skirt suits which give her that regal, classy and consistent bearing befitting a First Lady with myriad stately functions and their underlying political temper of her time.

Spare of accessories, save for her pearl necklace, she sometimes steps out in her nipped monochromatic skirts with a sovereign, timeless cut. It  goes well with her short cropped peppery hairdo, connotes status,

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta, like others in her social class, are not trend-setters. They ooze their class in an embroidered whisper. Like the time she appeared restrained besides elegant earrings and a finger pendant, but with strikingly regal in a green head scarf and matching Dera, that loose fitting answer to the Maxi dress.  

 Then there are those national days like the Madaraka Day in 2015 when she got our inner fashion police nodding in agreement with her free-flowing robe-like Yemeni-inspired red caftan and Maasai beadwork to boot-and fit with the occasion.  

First Lady Margaret Kenyatta appears to transcend fashion but continues to reflect it as an icon of sartorial elegance.

But have you ever wondered where she shops and who her local designer is?

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Strike a pose: Fashion designer Sally Karago (right) has dressed all First Ladies in Kenya except the late Lena Moi.

Well, acclaimed fashion designer Sally Karago dresses First Lady Margaret Kenyatta as she has done with all former First Ladies except Lena Moi, the late wife of President Daniel arap Moi. From her SK Collections shop in Nairobi, Sally, has dressed former First Ladies Mama Ngina Kenyatta and the late Mama Lucy Kibaki-but who preferred fitting, but matronly coloured dresses with matching hats.

Mama Lucy actually personally bought her outfits when Sally operated her fashion house from Ngong Road, but has since branched to the Hub Karen, Lavington Mall and Village Market Gigiri.

Everything that I do is loose. I don’t do tight. I’m very gypsy in the way I dress and all the things that I sell

The free-flowing dresses Margaret Kenyatta wears are a reflection of Sally Karago  own love for free fitting wear of which she’s a proponent. It is seen too in Mama Ngina and her African inspired made-to-measure ankle length mostly red affairs with matching head gears.

“Everything that I do is loose. I don’t do tight. I’m very gypsy in the way I dress and all the things that I sell. I don’t have hems, my things are cut in a different way. When you look at my jackets, they don’t have seams. So, everything that I do has something edgy about them,” she told a local daily in 2019.

She added: “You don’t have to wear too tight to be classy. You can wear something loose and still look trendy. It’s how you value your body first and what you want to show,” and she explained, if you have nice legs “wear minis which is OK, some people want to wear low cuts to show their cleavage and others arms, and that’s OK. I don’t have a problem with that, but, it depends on you as a person and what makes you comfortable.”

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Power relations: First Lady Mama Ngina Kenyatta like most presidential spouses in Kenya prefer earth colours.

Sally Karago came into the national limelight when she won the Smirnoff Fashion Awards professional category in 1993, a fete cemented when she bagged the best designer during the 1998 M-Net Face of Africa modeling competition. The winning designer was to dress the models.  

Sally’s 12 piece porcupine quail inspired collection-900 quails to be precise- captured the imagination of judges at Nairobi’s Safari Park Hotel. She went on to not only to dress Kenya’s Coco Walchli, Tess Njuhi and Cecilia Mailu but also eventual winner Nigeria’s Oluchi Onweagba-Orlandi, but also become a judge herself.

 First Ladies preferred earth  colours, apart from Lucy who had yellow prints

Her Israeli and Moroccan inspired Bohemian fashion forays have  shone ever since, exhibiting her Turkana Collection in London and New York which got her invited to the Mercedes Benz fashion show in Accra in August, 2019. 

Asked whether a designer can learn from home, Sally argued “you can’t be a good fashion designer if you don’t go to a fashion school. I don’t believe you can. People try learning from YouTube and from books but you must be in a place where you get the skill taught. You may be an apprentice but you may not know how to design.”

Foursome: Looking more First Lady than Melania Trump in August 2018.

Sally, is one of five girls from a fashionable dad who loved life as they grew up in Riruta, Nairobi, where her fashion sense was piqued, dressing her puppies. She studied fashion at the Evelyn College of Design in Nairobi and the London School of Fashion Design for four years.  

And while the aforementioned First Ladies preferred earth  colours, apart from Lucy who had yellow prints and Sally’s experience was such that “yellow is one colour that sells faster than any other colour in my shop. Yellow brings brightness. Yellow is very good to our skin colour and it suits everybody.”

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But it is not the trendiest colour for now. The gold goes to “Olive green, that looks like brown mustard. Luminous yellows and greens are also trendy.”

Sally also admires American commercial designer Michael Kors and among her best-sellers include the ‘waterfall jacket’ with multiple frontal folds with a knot-strap and the pulpwood made faux suede from which she has fashioned the double chiffon won by among others; media personalities Julie Gichuru, Pinky Ghelani and Captain Koki Mutungi-the muses for her designs.

Unbridled creativity: Sally Karago with models showcasing her ‘Turkana Collection.’

 Sally is married to eminent architect Joe Karago, among the original loaded golfers who founded Trans Century as a chama in 1997 before it became Kenya’s richest Boy’s Club, listing at the Nairobi Securities Exchange in 2011.

“Through my husband, I have learnt a lot about colours. I can do interior design because as a fashion designer, if you don’t understand colours, then it’s very hard to become an interior designer.”

Their son Raymond Karago is an actor in Hollywood with acting roles in among others; Gangsters (2017), Stand uP (2018), and Illville (2019. Younger brother Tendo aspires to be a music producer “even though he’s good in science and mathematics.”

As for her fashion design, Sally is of the opinion that “time has come for many more Africans and international citizens have come to appreciate clothes made locally.  We (Kenyan designers) also need to be visible to the world.”

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