By Adeshola Adigun
“He’s the king. The King of Savannah.” –Meredith Gray (woman from breast cancer documentary “The NAKED Project“)
Were you ever just minding your own business here in Savannah — maybe getting coffee at the Sentient Bean or leaving class at Eckburg Hall — and suddenly you got stopped by a tall, dark French-speaking man asking to take your photo because he liked what you were wearing? Well, that was probably Mangue Banzima. He’s a fashion aficionado, the husband of SCAD Museum of Art chief curator Isolde Brielmaier, and he was taking your photo for his style blog QuiStyle.
“QuiStyle it’s all about the Who, the subject. It’s not about me,” Banzima said. “It’s like public speaking — when you get out there, it’s not about you as the speaker, it’s about the audience.”
“Qui” is the French word for who. And that’s what Banzima’s vision for his site is based on. Already, the site has reached 40,000 viewers.
“You cannot have style without an attitude,” Banzima said. “You cannot have an attitude without confidence. In order for someone to get out there and say or wear certain things they have to be very, very confident. I’m kind of enhancing that.”
In the past few months, some of Banzima’s images have been posted in the Fashion & Style section of the New York Times’ web site. He refused to give away his secrets on getting attention from the Times, but he did give insight into what it took to get them to notice his work.
“The New York Times gets 30,000 images a week, so [my photos] getting on there is a big deal. It comes from persistence; getting knocked down and not giving up; to keep going out there and do it.”
Though he calls fashion his area of expertise, Banzima has no fashion schooling or official training.
“I worked in fashion for 12 years,” Banzima said. “But I have no credentials in fashion. I went to business school for marketing but I feel like I was born with this.”
“As a kid I would go out to the market with my mom and see beautiful things and say, ‘I want that! That! That! And that!’ And she would say, ‘No. You can’t have that, that, that and that. Let’s go for quality.’ And that stuck.”
Before moving to Savannah, Banzima worked in New York. During his time there, he styled professionals from Wall Street and the art world. His clients would ask him what to wear to events and he would base decisions on the event and the “loudness” of the items the person might wear.
“If I wear leopard pants into a Bill Clinton speech then the focus becomes the leopard pants. That’s the loudest noise ever,” Banzima said. “It doesn’t fit. So my job was to know the public or the people they would be exposed to.”
Banzima formerly worked for French luxury shoe company Arche where he focused more on the business side of fashion. He helped make decisions on what colors and styles would sell best. “And 99.9% of the time I was right,” Banzima said.
We see the world through Banzima’s lens on QuiStyle. “Sometimes I put cars on there; sometimes I put fixed gears. It’s the things I like. And your gonna see it.”
Banzima said he gets a lot of feedback about the quality of his photography. Instead of trying to polish his work and make things perfect he keeps it “raw,” and that’s how he markets himself.
“My compositions suck,” Banzima said. “I don’t think, I just shoot. [And] there’s a reason for that. I’m trying to tell people, you’re too uptight. Loosen up. If you’re a film student just go out there and shoot. You’ll learn from the mistakes. Usually, as students, we don’t wanna be judged. We don’t wanna be pointed out in class for not getting a question right. I’m telling students not to worry about that.”
Banzima relates his attitude toward his craft to his love for the fixed gear culture. “I get that from riding fixed,” Banzima said. Riding fixed is dangerous. It’s risky. You’re exposed to death. No brakes. No limit. Not afraid. We will cut through those lights and just keep riding. This is my Lamborghini.”
Banzima said that friends in New York City advised him not to move to Savannah because it’s a small town with little going on, but as a risk-taker he came regardless. “It’s not the location,” Mangue said. “It’s the individual. The ‘Who.’”
Banzima has taken a few photos of his wife that he has posted on his site but he says that this is not based on bias.
“I have to push [my wife] to let me shoot her,” Banzima said. “She sometimes wears what I’m looking for so I shoot it.”
Banzima emphasized that he truly admires the SCAD community, especially the students. And when asked about any advice he might have for students who want to get out there and make a name for themselves, he shared a few tips.
1. Expect to win before you start.
2. Start to go to work while you’re in school.
3. Put your voice out there. Use social media.
4. Stick to what you’re good at.
5. Show up. That’s the most important part of anything you do.
6. Don’t worry about who is judging you or who does not want you there, just show up.
7. Get involved.
8. Think outside the box.
“President Wallace is one of the most respected people in this town,” Banzima said, “and very supportive of her students. But I’m not afraid to take her photo. I just do it. I’ll face the consequences when I’m there.”
Banzima’s craft is focused on appreciation of how others express themselves. So if you dress and look unique here in Savannah, expect this man to approach you. “My intention is not to hurt anyone when I take their photograph,” Banzima said. “It’s a compliment. I like you, I wanna take your photograph.”Contact Adeshola Adigun.