Inside The World of Kenneth Ize

Tucked away on a side street in Yaba, a historic part of Lagos that is also home to the city’s art school, is Kenneth Ize’s studio. It makes sense entirely that the man attributed of single-handedly spearheading Nigerian fashion’s  revived love affair with woven cloth, contemporising it and designing collections of covetable pieces worn by the global fashion cognoscenti and a smattering of celebrities should choose this corner of the mainland for his base. He elaborates: “I picked here because I like colonial houses , I like old buildings and architecture and I just really wanted to be in a space where my staff and I could be here together.” For a designer who is known for the kaleidoscopic nature of his fabric choices and juxtapositions the two storied light filled, white walled and monochrome terrazzo floored house offers a striking and visually calming counterpoint to the pieces he creates. The overall vibe is of a conscientious creative commune, his aforementioned staff, two weavers and an assistant continue to diligently work in the adjacent room, samples are neatly arranged in a corner,  and only his dog seems to be allowed to rush in and out as he pleases interrupting us every so often from his base camp of the veranda. Away from the hubbub, the plaudits the clients who keep returning to Alara for another Kenneth Ize fix, he has created the optimum cocoon for him to continue to live and work.

Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

An Education in Aesthetics that’s find its way home

As with many designers Ize’s path has the aura of predestination. Regarding being drawn to fashion design he explains: I would say it was something I believed I could do best, it is something I saw around me [and] I customised my own clothes.” Attention to detail was inspired by his father: “I grew up seeing my dad wearing suits and the alignment was perfect. Even his singlet he would make sure, like, it was proper like flat…He would tell me there are some pants that you wear that it has to be so slick, like your bum has to be so smooth, you can’t have the pant line so my dad was rocking g strings to not have a pant line. I mean that guy, I don’t know what planet he was from…. But thinking now it is beautiful because it is my Dad who taught me mostly how to dress.”  Upending the assumption that most African parents are reluctant for their child to embark in a career in the creative industries, much less fashion, he expands: “My parents are very nostalgic but cool… I studied psychology for a year and I never went  to class [but] when I called my Mum and I am like Mum I think I know what I want to do I want to be a fashion designer, she was like go for it , this is what you should be doing.“

Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

Of course, this was not misplaced optimism on the part of Ize’s parents; who had left Nigeria and settled in Austria as a family. He won a place at the prestigious Institute of Design, University of Applied Arts, Vienna where he did his BA under the instruction of Bernard Willhelm and his MA under the tutelage of the legendary Hussein Chalayan.  Immersing himself in a demanding programme that was interdisciplinary in its approach and allowed him to explore the semiotics and theory of fashion as much as construction remains evident in his approach, which unlike many who are self-taught possesses an intellectualism and rigour that is every bit as important as the rack appeal of the finished pieces. “I just started playing with yarns during my thesis. I was researching, and I kept asking around where could I get weavers…one of my cousins knew a lady that made fabric and that wove here [in Lagos] so she took me there we did a sample and it was so experimental…I was saying everything I wanted and we sat outside and started doing it. And I was like wait, I could actually just expand this thing into something.” For many the finished fabric is aso’oke, a traditional woven fabric technique that is native to the Yoruba of South Western Nigeria but Ize sees his iteration of being an expansion on the traditional fabric. “It took me about two years… I feel like the experimentation we have done with this fabric has now shifted it from being aso’oke to being a woven cloth that should be celebrated everywhere in the world as we have moved this technique to a different level” In experimentation Ize has created a fabric that is 60% silk, 30% rayon and 10% cotton, allowing for more malleability and a glossy sheen in the finish. But this is not to say that he has abandoned the craft aspect in the process as he notes: “We hand weave here, a two-yard scarf for instance to prepare and design the pattern takes about a day and then to weave the actual fabric it takes about seven hours. It’s very labour intensive and the lady I started working with, she’s getting older, but I am so happy because one of her nieces is really loving this and has gotten into it now. I also have a team in Ilorin so we make the samples here and the team in Ilorin produces to a very large scale.” The organic nature of the process and the communal nature of the team behind it results in a more personal piece of luxury. In the age of the ‘drop’ and an insatiable client base that designers are pressured to feed at all times and costs, Ize’s process places skills, sustainability and perhaps most important of all, humanity at the centre.

Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

Asked about his design language Ize is emphatic when he states: “For me the aesthetic is very pragmatic. It’s real definitely, and that is the kind of person I am designing for, because it is all comfortable clothes, just put it on and off you go. Also, the brand is very genuine and genuine aligns with one being very pragmatic.” Certainly, much of what he has offered on the runway has been classic in cut, from single breasted jackets to city shorts, trousers and jumbo scarves that can be draped and shaped in a myriad of ways. With the colours and textures being so audacious restraint is indicated in the silhouette. It also reveals commercial savvy; colour and print can often frighten the average shopper but made in an easy to wear shape the leap of consideration to purchase  becomes easier. He also sees his brand as acting as conduit for others to plug into what is happening in Nigeria culturally and having an ambassadorial role in changing negative perceptions:  “I am not just making these clothes for myself, I am making them for every African person. I want people to go Google oh yes, Nigeria, Lagos because they have seen the clothes and it makes them so fascinated.” In a world where cultural signifiers hold far greater currency than policy statements or government pronouncements, Ize’s thesis of Africa charting a positive course through its creative industries is far from naïve.

Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

Muses, Supporters and the Fashion Eco-System

For a designer working in the 21st century there is something delightfully old-school in Ize’s methodology. Similar to the likes of Yves Saint Laurent with Loulou de la Falaise and Betty Catroux or Karl Lagerfeld with Ines De La Frassange and a host of fabled beauties and it-girls since, Ize works closely with a muse. In his case the muse is Baingor Joiner, or  as he is known more simply Bai, a creative consultant and photographer and part of the Lagos Cool Set. Ize is effusive in his praise for Bai: “Oh my God, I had a crush on Bai, the first time I met him my fantasies were on Bai, I just wanted to dress Bai…. I saw Bai and it was about clothes, it was about a design and about the runway which is interesting because runway is one thing that makes my collections really cohesive because even before a collection is made I have seen it, I have had the vision. Bai helps me narrate my vision.” It also helps that Bai by virtue of his activities as a DJ, model, photographer and fixture in Lagos’ creative nexus is in touch with many of the creative and cultural outlets that Ize infuses into his work and reframes via clothing. Ize adds: “We have conversations on design. He tells me how he feels about clothes because he also really understands where my mind is.” When asked how long he sees their working relationship lasting, Ize shakes his head at the thought of having a revolving door of muses: “I would love to use Bai in the next 20 years if he is not too busy for me…and even it gets that way Bai is an open spirit and I am too, we just really connect together and he knows how to say yes and never say no to me.”

Image Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

The familial energy extends to clients and supporters many whom are also cultural ambassadors in their own right: “I gain support from past relationships I have with people like Reni Folawiyo…friends like Faridah Folawiyo, Jomi Marcus-Bello from Waffles n Cream, Tokini Peterside of Art X and I love Nduka from This Day too.” Reni Folawiyo, owner of Alara is not only an early stockist, she has also invested significantly in the Oji Showroom in Paris (which with assistance from the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) saw Kenneth Ize and other menswear brands showcase their work) furthermore, Faridah Folawiyo a fine art consultant is a close friend and confidante. By having such a close network of friends and a clear sense of purpose Ize has been able to navigate challenging episodes most recently the rumour mill that went into overdrive when he didn’t show at either Lagos Fashion Week or GTB Fashion Weekend this year. He shares candidly: “My mind runs very fast…I am going through a serious depression right now… I had this collection ready before because I follow the international fashion calendar, but these weren’t the spaces for me to show anymore in a runway that I can’t be able to control or organise…I want to be able to be given the time and to be able to express my feelings and my emotions on the journey of making these clothes.” Instead he spent a month at a residency in New Orleans arranged by The Assemble a London based architectural and design collective and funded by two New Orleans based reclusive philanthropists who want to invest in the city’s creative possibilities. Ize expands on what the students should hope to experience: “I am really excited to be teaching how to make things more cohesive. I also  have a project that I am going to give them… I am going to use the source of what I learnt from my university days because I feel like I have learnt so much from my uni and I am excited because it is a way of me remembering myself and refreshing my spirit and my energy because I really wanted to leave Lagos because I need a break not to see things that I see every day.”

Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

He also provides a broadside on the efficacy and relevance of the spate of fashion weeks, shows and events saturating the Nigerian calendar when he adds: “I don’t think I have to lash anybody, but I do think maybe we just really have to go back to bed, sleep a bit and wake up again and think things through. I think fashion weeks here, there are too many already….I don’t know why this is like this because the fashion industry in Nigeria is just 1% , the 1% we all know each other…Everything I make and every one of my decisions in my life has to be very relevant. So if it is hurting me there is no point in showing. Then I also thought that why do I have to keep running around making this or making that to show? To show for who? Who am I really showing this for if my client isn’t really there? I mean I have done shows over four years under Lagos Fashion Week and I don’t think I have gotten a buyer from there one time.” It is an assessment that whilst not often spoken about overtly, for fear of offending industry leaders, gate-keepers and business leaders is whispered quietly by many designers regarding the different fashion weeks on the Lagos fashion calendar be it LFW or GTB. From the relative absence of buyers vis a vis journalists, influencers and bloggers to the flying in of big names in the international fashion scene that do not offer any ongoing engagement with the local industry beyond excitable social media posts during their brief visits and prestige by association for those who have hosted them. Whilst the flurry of articles and write ups that appear in the international press hailing the Lagos fashion scene might be deemed great for profile building, especially for the brands that get a mention, questions still remain as to why they do not necessarily translate into orders and sales. However, it is a nascent industry, and this too is something Ize concedes noting : “It’s a very tricky one,  they, the organisers, are doing what they think they can do but it is self-taught. I don’t see the fashion shows here to be a business because at the end of the day that designer that has shown for one hundred years or whatever is still a bespoke designer. Ready to wear culture is not really known here…. Where are those clothes going to after the shows? So okay maybe [they are] going to go to Zinkata, Temple Muse, Alara but what else again?” By raising these questions and choosing to pause from the domestic fashion merry-go-round Ize is displaying a bravery that some might seem deem reckless, but conversely, if one does not critique or question, how does one grow?

Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

He is equally passionate about the state of the Nigerian fashion industry and the paucity of opportunities available whether one is starting out in the business or more established. He notes: “We’re getting the press but we’re not making the money here. There are loads of international designers  I won’t mention names, but you could show me their collections and I can show you how African designers or our aesthetics have been referenced.” And whilst the occasional Social Media ‘name and shame’ might cause a flurry of activity on threads it does not translate into revenue as he puts it more succinctly: “I mean the fashion industry is growing here but I don’t think it is making money. Because for example I do not know any Nigerian fashion designer that is selling in Dover Street Market.”  He is equally scathing of the Pop-Up model which has seen a number of Nigerian designers be stocked albeit temporarily in prestigious stores overseas as he adds chuckling: “They want to pop you up honey but that’s just it. A pop means they don’t trust you. They are low-key trying to tell you that ‘oh let’s give you a pop up you know and then be happy and it’s going to be good’. But if someone offered me a pop up I would say no, because I am not willing to make 50 jackets for a pop up as what is really the assurance of me selling? If you really trust in someone’s brand you would actually want to have it in that store and buy the collection outright that’s my belief.” Training is an ongoing issue, something Ize with the benefit of his education feels needs to be urgently addressed: “The lack of education here in our system is a problem. The fact we don’t have a fashion school that would teach students how to  grow an aesthetic. We need a strong fashion school here. it’s time.” He also questions the intent of the international spotlight so firmly on Africa currently when he adds .”They are consuming (our creativity) and we are not making the money…We think we are exposing these African brands but we are really not , we are only exposing the continent for people to take from.” And whilst his upbringing makes Ize very much an internationalist his warning to Nigeria and in the greater scheme Africa as a whole  of needing to chart its own destiny rather than assume an equal playing field will be created on the global fashion landscape is pertinent.

Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

Fame, Fandom and Future Plans

For someone who has seen his client list grow beyond Nigeria to include the likes of Donald Glover, Anum Bashir and most recently Beyoncé, Ize is decidedly muted about the implications for his brand. “You know it’s a sustainable brand and I don’t think about popularity, not at all. Trust me I didn’t know who Childish Gambino was. I don’t feel like I know five lyrics from Beyoncé’s songs… I know people would assume he would know this he would know that, but I just don’t…I am thinking about how can I better myself and better my environment? The way it works in my head is I care more about my staff than chasing celebrities to wear my clothes. I am not a crowd chaser. I am just about being natural. I am also very aware of how destructive this world is already so all I am[focusing on is how can I as an individual person make a change in the world or  add to this world so that it can be better.” It is for this reason that Ize doesn’t engage in sending pieces out to celebrities speculatively or go into PR overdrive during awards season. Instead, stylists approach his team and orders are taken from there, just as with any other client. A contrarian approach but it allows for greater freedom in the long run as he is not enslaved to insta-popularity or the foibles of a few famous clients.

Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

For female fans who have had to content themselves with slipping into menswear pieces of Kenneth Ize’s, if they are slender of hip enough to do so, this year brings the arrival of a full womenswear collection. “I have been working on this collection for the past four months I am still not done it’s a lot of work I have never made women’s wear before…, I want to know the body of a woman because I am making womenswear.” He gestures to me and adds: “I want to know your story as a woman I want to know everything…I want to know about your menstruation how you move how you feel everything. This is my headspace right now. I am so excited by this womenswear because my energy is so into it and I love it so much I am telling you it is going to be amazing.” His effervescence is infectious and with his meticulous approach to design conception female fans will no doubt flock for more. Womenswear is just one part of a broader expansion that will include lifestyle objects in due course. As Ize notes: “Because my brand is luxury there is a goal and there is a determination. My determination, I am going to be very honest here, is to be the brand that is from Africa that is on everyone’s radar globally because I am sick and tired of seeing negative things about Africa.”

Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

Of his peers within the industry, there are only a few he admires: “I like Kelechi Odu and Maki Oh and I also  like Waffles n Cream and it’s very affordable and it’s one of the only brands that I feel I own a lot of pieces from, yes Waffles n Cream totally. I would say those are the three brands.” Expanding to brands based outside of Africa, once more it is the interdisciplinary visionaries that capture his imagination the most when he adds: “You know in as much as I get that I sound a bit shady but I don’t feel like I know or love many brands even international brands….I love Chanel , because I have these conversations with a lot of people and they are like oh,  they do the same thing and I am like no, the beautiful thing and the reason why I connect so much with Chanel is that every time you see his shows they are like fucking epic. This guy Karl, he thinks about everything with his shows. Sometimes I will just go on YouTube and be like let me just watch a Chanel show… I also like Christopher Lemaire and Paco Rabanne… it’s its own aesthetic, it is alternative, it’s a different sexy I can’t even explain it.” By not being over engrossed with what others are doing Ize’s career has to date not suffered from the critique of being derivative or homage heavy and in that lies its greatest strength.

Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

It is clear that Ize has a long-term strategy for his brand and has assembled a team that can assist him in his journey, but he notes that although he is very much part of the renaissance that the creative arts are enjoying in Nigeria, challenges remain to him living a fully authentic life. Outside of the world of fashion, one where sexual orientation and identifying as non-binary barely raises a robed shoulder, society remains obstinately conservative: “I feel like my sexuality is something that will not allow me to be here for a very long time which is very sad… There are a lot of gay people here but at the same time if you have lived somewhere like Europe, lived all your life having this freedom and then someone is taking it away from you, someone you don’t even see, I am like why? The other day I was out with like twenty-one gay men at Nok and we were at a table and it was like the most beautiful thing for me in Lagos. It was so nice.” It is a poignant conclusion to my time with Ize as one is left with the notion of what does it take to have a truly dynamic fashion industry here in Nigeria? There is talent aplenty and a youth led population that is the breeding ground of innovation globally. Yes, structural challenges remain; capacity building is high up on the to-do and must-do list. But will we lose our greatest talents to other locales because we do not have a truly inclusive society? It would be a tragedy if this was the case. But for now we celebrate the places and spaces such as fashion where talent, beauty, creativity and possessing the ability to distil dreams into apparel still have the power to vanquish, and love and doing the work is enough.

Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize
Image: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

 

 

 

 

 

 

GTB Fashion Weekend 2018 Day Two Review

“People of colour are determining culture today.” Dapper Dan declared at GTB Fashion Weekend, in a Masterclass full of insightful and surprising vignettes from his four decades plus career in fashion. Indeed, one could expand his thesis and argue that Nigeria, as the world’s most populous black nation has the potential to dictate how culture is not only steered but also in which direction. Day two definitely shared some of that intentional approach with a masterclass roster that included footwear designer Nicholas Kirkwood and fashion editor and style icon Julia Sarr-Jamois and grand fromage names both on the catwalk and on the front row. It hinted at an agenda that was one-part shock and awe the audience with a fashion immersion session like no other and another part create a celebratory and euphoric atmosphere that reflected the enthusiasm and love most gathered had for fashion For the most part it worked.

Opening the night with Lanre Da Silva Ajayi or LDA as she is affectionately known, whose presence guaranteed that the frow was a veritable who’s who of Nigeria high society. If you are a lady who has graduated from turning right in an aeroplane and maybe left the civilian world of moving around in commercial craft altogether, it is more than likely you will be a loyal and regular customer and possibly on first name terms too with Lanre. Like a Giambattista Valli Haute Couture customer, the LDA woman isn’t really wearing pieces such as this to do the school run or get the green light on her proposals from the board. This is high-octane glamour with even the day pieces only worthy of the most elegant and exquisite invitations, and included a sequence of lilac floral lurex pieces, black and copper or alternatively metallic sea green camouflage trouser suits that consisted of oversize jackets teamed with cigarette trousers and pencil skirts trimmed with ostrich ostrich feathers. Da Silva Ajayi continues to add a dollop historicism to her collections with leg of mutton sleeves on blouses, a disco diva worthy shot teal suit and reprising the underwear as outer wear concept via a lingerie inspired two piece. But the overall theme remains never knowingly leave the house under-dressed. Some fashion critics argue that LDA from season to season is somewhat repetitive and is thus is not as exciting as some of the more avant-garde designers working in Nigeria, however there is much to be said for a designer who understands deeply how her core customer wishes to present themselves, interprets their wants and creates collections they keep desiring.

Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu

Ji Won Choi was a bold and choice for a runway presentation. The Parsons School of Design graduate has placed sustainability at the heart of her business and her pieces are designed in such a way as to be worn in numerous ways, thus reducing excessive consumption. For the audience, seeing silhouettes that referenced far east Asian cultures (Choi is originally from South Korea) might have been quite the aesthetic jolt but it was refreshing nevertheless.

Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu

In the instance of Taibo Bacar, the audience was treated to a collection that screamed resort by way of one’s Upper East Side apartment. matching trouser suits with jewelled headbands and monogrammed silk shirts felt very Tory Burch-lite and compared to previous collections from him  there were few stand straight to attention moments.

Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu

Tweed coats, navy metallics, lace and proportion play and black patent flats teamed with every ensemble certainly gave IDMA-NOF’s collection a cohesiveness visually but beyond that it never fully took flight. As with many brands that have niche and in the instance of IDMA-NOF, famous customers such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the wheels will continue to turn but this collection doesn’t stand as one the brand’s best.

Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu

Gert-Johan Coetzee has a reputation as the go-to for the red carpet in his native South Africa  and beyond with the likes of  Bonang Matheba acting as the brand’s muse and many a wealthy bride opting for one of his creations as their reception or indeed bridal shut down dress. It was thus a shock that this collection saw him dabble with streetwear and denim. This being Coetzee the silhouette was close to the body wherever possible and sweatshirts were given the necessary bling via sequins and embellishment. Evolution in a designer is always welcome but the overall effect felt somewhat forced and lacking in the insouciance and youth propelled exuberance that is innately part of streetwear’s DNA. This is not to say that he should remain in an evening gown silo, but a collaboration might have been a wiser  starting point before a deep dive into an aesthetic that is clearly not his forte. More successful was the other big theme of the evening in his collection which was the Italian Renaissance with silk prints that echoed the works of the grand palaces of Venice and Florence and brocade evening jackets for men that would be worthy of any black tie event.

Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu

A year is a long time in fashion and it speaks much of the eventful one had by LaQuan Smith that he returned to GTB Fashion Weekend to close the event itself. By many metrics he was worthy of the slot: a year that has not only seen him continue to dress the likes of Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Gigi Hadid but also sign a lucrative deal designing for online behemoth ASOS.com. Furthermore, his take no prisoners fierce and sexy aesthetic is one that will resonate with the Nigerian market, where slaying is not so much a nice to have as a mantra to live one’s life by. This season sheer dresses were teamed with oversized jackets and more modest iterations of revealing bodice and trousers or high slit evening skirts also offered. Smith also proposed a return for the lycra body suit for both genders with the women’s iteration being super high legged and in both instances  soliciting cheers from the audience who he had eating from his hand from the offset.  Luxe fabrics were aplenty with fur and rich velvets being the cover up of choice for the scandalous transparent pieces. Overall, Smith’s hip-hop hottie aesthetic is very in tune with the popular mood right now and in many ways reflects Dapper Dan’s comment of black culture informing popular culture today. The collection refines some of the motifs but still feels authentic – no wonder the tills continue to ring.

Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu
Photo: Chukwuka Tolulope Obu

And so GTB Fashion Weekend concluded with an after-party where the worlds of fashion, finance and society collided in a standing-room only VIP Lounge. It is interesting times for the event, which by virtue of its focus of combining domestic and global talent on the runways, a huge retail fair in the main hall and masterclasses with an international roster of speakers continues to garner support and influence. Whether the tripartite approach has scalability is open to debate and indeed it would be interesting to see how the event evolves as Africa’s place in the global fashion landscape changes.

 

 

GTB Fashion Weekend 2018 Day One Review

A week is a long time in politics and it’s even more so the case in fashion, with feeds getting filled with newer content. must-buys and epic runway images by the nanosecond, however, this year’s GTB Fashion Weekend afforded itself more than a few memorable moments that have kept the fashion fam talking. Coming so close in the calendar after Lagos Fashion Week, comparisons are inevitable, but one can argue that the two events are an entire different offering. Yes, there are runway shows (more of later) but the centre pieces of GTB’s event are the Masterclasses, which have a veritable who’s who of Fashion Royalty come and share their experiences in the industry with a rapt audience, and a marketplace where fashion retailers can engage directly with potential customers and add to their bottom line.

Masterclass high moment came from Nikki Ogunnaike Style Director of Elle.com who held the packed audience’s attention with her blend of relatable bon mots and fashion expertise. As an American of Nigerian descent  it was perhaps easier for her to connect with the crowd, something that in previous years some masterclass speakers had struggled with, but her personality shone through when she spoke at length of the importance of authenticity. She also recognised the current mood in fashion when she stated: “There is a diversity of voices right now and that is so amazing. It’s revolutionised the industry.” Her statement was particularly powerful as it  implied that the fight for everyone’s voice to be heard had  to a greater extent been won, and that we can all allow ourselves a collective sigh of relief that the era of deducing cultures and alternative narratives to clichéd tropes was something lazy journalists could no longer get away with. Fingers crossed this remains the norm and is not a passing trend.

But onto the shows which were an intriguing mix of designers from Nigeria, South Africa, France and the United States. It was intriguing as the immediate assumption one would have is that the pieces shown on the night were either going to be stocked or easily available in Nigeria, which in the instance of the in the case of the Nigerian designers Ituen Basi and Gozel Green and Senegalese brand Sukeina was certainly the case, but less so with others. It returns to the question of the core purpose of the shows themselves which seemed more geared to entertaining and putting a spotlight on creatives rather than  acting as a window for retail buyers to assess and potentially order collections. The energy was very much experiential, the shows’ core objective seemed to be for the audience to be immersed in the designers’ vision, to celebrate the best of black talent be it on the continent or in the wider diaspora and because this is Lagos, to see and be seen. With this as the remit one has a clearer framework with which to assess the shows themselves and in turn to manage expectations.

Opening was Ituen Basi a veteran of the Nigerian fashion scene who chose to make a collection that celebrated the country and its history using the 1970’s and the music of Fela Kuti as its lens, complete with a soundtrack of his greatest hits. It certainly made for a cheerful and involuntary foot tapping show: models walked the runway with broad matte red lip smiles, T-shirts were adorned with slang phrases such as “Scatter, Scatter’ or more ones political messages that spoke to tribal unity and voter bribes. and lace body suits were given a dose of 21st century zing courtesy of their neon pink and acid yellow hues, strip fringing, some thing of a signature for Basi also featured. Aubergine and fuchsia pink were presented as the new neutral, contrasting strongly against the brights. Whilst this was not Basi’s strongest showing there was enough there to keep devotees happy.

Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde

Collection of the night belonged to Sukeina who presented  a collection that was entitled ‘Gates – A Tale Of Devine Femininity” and in short was a visual celebration of what it is to be a woman. I will admit  that I am always biased when a designer dares to stick their head above the parapet and present a cohesive vision for how he sees women presenting themselves in any given season and Creative Director Omar Salam more than rose to the occasion. His signature body con with mesh and crochet and beaded panelled dresses were present and correct but added to the mix were shorter pieces that swapped pencil silhouettes for sassy fringed skirts that ended mid thigh. Black was the dominant colour but there was also a red sequence and black pieces that were accented with turquoise, yellow, and in some iterations lime which evoked the colour ways seen in Maasai beaded jewellery. The shut down ensembles came via the pieces that had sculptural and origami style folds. A white coat dress was reminiscent of a flower in bloom and a black dress that comprised of beaded mesh and sculptured silk also impressed. The energy in the room distinctly changed and the rapturous applause  merely confirmed what was evident on the runway.

Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde

Romeo Hunte’s collection was the definitive shout-out on the runway to all of the lovers of streetwear who began to scream loudly the moment the bass dropped on his runway playlist. A heavy focus on outwear but with scant else teamed with it, especially with womenswear, meant we all received and understood the memo fully – clothes that only those with swag for days need attempt to wear. This is not to say that the looks were repetitive: from deconstructed parkas to off the shoulder puffer jackets, to bombers in army camouflage print with exposed shoulders and a Macintosh coat dress with neon piping, he ensured that outerwear was on lock. Some might counter, how can you wear this in the tropics of Lagos, but if you keep everything else to a bare minimum and blast the proverbial AC on full, your look won’t falter.

Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde

Both Gozel Green and Adama Paris had shown at Lagos Fashion Week but it wasn’t a straight reiteration for those of us who had attended both. In the instance of Gozel Green the collection was larger and one could now see clearly how it was a tribute to the two creative directors’ late father, Professor Ossie Onuora Enekwe, whose love of formal attire is translated into pieces that celebrate menswear motifs such as suit lapels and classic shirts but retained the play on proportion and fluidity of fabric that have become the brand’s trademarks. For Adama Paris, it felt like the sequel to their prior offering which had seen pieces only in black, but in this instance we were presented a meditation of white, with chiffon, cotton and tulle all making an appearance.

Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde

Clive Rundle is a South African institution who by virtue of longevity should be applauded. One could certainly tell that he knew the anatomy of what made a show: he had models seated before commencing their walks for instance, adding theatre to his presentation. However, the collection consisted of a collision of ideas, shapes, themes and palettes that never seemed to come  fully together. Whilst one can remain a relevant and important voice whatever one’s age – observe the continued reign of Kaiser Karl Lagerfeld at Chanel, it’s a thin line between being a legend and appearing dated.

Photo: Lumi Ogunde
Photo: Lumi Ogunde

Closing the night and also providing the evening with a political bent was  South African designer David Tlale who presented a series of maxi dresses with giants of Both Africa’s political past’s faces printed and with an accompanying quote. Customers could pick from Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu and Winnie Mandela or be more alternative and rock a piece with Steve Biko, Walter Sisulu or Oliver Tambo instead.  It felt as if the designer was challenging all to acknowledge that twenty four years after the end of Apartheid rule was symbolised by Mandela’s election to the presidency, the realities of black inclusion and equality remain very much on the surface. From this bold start Tlale presented a collection that didn’t stand still with a wide array of silhouettes, palettes, and a typical metallic evening wear sequence. The clothes that followed felt somewhat discordant after such a strong opening, as if the collection had been done in conjunction with the marketing department who were concerned with appealing to as wide a customer base as possible, rather than allowing Tlale to create a clear narrative for customers to identify with, which the t-shirt dresses so tantalisingly hinted at. It was a pity as in our saturated and choice ridden world it is stories that resonate rather than shapes or motifs that prompt us to buy into a brand long-term.

Photo: David Tlale
Photo: David Tlale

As the evening closed it was clear that fashion is a cultural driving force to be reckoned with in Nigeria. The packed venue, the cheers, the subsequent trending hashtags all attest to the insatiable appetite for clothes, beauty and conveying that you are living your best life via your sartorial  and lifestyle choices. In fact, if commitment and interest were the only barometers by which an industry’s importance was measured, then fashion would have long trounced oil and gas in this part of the world. But for the runway segment to work on its own there needs to be a more deliberate curation of who is actually on it. Thankfully, everything ran to schedule with a barely noticeable ten minute delay, but one was still left wanting more: maybe it was the scene that was set by such a strong masterclass roster, or perhaps the slick production and staging whetted the appetite for a true visual spectacular, but Sukeina asides it was a quiet night for African fashion.

 

 

Lagos Fashion Week S/S 2019 Day Three Review

The last day of Lagos Fashion Week had fashionistas sprinting in stilettos trying to catch the action in multiple locations with off-site events held a at Lagos’ premier luxury stores Alara and Temple Muse. Sadly, I couldn’t clone myself as I had the privilege of being part of a panel selecting who made the final of this year’s  LFW Fashion Focus Programme. One of the developments spearheaded by founder of Lagos Fashion Week, Omoyemi Akerele, it aims to not only identify talent but also provide training, mentorships and capacity building opportunities for the lucky winner. It is an important addition , as beyond the glamour of weeks such as this, fashion remains a fledgling industry in comparison to juggernauts such as oil and gas or  agriculture.

Kicking off the action in the tends was a double-bill from the House of Deola Sagoe, which showed collections from both Clan the ready-to-wear brand and bespoke mother-brand Deola. Before the show itself commenced we were treated to a short fashion film that set the tone of heritage and longevity and closed with the logo which proudly stated: ‘established 1989’. Whilst Creative Director of Clan, Teni Sagoe continued to refine her slinky girl about town aesthetic but with demi-couture elements such as boned bodices, lace panelling and a heavy injection of velvet.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

For the Deola brand, Deola Sagoe demonstrated her haute couture credentials with a series of dresses that are best labelled ‘For Billionaire Grown-Up Ladies Only’. Floor length gowns were embellished with ostrich-plumes, giant sequins that from a distance resembled peacock feathers, bodices that had pleating, with traditional fabrics getting a look in via a candy striped aso’oke mullet length gown. Such labour intensiveness in the construction of all of the pieces, with even throwback couture sleeves such as the virago,  made it easy to see how the prices could go to sit-down-and-have-a-stiff-drink levels before you hand over your credit card. But that is the price one pays for the couture dream, and even if you cannot fully participate, it is cheering to know that such is available here in Lagos.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

So, who is the Tokyo James man? Well, based on past collections he is partial to a killer coat, takes his suiting seriously and is a hybrid of influences and experiences. For keen watchers of the brand there had been a hint that ladies might be allowed to participate beyond robing their lover’s Tokyo James jacket over their shoulders, most notably by a mini-collection at the Arise Fashion Week in April earlier this year. This season he introduced a full women’s collection but not before he presented his latest offering for men. Leather and exotic hides were prevalent particularly in a series of trench coats where snake trims found a home either the bottom of trousers or as one side of a coat. Metallic copper leather and lilac on suiting was the feminine touches to a silhouette that was uncompromisingly masculine and formal – it was great to see so many variants of double-breasted suits with peak lapels and single-breasted suits as a riposte to the notion that all young men wish to wear athleisure 24/7. For off-duty days James proposed a bolero biker, and because the contemporary man might not want to spoil the lines in his suit or coat large snakeskin tote bags were the roomy solution. For women, James is encouraging one’s inner vamp to be unleashed fully. Leather was prevalent with high waisted slim line trousers, form-fitting minis, and in singer Seyi Shay’s closer an above the knee slim-fit coat dress that was guaranteed to get temperatures rising. A series of asymmetric dresses were less exciting and felt more like a late addition to what was an otherwise crystal-clear vision. Thankfully for all those who have been stealing their man’s jackets tailoring was present and correct with low single button jackets teamed with wide leg trousers, exotic hide three piece suits,  and a long line silver pleated tunic paired with a narrow trouser and slimline jacket for a dressy yet edgy alternative to formal wear.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

Three brands that have become the home of the Lagos Creative Girl are Gozel Green ,IAMISIGO and Nkwo. Gozel Green delivered what was though not their strongest collection to date had enough to keep existing fans of their brand happy. They are known for their asymmetry and play on proportion and this season the anchor piece were culottes that had a slit in the instep. As ever the colours were vibrant with orange and tomato red being dominant,  as well as their signature green, black white and turquoise.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

In the instance of IAMISIGO Creative Director Bubu Ogisi took masquerade as her inspiration, with models faces concealed with wool and Arabian slippers on models’ feet. The signature aso’oke mini dress was re-imagined once more -hardly surprising when it went viral when worn by Naomi Campbell earlier in the year. Another stand out piece were a pair of woven trousers paired with a peach- draped t-shirt with purposefully unfinished hems. Peach, rust, bottle green and cobalt blue were the preferred palette, but with woven fabrics also getting a look in, and there was a wide range of hemline lengths but maybe due to its brevity (something of a trend this year with many collections falling  well short of the traditional 40 looks), one felt there was more or should have been more to follow. But those who love the brand will be back to refresh their wardrobes with more pieces, and ultimately from a business perspective that is what matters most.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

In the instance of Nkwo, Creative Director Nkwo Onwuka continued ploughing her path as an early adaptor, innovator and pioneer in the sustainable fashion sphere. Her fabric innovation  Dakala cloth, which is woven from textile waste, and is dyed using natural processes was fashioned into flattering tulip silhouettes  with racer backs on tops adding a sporty injection. The pieces were the sort that require minimal thought on the wearer’s part, a bonus for women with a busy schedule, and, accessorised with heels or flats they work effortlessly, illustrated with how the models trotted barefoot and still looked pulled together. Viral Instagram moment came via the giant head-ties which were made from Ghana-Must-Go bags and were a visual commentary  on recycling as a bag that is ubiquitous and cheap but in Onwuka’s hand is given luxe appeal. For the woman who likes to wear her ethics on her sleeve and prefers clothes without caveats that allow for freedom of movement, Nkwo is a surefire choice.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

 

One of the biggest cheers of the night came from last year’s Fashion Focus winner and designer-du-jour Emmy Kasbit. As a designer he likes to present a complete and fully comprehensible collection and this season was no different. Taking the slave museum in Calabar, a port from which 30% of all slaves were transported from as inspiration he presented a  collection that spoke to the realities of belonging and displacement. The fabrics were still often traditional with aso’oke rendered in shades of blue to reflect the Atlantic Ocean. Women’s suits were cinched with chain belts that resembled slave shackles and men’s single-breasted jackets were fastened with anchor shaped buttons denoting the ships sailed on. The coral sequence was a joy and evocative of a hue and gemstone that is inextricably linked with Nigerian traditional wear, with women wearing a contemporary wrapper skirt atop trousers, again a nod to local norms which would have a double wrapper as appropriate attire. Other details included shirts with dual personality collars  – one ruffled, the other pointed, again indicating the inevitable cross pollination of identity as a result of transportation. But in the midst of this deep dive into history were too many pieces that would make sense in one’s wardrobe regardless of age or gender and that was most exciting of all.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

Maki Oh presented the collection that she showed last month in New York Fashion Week, but although we might have seen it before on screen it was good to have the opportunity to see it in real life. As always with Maki Oh there was a clear narrative arc in the collection with Spring Summer 2019 being an ode to market women, however, this being Maki the women were casually sexy and confident  – with show opener;  a t-shirt with a see through panel just under the bust-line with  ‘Fresh Fish’ emblazoned on it and a black diaphanous skirt with a deep slit and a lace panel insert – giving the impression of a woman who even when working outdoors wants to be hotter than the midday sun. Skirts with slits were ever present  – speaking to the need to move quickly and the flat rubber slippers reflected practicality and also tempered certain looks from looking ‘try-hard’, something the Maki Oh woman is by definition not. Adiire, a signature for her, was present but in this instance with long dresses that were slim line at the front but cape shaped in the back. Fringing, another signature was also evident in this collection but this time in circular panels of fringing either on the side of  dresses or in one skirt extended from hip bone to ankle adding opulence to simplicity. Evening dresses came in several variants but effortless was innate in all, a long black straight column with thick shoulder straps and a panel cut away just past the knee that was tied by strips of fabric was novel. Indeed, it was a motif repeated in other pieces. Will calves become the new erogenous zone? If it happens, it will be because of dresses such as these.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

When Adebayo Oke-Lawal named his brand Orange Culture he clearly had a long-term vision about heading a movement, and that was evident in the deafening cheer that greeted the lights dimming before his show commenced. This was designer as rock star territory with the fans as much in love with him and what he stands for as whatever else may follow on the runway. The Collection was entitled ‘Who are you in the sun? Who are you in the moonlight?’ And opened with all the models in the looks assembling in formation before the lights came up to further cheers from the crowd. What followed was a collection that was riotous in colour – palette wise think 60’s psychedelia meets 80’s/90’s rave culture  – ages that were marked as being ones where youth culture was hyper-expressive and actively changed the status quo and individuals were fearless in both their expression and demand to be themselves. Oke-Lawal was seeking to explore these themes via pieces that were defiant in their nods to subcultures – from whale-net leggings with shorts worn over them to suiting reimagined via a two toned blue and orange suit and a purple jumpsuit, and trousers and tops with ‘Naked Clarity’ printed on them. As ever there were pieces that one could see had ‘sell sell sell’ writ large particularly shirts and knitwear.  Gender fluidity, something that has always been at the heart of the Orange Culture’s ethos was also evident with both men and women modeling, jewellery designed by South African brand Waif and handbags by Tuza Jewellery being worn by all and a closing look of a male model in trousers teamed with a lurex wrap skirt.  Falana, a close friend of the designer and a muse of the brand, sang out the finale walk, and it was a fitting end to a collection that had metamorphosed into a concert rather than fashion show vibe. For Oke-Lawal authenticity to one’s self and how you present yourself to the world are critical,  and a brand such as his, via the lens of clothing is there as a tool for people to embark in that journey.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

In many ways it was fitting to close Lagos Fashion Week with a designer who has immense support amongst his peers and has also made important strides creatively and commercially, from being a finalist in the LVMH Prize, to having his collaboration with pop superstar Davido stocked in Selfridges to his side-hustle as a brand ambassador for online retailer Jumia.  Furthermore, Oke-Lawal’s show was filled with optimism, vitality and confidence traits that are innately Lagos’ as a city.

 

 

Lagos Fashion Week S/S 2019 Day Two Review

Day Two of Lagos Fashion Week could be described as a day when reputations were cemented, more of later, but also big doubts with some more established names as to whether the hype, pressure or general hailing, that in our part of the world is par for the course had resulted in a loss of form. It is sometimes easier to keep churning out what is working or selling but it gets to a critical mass when not evolving can potentially result in stasis. Loyal customers who buy pieces by the half dozen are great for now, but a dicey proposition to rely on for the future, especially if growth beyond the domestic market to capitalise on regional, continent wide and global opportunities is part of a brand’s long term strategy.

Commencing proceedings were two Fashion Focus finalists: Bloke and Demure by Denike, with Bloke by far the stronger. Bloke’s Creative Director Faith Oluwajimi  entitled his collection “Collection About Nothing” with the colour white utilised as a starting and finishing point. Iterations of tailoring that would appeal to the younger man who wants to look pulled together but is also proud of his heritage were sent down the runway, and one is assuming the white face markings on models were a nod to indigenous religion.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

As earlier indicated some reputations were well and truly cemented and it was felt most in the area of men’s trad. Curiously, the two dominant forces, Ugo Monye and JZO, showed on day two, with both putting arguably their strongest showings yet. Over the years Monye has built a following who go to him for exquisite renderings of traditional attire, and today he pushed the envelope further with a series of long line tunics in cobalt blue with cardinal red accents. The long staffs the models walked with channeled the village elder of yesteryear, but one who has a side-hustle of being the style arbiter for the traditional ruler. The show stopper and indeed closer was a short agbada teamed with an Abeti Aja cap; even if one takes away the show’s ‘mood enhancers’ which in this instance included a full company of traditional talking drummers, the metamorphosis of an outfit that conceptually screams ‘wedding guest attendee’ into something that could be worn anywhere else was inspired. For men of a certain generation, wearing white trad indicates an elevation in station – mainly due to the fact that the dry-cleaning bill will no longer make your eyes water but also because it lends the wearer gravitas. Monye offered some alternative propositions: first evening trad – think brocades, tunics with chain fastenings and asymmetric tunics with contrasting and visible linings, and secondly black trad with texture in fabric combinations – black satin and cotton for instance – bringing the luxurious wow factor. Will black trad become the thing to step out of your G-Wagon or Bentley?  Very likely.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

In the instance of JZO their collection was an extension of a mandate that since 2014 Creative Directors Joseph Ike and Olamide Akindeinde have been refining which is how to make trad an active sartorial essential rather than a cultural obligation for the younger man. It’s a thin line between edgy and try-hard, but JZO have consistently created pieces that other designers might have a moment of wishing they had thought of the same idea first, such will the inevitable popularity be. This season, asymmetry in tunics and jackets which provided sexy hints of torso in addition to collars and doubled up sleeves turned the familiar into the unusual and covetable. Palette choice was strong without being obnoxious with cobalt, claret, and burnt umber tempered with black and white. When you’re on a creative roll such as this it is best to simply continue.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

Going beyond the shores of Nigeria, Senegalese brand Tongoro Studio and Ghanaian brand Studio 189 were a window into alternative African aesthetics. Tongoro Studio’s Creative Director Sarah Diouf in a previous interview with Elle South Africa has said the “The Tongoro girl is one of a kind; she’s an adventurer.” And travel sprang to mind in a collection that felt like wealthy woman on holiday rather than pieces you could throw on every day. Drawstring trousers, voluminous legged jumpsuits and roomy tunics in greys, blues and whites or lilac and lime prints accessorised with tiny totes or exaggerated cylinder-shaped clutches were not for the Monday morning meeting but were pretty nevertheless.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

 

Studio 189 also had a resort season vibe with a sunshine yellow and deep blue palette, yet even with the Soukous music  bangers at full volume it never fully took flight. It did however, have a celebrity moment with fashion blogger, and special editorial guest of Lagos Fashion Week Tamu McPherson taking to the runway.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

The evening closed with Lisa Folawiyo a woman who is not only one of the principal poster girls for Nigerian fashion but also by virtue of her business beginnings is seen as the standard bearer for print. In what felt like her most personal collection yet she referenced growing up in 80’s Nigeria and how that has informed the woman she has become today, with even the music choice of Old-School classic Odyssey’s “Going Back To My Roots” augmenting the point. The palette was very much tropical garden with orange, lilac and green prints, however, the sensory assault clashing was tempered by softer silhouettes that evoked care free summer days. Embellishment was by and large kept to a minimum and even the show’s opener of knee-length city shorts, off the shoulder bra top and over-sized blazer was a statement of intent; that Folawiyo known best for tunic shaped dresses and skirts could also bring fresh cool girl vibes to the table. Inevitably, there were contrasting textures; a signature that she has stayed true to and the orange neon trims referenced hair bands worn as a child as too did the corn-row hair-braid trim that featured on some of the dresses which varied in shape from bias cut to floaty midi with cutaways to hit of the night, judging by the cheers, a tulip shaped mini. The hemline variation was a business savvy one – depending on your age and figure situation, all could participate. Nostalgia can sometimes end up looking dated but in Folawiyo’s hands it was merely a tool to create pieces that chime with present times.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

For those who were there on the night, it is clear there are some omissions in this review, but it becomes difficult and somewhat disingenuous to praise collections that seem to have lost their way either in part or entirely. Whilst it is exciting and exhilarating when the spotlight is thrown on Africa, especially for those of us who live here, it is also important to temper the enthusiasm, and keep a critical eye so that in turn we can keep improving our industry. Just as it’s impossible to claim London is awash with talent on a par with the late Alexander McQueen or Paris has a dozen Yves Saint Laurents tucked away in each arrondissement, not every designer currently working in Africa is a prodigious talent. And one could counter, nor do they have to be.  Some are masters of garnering support from a particular segment of the market, still others are happy to court the media and be lauded even if the  sales sums don’t tally in the books. However,  it is the designers that are rooted in their identity  and who also challenge themselves artistically and dare to translate the complex layers that make up  the numerous contemporary African narratives, whilst simultaneously creating collections that are lusted after the world over, that will  truly endure.

Lagos Fashion Week S/S 2019 Day One Review

The French have a name for the new academic year – La Rentrée,  when students are brimming with excitement at the prospect of new learning. It also implies return, after all learning is continual, there is always more to discover and more to master, and if you love fashion there is always a new uniform to fall in love with too. Lagos Fashion Week kicked off what is now the creative season and includes contemporary art fair Art X Lagos, African Film Festival , AFRIFF, Aké Arts and Literature Festival and GTBank Fashion Weekend. Expectations were high this year not least because the legendary Fashion Critic Suzy Menkes Editorial Director for Vogue was in attendance.

Betty Irabor requires no introduction; as the owner and founder of Genevieve Magazine, a pioneering publication that has done much to alter the fashion landscape in Nigeria, her foray into presenting a collection seemed organic. Entitled “The Dew Collection” it was a collaboration with a host of brands including Mai Atafo, Style Temple and Needlepoint with an aim of promoting awareness on Mental Health. Rather evocatively of brighter tomorrows, the designers chose to use a sunshine palette of saffron, tangerine and white print with pieces that for the most part leant strongly to occasion wear including a number of red-carpet ready gowns. As it was for a cause, one cannot judge the collection by the same yardstick of others that followed. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how the brand develops but judging from the applause as she took her bow to Gloria Gaynor’s classic ‘I Will Survive’,  Betty’s own personal popularity will be  the fuel required and given that it’s expanding the conversations around the taboo subject of  mental health it is a worthy inclusion.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

A new name to not only watch, but to buy now, before the wahala of getting pieces when you want them gets too much is Lagos Space Project. Every fashion capital needs one: that designer that fuses intellectualism and culture to create pieces that are not only conversation starters but conclusions in and of themselves. Creative Director Adeju Thompson  was entitled ‘Project 3.1 AWO-WORKWEAR’  and he took as his starting premise what a modern-day Babalawo might need to go about his business. In turn we were treated to high waisted drawstring trousers with voluminous legs, overalls that were given a knife precision finish, long line tunics with outsize pockets that would render a handbag entirely optional rather than necessary and wrap adiire skirts with white shirts worn very insouciantly by both men and women. Granted, some customers might be put off from the lack of overt sexiness from the pieces, but to offer an alternative way of dressing in a tide of Slay Queen-age and Fine-Boy-No-Pimple and excessive fuss and flounce saturating the runways was refreshing to say the least.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

 

 

Kiki Kamanu’s collection was entitled ‘Sisi Eko’ and was a love-letter to the women of Lagos, although this being Kiki it was the women of Lagos who are as fearless and expressive as the eponymous designer. Silhouettes varied from body skimming to trapeze for dresses and slimline to drop crotch harem shaped for pants, a touch that thankfully made participating in the Kiki Kamanu aesthetic not dependent on body shape or size. Slogans on pieces is nothing new to the designer who gave us the ‘Pepperdem’ dress, but this season as well as a return to the evergreen ‘LoveLagos’ hooded dress this time in a pencil silhouette and with contrasting fabric on the hemline.  We also had a cheeky top with ‘Take What You Need…’ with an assortment of options and an asymmetric hemline and clashing fabric skirt. As always there were accessories aplenty including large trapezium fringed tote bags that are sure to be a hit. The former runway model took her signature walk to Drake’s megahit ‘Kiki’ and yes, the crowd definitely still loves her.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

Anyango Mpinga was new to the roster but the Kenyan native definitely made an impact with an assured collection. A series of white lace dresses opened a show and if you are an existing Self-Portrait fan, you would have found more to lust after and purchase. Pretty prints were most definitely a thing with an asymmetric free shaped frilled  and pleated dress garnering a flutter of applause as it made its way down the runway. Equally well received were a series of red silk bird printed dresses with text that had ‘love’, ‘freedom’ and other positive words adorned to replicate newspaper headlines. Styling details such as the straw hats worn at a jaunty may have divided the crowd, but they spoke to a designer who possesses clarity of voice.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

Maxivive is definitely the Marmite of the Lagos Fashion scene with as many who love as those who dislike Papa Oyeyeni’s work, but that is oftentimes the price you pay for singularity of vision. The Collection entitled ‘How to Marry A Billionaire’ opened with some ‘look away now those of delicate dispositions’ slogan sweaters, t’s and pants, a collaboration he has created with Funmi Fagbemi. Some might say completely obscene, others will counter merely provocative. And indeed, the notion of using your more carnal charms to get what you want, whether it be a partner who can lend you the Private Jet for a quick shopping run in Paris, or for people to see and desire the real you were present in all of the pieces. Lurex, sequins and iridescent finishes indicated a continuation of the ‘Glistening’ theme explored in the previous collection, and the palette was as broad as one’s tastes or orientation may be. In the midst of the show flourishes including an unconventional bride and groom closer, were pieces that Maxivive is known for, with knitwear, shirts and trousers that were covetable and simultaneously spoke to the genderless agenda that is being championed globally. Since the show, there has been much talk that the brand went too far, was too controversial and is not representative of the prevailing norms and values of a country that for all it’s flamboyance is conservative. But beyond selling clothes,  isn’t this the point too of a fashion show and other outputs from the  creative industries be they books, film or art; to hold up the mirror to society but also to push the proverbial envelope? Amidst the hoop=la there was a lot for the existing and new Maxivive customer to wear, and whether one wishes to admit or not, apart from offering covering, clothes play many roles including denoting power and aiding in seduction.

Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

Closing Day One was Kelechi Odu. Full disclosure; the designer is a close member of my family. However, like a child at Christmas who doesn’t unwrap presents early even when you know where they are hidden, I was as surprised and delighted as those who persevered with the crazy-have-to-have-been-there-to-believe-it late commencement of the programme itself; a situation that had a knock on effect for all who showed, especially the designers later on in the schedule, who were seen only by hardcore to the death fashion lovers, family and friends or those who are partial to driving the streets of Lagos post-midnight on a weekday. But if you were there you were given a masterclass of executing a concept, distilling your message and leaving an audience stunned to the point that they might just not only consider but also wear what you’re proposing tout-suite. The collection was entitled ‘Automatic’ and the silhouette was a throwback to the 1970’s when men wore flares, stacked heels, open shirts or no shirts at all and had swag for days. This being Kelechi Odu, exquisite tailoring, origami folds on shirts, conceal and reveal elements on tops and the show stopper closing jacket, as well as slits half way up trouser legs meant to truly ‘dress and oppress’, the gentleman in question might need to head to the gym first. Footwear was a hybrid of then and now with wooden heeled sandals that had leather, suede and and gortex finishes. In a sea of streetwear, logo drenched mania and it-trainers, is the time ripe for the modern man to do a volte-face? If you were up for it here was your solution.

Photo Kola Oshalusi
Photo Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi
Photo: Kola Oshalusi

Overall, there were a lot of take-aways from Day One. There is no doubt that there are not only green-shoots but fully developed talents working in Nigeria and other parts of Africa right now. Has the time come for winnowing? Perhaps, especially as there was almost too wide a range of competency levels and experience on show in one evening. It’s for this reason other fashion capitals will have showcase stages or separate events on their calendars for emerging talent thus allowing buyers or members of the media who need to focus and make immediate business focused decisions on what is currently commercially and critically ready for the domestic and global marketplace.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Meghan Markle’s Sparkle: The Duchess of Sussex’ Style Decoded in 7 Outfits

With most jobs it takes three months for you to settle in, know the ropes and move effortlessly from task to task, but if you are the Duchess of Sussex née Meghan Markle, ten weeks will do just fine. It is hard to believe that it has been that long since she glided down the aisle in St George’s Chapel, Windsor  in THAT Givenchy gown (more on that later), but since then Meghan Watchers (guilty as charged, I often check out the ensembles she is wearing) have been treated to a refashioning of sorts. Proving to all along the way that the 21st Century Royal Duchess’ wardrobe needn’t be twinsets and double strands of pearls or floral prints forevermore she has seamlessly reflected the hopes and expectations of what the world expects from a modern Royal style icon in the making. The fact that just seven seminal ensembles give us all the intel we need is indicative of a visually literate woman, who has distilled the pertinent points of what her role involves but has re-imagined it under the lens of her own beliefs and values.

meghan-marklewimbledon

She didn’t snag her prince with a wardrobe that screamed ‘to the manor born/country-bumpkin goes to a smart event every so often’ so why slip into that dated trope of what a Royal wife should dress like? The fact that Meghan has repeatedly and defiantly done her, rather than an approximation of what old-school courtiers might be expecting is what has endeared her to style watchers. And whilst many saw her humanitarian credentials and thought we were in for Princess Diana 2.0 she looked closer to home for historical style references.  At Wimbledon,  we saw her channel one of the greatest American style icons by embracing the power of  a pair of wide leg white trousers with a crisp shirt – heck if it worked for Jackie Kennedy-Onassis it can work for Meghan too! In her case Ralph Lauren did the design honours but the nod to American Prep culture is impossible to ignore and a refreshing visual change at a quintessential part of the traditional English season’s summer calendar.

jackie-tro

In fact it is this seemingly determined approach to dressing in pieces that are by American designers that marks Meghan out. Not for her the subdued route of a woman who has subsumed her identity for her husband’s and becomes British overnight (although that is technically true as a member of the British Royal family). For now at least the feminist mantra of being more than a spouse and vessel for future  Windsors is being played out via her wardrobe. Not made in the United Kingdom only for her, especially when there are a number of Americans she is more than happy to champion. This yellow Brandon Maxwell  shift proving a particular hit at a reception held for the Commonwealth Youth Challenge. Nothing says vitality and youth more than a primary coloured piece, and Californians are known for their sunny disposition, here Meghan teams the two notions via her ensemble to a winning effect.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Ralph Lauren got the nod again for Prince Louis’ christening with the duchess a sleek chic vision in olive a sharp contrast to the sea of pastel worn by the rest of the party. It is this Meghan that is more interesting . Her brief flirtation with pastels and bohemia (the Goat Dress with those too pale tights at a Garden Party at Buckingham Palace,the off the shoulder double breasted – can’t =bring-myself-to-describe-it-any-further Trooping of the Colour Caroline Herrera the dressing gown maxi from Oscar De La Renta) had shades of dressing by committee and perceived expectations: be decorative, be demure, don’t bag all the attention rather than as she truly is which is, which put simply is a superstar. Hiding one’s light under the proverbial bushel is definitely not a look for a woman who is a self proclaimed feminist. And as she is probably aware from her time as an actor, haters are going to hate, whatever you do to appease them, never mind the racists who are in conniptions at the prospect of black blood in the House of Windsor. So she might as well keep it real and wear her boat necked column dresses with alacrity. Occasional compliance, seen bellow in the church appropriate Stephen Jones hat rather than fascinator, and the Super Old -School flourish of gloves in hand are great (we are convinced the Queen and late Queen Mother would have fist-bumped if they had seen the gloves, a look long dispensed with by Royal women) but not needed every time.

Photo: Getty
Photo: Getty

However,  perhaps most exciting for fashion lovers is the  burgeoning relationship  between  Meghan  and  the  House  of Givenchy under the creative direction of Claire Waight Keller. The wedding dress may have divided critics (of course the chilled Cali girl fit was intended, not everyone wants to be corseted to an inch of their lives, rendering eating more than a mouthful of the wedding breakfast an impossibility and smiling a Herculean task, indeed such a cut is a luxury of the very slim), but seeing it again ten weeks later one cannot deny its significance or how it will influence bridal fashion. The triumph of the dress was its deceptive simplicity coupled with timeless feel, whilst being entirely appropriate for her new life in the  Royal  Family. With her soft make-up and signature messy bun, Meghan also achieved that Holy Grail of wedding day style; looking spectacular but still recognizable as herself. In the hands of another designer, Meghan might have ended up looking like a confection, a fairy-tale princess, instead she looked like a grown up woman (she is after all in her 30’s) in charge of her destiny, clear about what looks right on her body, who just happened to have fallen in love with a prince.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

Since the Wedding Day we’ve witnessed more designer and  her royal  muse alchemy. Ladies Day at Royal Ascot saw  the duo keep things modern with a  white belted shirt dress rather than the more typically favoured by aristocrats  and royals  alike, coat dress. The Philip  Treacy hat was entirely on point and bonus points for  the  Balenciaga Knife  courts, but it is the  new informal – formal template that the Meghan and Waight Keller are creating that’s  proving particularly  exciting. A favoured look for  the working woman, the shirt-dress hints at a duchess who still identifies herself as such even if protocol dictates her views remain private.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

However, the high-water mark for the Claire x Meghan collaboration (if only they were allowed to do one officially? One can but dream…)  goes to a certain caped shoulder shift worn with the Queen in Chester. Haute Couture Perfection are the only words needed to describe it. Demure and over the knee, with a skinny belt which also gave the slender of hip duchess more of a hip flare than she has in reality, the dress was why Givenchy’s Haute Couture Spring/Summer 19 was one of the highlights of Paris this month. Flounce is an unnecessary distraction when the cutting  is this precise. No wonder the Queen was smiling throughout the engagement, when your grand-daughter in law not only gets the memo, but runs with it, you know the future, at least sartorially, is in very safe hands.

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

The union between the Duke and Duchess of Sussex has precedents, most obviously seen in the late Princess Grace of Monaco formerly Grace Kelly, Hollywood Actress and style icon. However, much has changed since an old European Royal House experienced the refreshing breeze of a glamorous American actress joining its ranks.  When Princess Grace stepped into her’Helen Rose designed wedding dress (without doubt dress inspiration for the Duchess of Cambridge’s Sarah Burton designed Alexander McQueen gown, if you don’t believe me, kindly Google) the world was one of hierarchy and tradition, with anything that might cause a ripple in established norms and expectations stamped out or quietly let go of, ideally over a Gin and Tonic. Now in our inter-connected, socially fluid, historically ambivalent times the ties that bind are altogether more meritocratic. As long as you are beautiful, wealthy, and in these digitally enabled times relatable, the world is truly your oyster. It is for this reason that Meghan seems so gloriously modern. Yes, she is bound by the same rules every other Windsor Bride has ever been, (no talking about politics, religion, international affairs and certainly no tweeting or posting), but because there are hints, courtesy of her former online presence, we feel we know her. Furthermore she seems to be together charting a new path for the Windsors. One that segues between heritage, celebrity, youth, glamour and philanthropy and throws in trans-Atlantic pizzazz for good measure. And if she can leverage and harness the public scrutiny for global good, one cannot help but cheer, especially if she continues to do so in perfect trouser suits designed by the genius that is Claire Waight Keller for Givenchy.

Photo: Zak Hussein Pool/Getty Images
Photo: Zak Hussein Pool/Getty Images

 

Beauty and Diversity: How Lancôme Connected with Africa’s Biggest Market

They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder and the beauty industry is one that has all in it’s thrall, especially in Lagos where you are only as fine as your last appearance. French luxury cosmetics house Lancôme, are one of the first to realise the importance of tapping into the Nigerian market and last month saw the grand unveiling of the My Shade, My Power Campaign, at luxury retail mecca, Temple Muse, highlighting Lancôme’s expanded 40 shades for their cult Teint Idole foundation. Because this is Naija, and we have form in being extra, 46 rather than the assumed 40 women participated in the campaign. Let’s just say there was a surfeit of ‘fine girl, no pimple’ action!

my-shade-my-power-collage-2

In days of old a company would have parachuted a campaign from another territory, maybe added an additional model of ambiguous racial origin to the selected images and let the might of their global brand recognition do the rest. But herein was where the genius lay in the campaign, for the company chose to partner with Glam Brand Agency a strategic brand and communications agency with unparalleled expertise in bringing international beauty brands to African markets to giddying effect. Founded by Bola Balogun, a fashion industry veteran who previously worked in New York before relocating to Nigeria and has been the brains behind bringing Maybelline, Dark & Lovely and Caroline Herrera to Nigeria (yes, our cosmetics game has a lot to thank her for, from face beats to date nights to just everyday look presentable moments), her team selected, like in other My Shade My Power campaigns, women from all walks of life and all ages who had distinguished themselves in their respective fields. Critically, all skin tones were represented, which was of particular import, especially in an environment where fairness has oftentimes been presented as the preferred currency of pulchritude. As the collage of the women included attested, inclusiveness was real and not a mere gimmick.

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On the night itself, Temple Muse opened up a special  Lancôme Pop-Up Shop which included a host of  the company’s other essentials  (side note of a more personal kind:  I challenge any woman not to marvel at the wonder that is Bi-Facil Eye Make Up remover, a true sting free, take the day off treat!) as well as turning the shop into a pink hued palace of shopping for Lagos’ Belle Monde. If you are pretty, vaguely interested in pretty or just like immersing yourself in pretty for feel-good kicks, this was the night to be out and about as well as topping up your make-up stash.

Abisola Kola-Daisi
Abisola Kola-Daisi
Sal Gbajabiamila and Zaina Gbajabiamila
Sal Gbajabiamila and Zaina Gbajabiamila
Kabir Wadhwani and Avi Wadhwani
Kabir Wadhwani and Avi Wadhwani
Denola Grey
Denola Grey
Titi Fowora and Boye Fowora
Titi Fowora and Boye Fowora
Kessiana Edewor
Kessiana Edewor
Betty Irabor and Ojy Okpe
Betty Irabor and Ojy Okpe
Chichi Offodile, Zara Odu, Ada
Chichi Offodile, Zara Odu, Ada
Sonia Irabor
Sonia Irabor

But this was more than just another summer party with a retail spin, it was, on a more profound level a celebration of  beauty and identity whose repercussions will be felt for many years to come. Speaking to the women selected to participate in the campaign a variety of motivations, expectations and hopes emerge for the campaign. Gallerist and art consultant Adenrele Sonariwo of Rele Gallery notes:  “I particularly liked the concept and what it stood for and that the Lancôme brand was directly celebrating and empowering every day women.”  Maya Halabi  restaurateur of Lagos’ perennial dining favourite RSVP notes “Make up used to be about covering up and now it’s about highlighting beauty and strength.” This notion was also echoed in the short films accompanying the campaign that feature multiple award winning musical artist Waje and magazine and media mogul Betty Irabor. Fashion Designer Lisa Folawiyo of Lisa Folawiyo Studio explained: “Collaborating with such a huge international brand like Lancôme is a no brainer and I was thrilled to be one of those selected for their first beauty campaign in Nigeria. I have always been aware of the power of one’s image, and the significance of seeing ourselves reflected positively cannot be overstated. I feel that this campaign is as much for future generations as our own.”    It is a belief shared by Titi Fowora  Principal and founder of Inu Design who concurs: “I believed it would be more inspiring for other women to see women that look, sound and live like them rather than the usual celebrity or supermodel led campaigns. Furthermore, diversity encourages innovation and that’s always a good thing.”  Latasha Ngwube, Founder of Aboutthatcurvylife.com spoke for beauty junkies everywhere when she shared: I’ve always loved beauty products and have been fascinated by potions, creams,  and makeup all my life. Being approached by a brand as respected and successful as Lancôme meant I got to be a part of something really special and empowering to women.  The brand has recognized that diversity conversations are not just a token but now stand clearly at the forefront.” For Abisola Kola-Daisi, founder of Florence H, a luxury accessories retailer headquartered in Lagos, the commercial aspect is particularly pertinent: “The arrival of Lancôme to Nigeria affirms our position…the industry recognizes the importance of embracing and celebrating diversity in an ever growing interconnected world and the notion that beauty is global and cannot be defined by a homogeneous standard.” The positive reception for the campaign so far, both culturally and from a business perspective indicates that this is an ongoing conversation which will continue to evolve.

Adenrele Sonariwo
Adenrele Sonariwo
Maya Halabi
Maya Halabi
Lisa Folawiyo
Lisa Folawiyo
Titi Fowora
Titi Fowora
Latasha Ngwube
Latasha Ngwube
Abisola Kola-Daisi
Abisola Kola-Daisi

Speaking to Bola Balogun one is struck by the twin aspects of broadening the parameters of what is considered beautiful and adding long term value for the businesses that choose to fully engage with the Africa market. She expands: “There are several opportunities in Nigeria within the beauty, fashion and lifestyle spheres.  International companies need to have the right local partnership and this is a space that Glam Brand Agency has operated in for some time now. I always emphasize the importance for brands to understand the complexities women of different ethnicity face when it comes to make up and skin care. Also one cannot over emphasize the importance of diversity in advertisements and campaigns as well as ensuring the use of local content .” Understanding and reflecting nuances, norms and aspirations that are particular to locations as well as celebrating what is universal is key to any brand wishing to not only make an impact but also be part of the wider beauty and fashion ecosystem in Africa. It is why Balogun also identified Essenza, a Nigeria based beauty retailer to partner long term with Lancôme  in their Nigeria wide activities. It is a savvy move as Africa has an estimated value of $3.8 billion for colour cosmetics alone, according to EuroMonitor’s Beauty and Personal Care Report of 2013, and Nigeria, as the continent’s most populous nation is a good place for continent wide expansion plans to commence.

Omoyemi Akerele, Titi Fowora, Mazzi Odu, Bola Balogun
Omoyemi Akerele, Titi Fowora, Mazzi Odu, Bola Balogun

The buzz, four weeks since the unveiling is still present,  the tills are a-ringing and the celebration of when hashtags such as #myshademypower #lancome #blackexcellence and #melaninmagic coalesce into something greater that is happening in real life remains. Good news for Lancôme, great news for Africa and deeply satisfying for all those working tirelessly in the background for collaboration and partnerships to become the watchword for the beauty industry globally.

Team Players: A Tale of a Nigerian Football Fashion Collaboration

Catching up with Chekwas Okafor the creative force behind Onchek.com, the one-stop African fashion focused online retail destination is a bit of a challenge. For one thing, Chekwas is perpetually on the move, base camp might be New York City, but  if he’s not sourcing new designers across the continent, he’s knee deep in the practicalities of garment production, not withstanding the endless calls internationally to speak on the myriad of ways that the African fashion ecosystem needs to be supported and invigorated. But connect we do, and not a day sooner, especially as today, Lagos, Nigeria and the Diaspora are fever pitch for the forthcoming  World Cup in Russia and today in particular as the Super Eagles will face England in a friendly. Nothing connects the world on a more visceral level than the beautiful game and if you add fashion to the mix you are onto a winning combination, which is why Unity, the football inspired collection, available exclusively on Onchek.com and for those hardcore patriots, made in Nigeria too, is particularly exciting. However, there is more to the name than an exhortation of just how football binds in a way that nothing else quite can, as the design process was something of a Superstar collaboration with Chekwas collaborating with design titans, Adebayo Oke-Lawal of Orange Culture and Shem Ezemma of Shem Paronelli Artisanal.

unity-family-onchek

The premise for the collection was a case of Chekwas wishing to alter perceptions regarding production, innovation and quality. He elaborates: “I wanted the collection to show that we can source design locally, that the sports space can collaborate with Nigerian designers to achieve the same high quality design that can compete with any other outsourced design.” For Adebayo his decision was based on a more romantic notion as he cites: “The idea of celebrating collaboration , oneness and the tenacity of the Super Eagles.” And for Shem it was the idea of creating something that is truly bipartisan when he notes:  “Soccer is about the only thing that unites Nigerians you know; suddenly they put the whole tribal differences behind and unite as one. So I guess that idea was it for me.”

Photo: Kosol Onwudinjor
Photo: Kosol Onwudinjo

The ideas coagulated into a football shirt incorporating the national colours of Green and White and using black as a metaphor to both race and excellence. Apart from the legend ‘Unity’ which is as much a statement of intent as it is a celebration in spite of difference, is the map of Nigeria which acts as a graphic motif on the side of the t-shirts. Whilst running or indeed dancing, the nation remains close to you, the wearer. Adebayo also speaks of the challenge of combining form and function when he adds “I had to think – what would people be able to wear while playing a sport. Is has to be breathable  but I also  wanted the design to be beautiful.” The shirt more than achieves it as it would look welcome on a pitch, in a gym or teamed with a killer heel, agit pants or easy, breezy shorts.

For the shoe, Shem choose to re-imagine his brand’s N-100 sneaker model, but with football visible in design accents. He adds “It was more of an adaptation; picking ideas, from the aesthetics and key features like the extended flap, a higher hugging counter and a much more pronounced and definitive cut that mimics the silhouette of a traditional a soccer shoe.” However, because this is a Shem Paronelli Artisanal shoe luxury flourishes include an oiled nubuck leather upper, and instead of studs a smooth sole making it a favourite for men and women alike

Photo: OGB
Photo: OGB

Perhaps most significantly, the Unity Collection illustrates the power of collaboration,  and how it offers a potent riposte for those still stuck on the old adage of there being only room for one shining light  at any given time in the African fashion design space, or designers being too ridden with rivalry to work dynamically and effectively together.  Adebayo notes that he has always been “open to collaborations” and Shem adds “the vision kind of just resonated with me and I was like yeah, let’s do it.” It also does not go unnoticed that Adebayo and Shem hail from different parts of Nigeria, places whose norms, language, culture and aesthetics will have to a greater or lesser degree informed their  design language thus far and yet in this instance are harnessed to create a greater whole. Food for thought for others operating in other disciplines to be sure. However,  the designers’ ebullience is also echoed by Chekwas himself who sees the collection as just the beginning of future projects that Onchek.com will be championing in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. One cannot help but be excited about the age of collaboration, a buzzword and a feature of the fashion landscape for sometime, fully taking hold across the continent.

Photo: Kosol Onwudinjor
Photo: Kosol Onwudinjor

As Nigeria garners more interest both regionally on the continent as an incubator of talent, and globally as a key location for exploring and immersing oneself in the African aesthetic; long term and lasting improvements in the garment production industry can no longer languish as a conversation piece in the corridors of power and must find themselves as an action point providing measurable results. It is here that the Unity Collection has both distinguished itself and excelled as Onchek partnered with a factory in Apapa, Lagos which has benefited from Human Capital Development Consultancy training and management that in turn has been facilitated by Style House Files Creative Agency and supported by the Nigerian Export Promotion Council. In doing this, rather than seeking production in other global, some might point out cheaper locations, Chekwas has positioned the collection as an emblem of the possibilities for the fashion industry. An industry that with the right infrastructure, a favourable environment for investment and long-term strategic development has the potential to be both a creator of wealth and a catalyst for the diversification of the Nigerian economy.

Photo: Kosol Onwudinjor
Photo: Kosol Onwudinjor

There is also something cheering of thinking that the whole process, from ideation through to production happened in Lagos, arguably Africa’s fashion capital. For Chekwas this element was a non-negotiable aspect for the project: “This is our company’s philosophy. It is in our DNA that all the products we carry will be made in Africa. That’s the only way we can live our company’s purpose of “creating jobs and promoting culture through fashion”.” As the world moves increasingly to a more conscious form of capitalism, such an approach not only resonates with customers but also with notions of sustainability and economic inclusiveness. And for those of us who love our football and fashion with equal fervour, what to wear when Nigeria plays, just got made simpler.

 

 

For the Love of Art: Lisa Folawiyo Autumn/Winter 2018 Presentation

Yesterday evening Lisa Folawiyo chose to step outside the fashion melee of last month and present her Autumn/Winter collection in an art gallery, Rele Gallery to be precise. A risk some might think, surely retailers, clients and members of the press would be thin on the ground to attend, document and most important of all figure out what they are going to order from her latest collection? As it was, the event was unsurprisingly a road-block, you do not, after all become bona-fide African Fashion Royalty and not build a loyal following, in the case of Folawiyo, of the glossiest kind. And besides what is fashion if not wearable art?

Arriving and the space had more of a private view vibe than a major fashion happening, complete with open frames, presumably for the models to walk through, stand inside, do something performative, one couldn’t help speculate? A long single bench much like the ones placed in galleries so one can absorb and fully contemplate a painting was all there was by way of seating and for those who were not speedy, standing was the order of the day. It made for an intimate setting, one which made the focus entirely  on the pieces rather than the FROW and who was wearing what. And the show opener, a model walking through the crowd, barefoot, in a floor length Folawiyo gown and beginning to paint to the sound of Alexndr London’s hypnotic song April gave us a hint of what to expect, which was an immersive experience with a capital E.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

Entitled “Textures, Chaos and Systems” the show notes read more like a curator’s statement with those present being promised “a collection, [that is ] a journey of reflective progression, in Lisa Folawiyo’s visual state of mind”. One was also keyed up by the same statement to look out for Bauhaus architecture influences and exemplum of Folawiyo’s  “bold, unashamed, and rebellious ideology reflected through a self-curated aesthetic.” There was nothing chaotic to my eye in what Folawiyo presented, if anything she has become a master of fluid assymetry, with hemlines, sleeves and backs being her playground of choice. Not for Folawiyo, the obvious and basic option of a plunging neckline and heaving bosom when one can produce an apron shaped exposed back instead, that manages to tread the line between demure elegance and erotic allure simultaneously.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

This is not to say that piping-hot wasn’t available. Erogenous zones a la Folawiyo came courtesy of the exposed midriff, which if you are over 30, stop eating carbs post 6pm and you will be more than fine and able to participate. Alternatively,  if you have been chilling like a villain on a treadmill, or are just naturally, Praise the Lord, built like that, a scandalously short skirt is a seasonal must. It was sexy and sassy and perhaps because other elements were chilled, in the instance of the cocktail dress, via an over the knee hemline and in the case of the micro-mini with a blouse that had a variant of a leg-of-mutton sleeve, didn’t delve into the realm of tarty.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

lisa-folawiyo-dress-with-midriff-beading-and-print

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

Art or rather brush strokes and painters’ splatters was referenced in two signature prints created with Folawiyo’s long time collaborator Banke Kuku, and were the calling card in all of the pieces. Palette wise, blue, grey and green dominated, and as a designer who has made a credo of audacious print combinations, fans of such were not disappointed. A sequence of three quarter length day dresses were  particularly successful in elucidating the aforementioned brave approach to print mixing as too were evening pieces, which brought back the J in Jewel By Lisa with bugle beading and embellishment adding sparkle and glamour to proceedings. Make up also got an artistic re-boot courtesy of painted ears and primary colour accents in the corner of models’ eyes. Accessories were minimal bar the small beaded evening top handle bags that have become another Folawiyo signature.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

For an Autumn/Winter presentation, outerwear was scant although a jacket teamed with a skirt that featured pleats and not one but two prints was a welcome option, with it’s super cinched waist and dramatically long belt. Hero ensemble of the night however was a three tone ( there she goes again with the print-a-cular alchemy) pleated trouser with layered silk blouses atop one another, in the manner of a woman who just cannot decide between the two and decides, sod it, wear both. The trousers felt like a revelation – and it would have been thrilling to have seen the silhouette and the thesis of the piece expanded upon further – perhaps in a light wool for the cold?  But the sky blue blouse with it’s blouson silhouette and accented lapel was a masterclass in what women want to wear right now. As it was styled for the show or with those favourite jeans knocking about in the back of the closet it had useful, and gorgeous and super easy to team with existing items writ large.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

It takes a brave designer to dare to go against the grain in terms of both timing and style of presentation. But Folawiyo is in a powerful position:  known, celebrated and at a juncture in her career where she can experiment and dabble in other visual media without there being adverse consequences on her principal offerings. Significantly, intimacy, authenticity and creating a design language that is truly one’s own have become buzz words in the wider conversations around luxury and fashion in particular. Folawiyo, taking a bow at the end of her show in a shirt of her own design, Monse Jeans and Fendi Shoes illustrated that loving and engaging in fashion needn’t be a straight narrative arc. It can take in art, music, other fashion designers and whatever else might inspire. The order books will be full, as per usual, but perhaps most significant is this is an artist, and let’s face it, fashion is art, who continues to push the envelope with herself and her craft.