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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The final day of Arise Fashion Week felt like the end of a three-day fashion extravaganza with the venue full early. No Naomi today, but supermodel presence was represented with Oluchi and Ogy Okpe who walked for a number of designers and the FROW was a cross section of fashion industry stalwarts, socialites, captains of industry and notable figures in Nigerian and African media. It was this potpourri approach to the guest-list that had resulted in the celebratory energy of the week overall, yes, these people liked fashion, but it was not their business per se, thus entertainment and enjoyment was as much an essential part of the evening as being shocked and awed by the ensembles on the runway.
Moofa’s collection was the first to capture the imagination of both the chilled and more fashion obsessed. Fashola Olayinka is self-trained but her eye for detail belies this. Stylistic ticks such as covering shoes with black tights elongated the models legs and brought focus to the pieces themselves which were print-tacular but sensibly in oh-so-commercial silhouettes. This season the Moofa woman is an African gypsy who has been seduced by tales of the Orient. Maxi dresses and coats were created with a clarity of vision that made it very easy to envision them not only on the shop floor but in many women of all ages closets. Clever, concise and critically commercial, something that many designers wishing to branch out beyond the African continent would be wise to emulate.
Ré, Sunny Rose and Gozel Green all expanded on themes they had explored in collections presented at Lagos Fashion Week. This is not to say the collections in and of themselves felt re-hashed, if anything an increase of pieces shown allowed for theses to be fully be, exactly as the designer and this was particularly evident at Ré where the Japanese Geisha influences were made apparent in the introduction of obi style belts white ankle socks and black sandals on the models’ feet.
For Sunny Rose, rich-girl-chic was still the order of the day but with a monochrome palate of aso’oke and ankara in many pieces, and added flourishes of tulle for those who require it.
Gozel Green remained wedded in a good way, to the ath-leisure motifs, panelling, and contrasting palettes that have become something of a taste talisman for them.
In contrast Maxivive’s show felt more restrained than what was shown previously. Putting props and staging aside, the styling was sober with fewer women walking and the overt references to gender fluidity and the Drag Queen subculture muted to glitter and guy-liner for a less full-on fashion crowd. This didn’t diminish the pieces presented, and as before there was still much to consider when one looked beyond the styling of the show itself, particularly pants, knits and suiting.
For South African brand MaXhosa by Laduma, the collection presented was a means to answer the question of where to take their knitwear trademark beyond the realms of twinsets and pencil skirts. Creative director Laduma Ngxokolo answered with the introduction of ostrich plumes on the hemlines thus creating a day to evening air. Also gorgeous and bound to be a future best-seller was a flared dress that was the definition of pretty. Laduma also experimented with silk prints with a sequence of silk jogging pants sitting somewhere between lounge and evening wear and floor length gowns. Super narrow denim was teamed with graphic t-shirts for men, wrapper skirts were also offered as an option and the signature sweaters continued to be every bit as beguiling as they were when Laduma first appeared on the scene.
Rich Mnisi also ably flew the flag for South Africa and showed why he is considered one of the most exciting voices in African fashion. Coats were a particular triumph with a white gauze coat with a corseted fit particularly strong. Pinstripes came in many iterations, but felt neither dated or dull in Mnisi’s hand. It was refreshing to see a collection that did not feel derivative and instead forged a distinct direction of its own.
Continuing in that theme of charting a path that is both original and gorgeous was Bridget Awosika. As is often her way, Bridget did not offer pieces in a plethora of colours instead sticking to a palette of red black and white. Dresses were tea length and with a cornucopia of sleeve styles and options, but not compromising on the slim line silhouette which is part of her design language. Black cocktail trousers sat somewhere between an old-school jodhpur shape with a delicate ribbon tie on the hem and were an exciting alternative to the proverbial little black dress for evening. Blouses, which have become something of a calling card for Bridget were also present and correct with one narrow barrel sleeved number a God-send for those whose arms are less than spectacular and another with a black silk obi panel equally special. An experimental tuxedo day dress sounded on a paper like it could be clichéd or messy, but in her able hands was clever and sophisticated, the ‘lapels’ appearing on the back of the dress. A black coat with an exposed shoulder might wreak havoc in a snowstorm but would clearly be fun to wear and ever the pragmatist Bridget offered an Origami folded sleeved option too. As the show closed one was left with the boggling decision of which piece you would wear first. It is rare that clothes immediately speak to a critic’s wardrobe, but these ones bellowed ‘Buy Me!’
Tokyo James is the polymath of the fashion scene in Nigeria with art direction and a successful stint running a fashion and style magazine just two of the many strings he has ably added to his bow. Whilst he remains best known for menswear, this season saw him branch out into women’s. The Tokyo James woman is sexy with a bit of the part-time innocent dominatrix about her with the inclusion of a white PVC cocktail dress as the first evening option presented. Low slung leather trousers tiered floor length skirts completed the look of a woman who was destined to stalk her prey at night and devour them by morning. Men’s was a continuation of what Tokyo has become best known for body conscious suiting and coats that create a crisis of which one to wear first when the weather turns. Quilted duster coats are sure to be sell-outs as is a single breasted jacket that foregoes a button as fastening for a safety pin. Nothing is left to chance and polka dot linings peaking through as models walked was testament to a creative director that leaves no detail to chance. For those who need an entry-point piece James has unequivocally branched into footwear with low Cuban heels and rivets and in this label-mania renaissance moment that fashion is currently having ‘Tokyo James’ writ large on the straps and you could also choose to drape yourself in a Tokyo James scarf. Overall it was indicative of a designer who is steadily creating a ‘world’ for consumers to enjoy.
Chulaap’s collection was one that was rewarded murmurs of appreciation, especially as the brand and creative designer behind it Chularp Suwannapha is not known in Nigeria. The directional pieces were a print mash-up with kaleidoscope of colours featuring and the models’ faces concealed by knitwear. Blankets were tied casually on the shoulders and all of the pieces rather than a handful were created with colder weather in mind rather than as an afterthought. However, this is also in part a reflection of the cold snap experienced in South Africa which is not in tropical Africa. Nevertheless, from an Afrocentric perspective the possibility of being swathed in winter staples designed and made entirely on the continent was thrilling.
The night and evening closed with a triumvirate of design heavyweights from Nigeria (although Chulaap was sandwiched between the two) and in many ways we were given a snapshot of the story so far for the Lagos design scene in particular, which has been dominated by certain names for some time. Odio Minomet’s collection played to her strengths which have seen her garner a loyal clientele addicted to her way with prints and lavish fabrics such as lace, lame and silks. Her series of cocktail dresses and evening pieces was especially pleasing and definitely aimed at a grown woman rather than an ingénue. It was bold and ultimately a financially savvy approach especially when we live in an age which for the most part worships youth that in turn might not have the means to buy into the brand.
Tsemaye Binitie produced a collection that like many seen this week teamed traditional fabric aso’oke and rejuvenated it for a younger audience. Opening with actress, model and all-round media darling Eku Edewor was a stroke of genius and a cropped trench coat and an asymmetric lace shift were reminders of how his designs had caught the attention of the international press and influential retailers. Less successful was an evening gown sequence which felt rushed and would have perhaps been best omitted altogether. But there were enough elements that meant the collection will keep him in the cross hairs as one of the continent’s ‘ones to watch’.
Mai Atafo’s closing collection featured the pieces that his customers, for the most part men with considerable means, have grown to know and love. Velvet smoking jackets brocade and body conscious trousers remain part of his winning formula. However, the exciting development was the fulsome and thoughtful offerings he gave to women’s wear whilst still remaining loyal to his tailoring instincts. The pieces were for women who were principal boy rather than femme fatale, with over sized burgundy bow ties on coats, double breasted jackets and slim fit trousers and brocade frock coats that were nipped in at the waist but still teamed with masculine caps. Atafo, known for his statement off duty options, with his ‘Beard Gang’ print shirts proving particularly popular last season, followed them up this season with ‘Isi Agu’ pullovers with the Igbo lion print re=invented for winter. It was a noteworthy direction for a designer who could easily sit back at the helm of men’s occasion wear in particular. But what is fashion if not evolution and Atafo closed the week leaving audiences with an impression of there being so much more to come.
Arise Fashion Week was an undeniable success, the excitement and conversations that it continues to occupy both domestically, regionally and globally speak to that. Some might say it was all down to organisers booking supermodels, others too might point out that aside from a N300 million fund for designers announced, there was scant information on how it success would be tracked and measured, but this is perhaps to miss the point. Even those with a neutral relationship to clothes were aware of the happenings in Lagos Intercontinental Hotel. Furthermore, there are other platforms that exist in Lagos that provide a more buyers friendly focus and supply chain support that is needed to grow the industry as a whole. Perhaps a thought for future weeks is a further edit of participants so audiences do not flag when viewing collections that honestly do not pass muster. However, in our information saturated age, one has to be talked about, and Arise Fashion Week with its combination of scale and omnipresence has effectively made African Fashion an inevitable part of the global fashion conversation.
Day Two of Arise Fashion Week brought out the style tribes in full force, and clients, friends and muses of the likes of Tiffany Amber, Kenneth Ize and Style Temple wore their sartorial hearts on their sleeves. For those who were not industry insiders these ensembles gave a clue of what to expect once said shows commenced, but it also indicated that Lagos, like any other fashion capital in the world, operated on the twin fuels of patronage and buzz, with enthusiasms flamed furthrt via Social Media. It was also the evening that cemented the intent of Arise Fashion Week which was now clearly sitting on the nexus of fashion event and family entertainment as the likes of Seyi Shey took to the runway to perform in show intermissions. Did this distract from the clothes themselves, maybe, but it did not diminish from the cheers and perhaps this was precisely the whole point; for those who took or indeed still take fashion terribly seriously, to loosen up, have fun and not be staring too intently at the runway for the schedule to run to order and to time.
As with Day One the audience didn’t truly come to life until a popular designer’s show commenced. And the first to experience such was Funke Adepoju, who sent down the runway a series of pieces featuring fringe aplenty that had already received the stamp of approval of social media influencers, bloggers and socialites with one cobalt jumpsuit already on the back of Ozinna Anumudu, a woman who like the likes of Olivia Palermo and Alexa Chung is oft imitated by her legion of followers. It was and indeed is a smart approach for the brand take, but for longevity expanding on the array of ensembles offered would also be beneficial. Not for the first or indeed the last time this evening were we treated to an evening and occasion wear heavy collection with little offered to the working woman, the off-duty but still desiring to look pulled together on the weekend woman or the woman who may actually need some sort of cover-up when travelling from point A to B. But if you want to slay at a wedding reception or a similar function, look no further.
Fresh from providing the suiting for the groom and his men at the society wedding of the year in Lagos between Dangote heiress Fatima and political scion Jamil Abubakar, Kimono Kollection’s creative director Hakeem Balogun used his show-time to augment in the minds of his existing clients and potential ones that he was a one stop shop for men’s evening wear and contemporary traditional. In doing so he was potentially treading on the toes of more established names such as Mai Atafo and Ugo Monye, but what is fashion without a healthy dollop of competition to motivate designers to push further? It was a confident showing from the menswear brand of the hour, with plenty of his high single breasted and buttoned jackets, a speedy exposition of classic trad silhouettes.
Conversely, Tzar another menswear brand with an established clientele decided to expand into women’s pieces with mixed results. Far stronger was creative director Ian Audifferen’s continued experimentation with fabric contrasts, layering and fluidity with several high-points including a stand-out shirt ties on the cuff, and praises be, coats and cardigans that did not appear as an afterthought, but were a distinct and necessary part of his vision. This is the lane we wish Tzar to stay in, not that it is good or right to be so didactic, but when the pieces are working as they are, one can’t help but psychically say ‘Stop, this is it, no need for anything further.’ But what is creativity in its truest sense if said creative doesn’t continue to push the proverbial envelope and seek other fora for expression? In the meantime there is plenty to pimp a man’s Autumn/Winter wardrobe sharply.
Washington Roberts sent down his strongest collection yet, one which had piece after piece of covetable, wearable fashion, that didn’t fall into bore-snore territory. As my stylish neighbour said ‘the sort of clothes that if a girl was wearing them would make you want to ask her for dinner’. Not because they were sexy in an obvious way either, but because they celebrated the feminine form without descending into sleazy territory. Show opener a slimline black silver and red dress over cigarette pant was an exposition of less is more adage and waist cut outs in a sequence of dresses retained their high fashion credentials by not cutting too deep into the midriff. The collection was held together with a repeated drop shoulder motif and bold visible zips. Hemline shapes were also given a reboot with a knee length, U-shape with a high centre slit echoing the same notion of hinting rather than revealing everything. Pieces also were critically figure kind – the heavy of hip could participate with a fifties full skirted dress and the aforementioned skirts were leg lengtheners. Though the collection was gimmick free it was nevertheless quietly powerful and felt like a watermark from the Washington of old.
Style Temple and Kenneth Ize had both shown at Lagos Fashion Week so it was a question of what else? In the instance of Style Temple, creative director OG Okonkwo took it up a notch with a full collection rather than the abridged one experienced previously and two distinct shapes for wearers to choose from: the 18th century silhouette with exaggerated hip line found itself fully on trousers, dresses and skirts and is an obvious choice for the fashion-girl-about-town. However an alternative silhouette for the less daring was also offered and this skimmed rather than hugged body and came in an array of silk jerseys. Existing fans will be pleased and continue to buy.
In Kenneth Ize’s instance the wunderkind expanded his central thesis of re-imagining traditional print techniques, but extended the palette with lemon yellow tie dye also featuring heavily alongside purple and black iterations. The jumbo scarves, that have become the perfect entry-point piece into the world according to Ize were also presented as wrappers, a nod to Southern and Eastern Nigerian traditional attire that has men in such rather than trousers and for the ladies there were more jackets only this time belted tightly at the waist. It was an assured showing and the Kenneth Ize army was in raptures at his close. For the designer whose pieces are currently adorning most of the mannequins in Alara, he can currently do no wrong.
Tiffany Amber is part of Africa’s fashion establishment so it was only right and proper that Naomi Campbell should open for her show, which was a paean to the power of a woman. Creative Director Folake Coker has become a mistress of modernising but still retaining the Nigerian female aesthetic, and so on Naomi we saw the traditional iro buba with an oleku silk skirt given a contemporary twist via a button down blouse that had plumed ostrich feather sleeves. The rest of the collection was a veritable greatest hits of some of her signature pieces but with Autumn/Winter taken into consideration hence basket weave cocoon coats and jackets and floor length opera coats with applique flowers. As is the way with Tiffany Amber this was luxury with a capital L and so wide legged palazzo pants were in silk jersey and dresses came with beading and embellishment and if volume could be added to a piece why the hell not? Many of the pieces were worn with hats, harking back to an era when formality and glamour went hand in hand. But to understand Tiffany Amber is to in many ways understand the innate aesthetic of the Nigerian and African woman. We love glamour, we love being properly put together, yes Millennials might embrace off duty, but the fact that Tiffany Amber remains among the ultimate #weddinggoals outfitter of choice in this demographic too speaks to an innate understanding that Folake has for her customers, both existing and potential. The Tiffany Amber Squad were on their feet at the end of the show and there was a mass exodus of the hall, but this is to be expected when the audience felt that they had seen and experienced the fashion promised land.
For those of us who were committed and stayed on, Tinie Tempah’sWhat We Wear collection was a master class in ath-leisure especially on a night when so many designers had toyed with it conceptually to varying levels of success. Capitalising on his credentials as a grime artist who is as comfortable in an underground pirate radio station rapping as he is in an exquisitely cut dinner jacket at the GQ Man of The Year awards he infused his collection with elements of street wear but brought the posh chap vibe via luxe fabric choices, seen in particular effect with a velvet zipped jacket with tailored track pants. Heritage was also explored in the choice of aso’oke and vibrant print which was used to great effect with shirts teamed with slim fit tan pants or oversize fleeces teamed with print pants. Many pieces came tagged with WWW, a logo that cleverly sat between street art and logomania. However, what was most beguiling about the pieces was the credibility, these were not pieces created to jump on the music-meets-runway bandwagon where every pop artist quickly puts together a fashion brand. These were pieces born out of a musician’s love for fashion with a deep understanding of exactly what his peers and his fans want to wear.
And so it was left to Ozwald Boateng’s closing show to provide a fulsome elucidation of what happens when one fuses African elements with the revered tailoring techniques of Savile Row. A short film contextualised his work thus far with cameos from Will Smith, Jamie Foxx and Sir Richard Branson, who of course are all loyal Boateng customers. An opening look of a jacket with another jacket robed was simultaneously arresting and fresh. A cobalt blue single breasted jacket and a forest green iteration hinted at classic Ozwald but were somewhat more muted, an accurate reflection of the times and white Converse plimsolls brought levity and modernity to proceedings. Ozwald still gave a splash of ostentation and also unusually for him, featured women in his pieces quite heavily too; a strong nod in the gender neutral times we now live in with women in men’s pieces merely part of the new normal. Texture and cut were also front and centre in every piece, and one could tell that much thought had gone into how each piece would interact on the wearer. Does one need stroke-able sleeves, do hands need to be pretty much enveloped in tangerine silk cuffs, are hats essential? Ozwald answered all these sartorial questions and more. And of course, because it was Ozwald, Ms Campbell walked the catwalk once more. After a number of collections viewed earlier in the day where execution had been patchy it was pleasing to see such beautifully constructed and well finished pieces. It was as if the master had returned for the specific purposes of schooling those younger on exactly how to give and close a show. And for customers young and old, male or indeed female there was a full forty ensembles to choose from. Day two may have ended late, but it was worth it for those interested in a lesson in the good arts of cut and colour wizardry that Ozwald has made his own.
Arise Fashion Week commenced with the kind of buzz and excitement that most platforms can only dream about. But then this is what happens when you have a multi-channel broadcasting conglomerate capturing every moment, charismatic leadership in the form of Nduka Obaigbena and Ruth Osime as part of your communications arsenal and more than a smattering of celebrity guests in the seats. Put simply, Arise was trending and that was even before a model had walked the runway. There was also a serious dose of expectation – would the original fashion week, the one that was a catalyst for the careers of many fashion veterans in Nigeria and across the Africa live up to expectations and all this hype? Especially when an anticipated start on Friday was moved to Saturday? And in a month that had already witnessed autumn presentations at Lagos Fashion Week what would be the differentiator for attendees and retail buyers? As the lights dimmed on what had been described as ‘Africa’s Most Beautiful Runway’ the stage was well and truly set.
After a series of emergent talents, the first show to get that engaged the audience was ‘About That Curvy Life’ collective. The revolving group of designers selected by creative visionary Latasha Ngwube were once more flying the flag for plus-size fashion. In an age where fashion has increasingly embraced inclusiveness not only as a buzz-word but a call to action, it was encouraging to see the designers selected pushing the envelope in terms of theme and execution. What in previous seasons had felt like a celebration of difference was now more about creating wearable pieces. The military touches in the opening sequence of pieces including berets on all the models who marched out to Davido’s mega-hit, Fia, also of particular note were the jumpsuits and day wear. The cheers said it all – plus size fashion was here to stay and Latasha continues to discover an array of voices to express what women and men want to wear right now.
Still on a theme on fashion’s diversification was Abaya Lagos’ modesty enthused collection. A smart move from a commercial perspective as this is a segment of the market that continues to grow beyond the confines of the Middle East. We were treated to the notion that concealing needn’t be a one-note affair of tunics and variants of salwar kameezes and pieces played on proportion such as draped culottes, interspersed with intricate panelling and beadwork on the backs of jackets and coats adding a further element of surprise. Sandals were flat and hair was covered in coordinating turbans, and the collection as a whole served as an antidote to what had become tired tropes as well as an invitation to those who may not be obligated by their faith to flirt with modesty and thus make it mainstream.
The star turn in more ways than one in the evening belonged to Lanre Da Silva Ajayi – where we finally got a realisation of why the catwalk had been given the moniker of Africa’s most beautiful. Opening her show and in many ways shutting everything else in the process was Naomi Campbell in a metallic fringed cocktail dress that has the crowd at fever pitch and some behind on their feet (probably all the better to capture footage for the ‘gram). The collection played to the strengths of the Lanre design playbook of providing women with strong occasion wear. Indeed, there was plenty to choose from for the glamorous woman who flits from cocktail party to wedding and is sometimes sighted on the Red Carpet too. However, for a designer who has carved a successful niche dressing well-heeled socialites there was a heady dose of potential scandal provoking dressing, with gauzy pleated jumbo sleeved gowns that revealed the full form of Oluchi and the other models who wore them. Lined, as many will probably eventually order them, they will lose much of their insouciance, but they signified a designer who is not content to rest on her laurels and is keen to court a younger edgier clientele.
Kluk CGDT was the big ticket offering from South Africa, and they too opened their show with Naomi only this time in a lilac trench coat. It was welcome to see a coat open an Autumn/Winter fashion presentation series, especially as so many who presented had failed to offer any meaningful options for clothing that would work in colder climes. However, the collection lacked clear cohesiveness, apart from lilac tying it together as just about every silhouette fabric option and hemline made its way onto the runway. On one level one could see this as commercial savvy, there was bound to be one or two things that might look like viable wardrobe options for everyone but in reality it felt as if there was a lack of focus. What sort of woman would wear these pieces? How did they mirror her world view, perceptions and dreams, because clothing, apart from doing the obvious of covering us from the elements, is meant to hint at these inner realities.
At Fashpa a different issue was at hand, the collection in many ways worked well and it was clearly aimed at a young girl-about-town. However, it was reminiscent of many pieces seen by other noted designers, early Maki Oh in particular, and one couldn’t help but look and think whether the good people at fashion-knock-offs call-out Instagram handle Diet Prada wouldn’t spot an homage too many. It is an interesting time, for fashion overall, and this collection put the following questions sharply into focus: how much of this is homage, how much bricolage and how much copy-paste? One could discuss this at length, and yes, there are no right or wrong answers.
Menswear was ably presented by Laurence Airline, a brand that continues to successfully occupy a space called stylish quirk and keep men, and a lot of women who simply buy a small and get on with it, more than satisfied. A palette of cobalt with yellow invigorated the senses and plaid and patterns were mixed with the confidence of a designer who has mastered the art of combining print with ease. Ath-leisure accents were introduced via hooded tops, plaid, and a trouser in the palest pink which had a drawstring waistband, as well as stripes galore Accessories also hinted at a complete approach to ensembles, with the Laurence Airline man foregoing a briefcase and instead carrying his essentials in giant Ghana-Must-Go bags and adorning his neck with orange duck-tape rather than something as pedestrian as a necklace. It was a confident showing of a brand that has quietly grown from strength to strength and married Ivorian and Parisian sensibility with ease.
The evening closed with Andrea Iyamah a designer who is as much known for her ready-to-wear and occasion pieces as she is for her beachwear. In this instance she gave us her vision for sun-kissed beach days and sent her trademark high legged bikinis and one pieces down the runway. Moving on from the vibrant print choices of previous collections, the palate was highly commercial and easy to wear whatever your hue or race, with coral, slate grey, mustard and a deep fuchsia dominating. A canny decision especially as beachwear remains a nascent sector in Africa, thus the more potential participants the better. Existing fans will definitely continue to patronise and new ones will also be won both in Africa and beyond.
For those who blinked into the night once the lights came up in the auditorium, there was definitely a sense of having witnessed a return to form from Team Arise. The banks of reporters were there, a sense of occasion was achieved and Social Media went into meltdown once a certain Naomi Campbell walked the runway. Furthermore there did not seem to be a conflation of purposes, Lagos Fashion Week follows a more established modus operandi of building the fashion industry in a holistic manner and Arise Fashion Week brings sparkle, buzz and entertainment to proceedings. This is not a case of ifs and ors but space and more.
Last days of anything are always tinged with sadness, and so it was with Lagos Fashion Week. You get into a sort of rhythm and there is something about the different elements of the fashion industry coalescing, from designers, to conveners, to buyers, models and enthusiasts that reaches fever pitch at the end. We all have a part to play and together, with a prevailing wind, something can emerge.
The day’s opener Maxivive certainly had community front and centre in his collection, with its glitter glitter drenched set that had ‘Glistening” emblazoned on a theatrical curtain. A baby’s bath and a lilo were placed stage left and right, a reference to water and it’s ability to both cleanse and renew. When the first model walked out, looking fab-u-lous in a green and red trimmed single breasted suit, hair in a bouffant and in full drag-make-up, we knew we were in for a drama filled ride that referenced the high-season of drag culture which was chronicled in the seminal documentary feature film, Paris Is Burning. The film was a watermark in putting a spotlight on the African-American and Latin Gay and Transgender communities and how they found self expression and freedom via the ball-culture, which in itself ended up in the mainstream via Madonna and her 90’s mega-hit Vogue.
Our ring-mistress for the presentation, held court, as an array of men indrag make-up and women who were bearded and butched-up paraded around the set in the gender neutral pieces. Some viewing might have been so immersed in the theatre of the show that they missed the clothes so to speak, but there were plenty of pieces that were marvels in construction, and could, once runway styling was removed, be worn with aplomb. A midnight blue single breasted jacket with buttons on the back was shown here in for the evening only satin, however in a wool rendition would be a conversation starter and deal closer in any boardroom. Okay, maybe in an advertising agency or film studio rather than bank, but the main point is construction is second to none at Maxivive. Equally charming and is my own personal wish-list was a crisp white women’s shirt with dove grey gloves attached, a simultaneously practical, arresting and insane idea that solved the perennial winter minefield of lost gloves. And for those who have fully embraced athleisure and utility but want to up the ante, a tangerine boiler suit and an ensemble featuring lurex leggings worn with a jacket, oversize t and trainers were chilled by way of the disco-glam. On a deeper level creative director Papa Oyeyeni was daring us to embrace our fierceness, queerness and individuality. Life was all too brief and glorious to fade anonymously into the background and the clothes we wear should be a statement of intentional living. Do you, and for goodness sake, take it up a notch.
In contrast Sunny Rose’s Maureen Okogwu had entirely different ideas for the women wearing her pieces and the mandate said pieces provide. For the Sunny Rose woman life is all about luxe-living with a capital L with some gauzy silk aso’oke print and lace for good measure. The collection was evening and cocktail heavy, with a ball gown among the pieces alongside silk pewter jumpsuits, lace pencil skirt suits layered with turquoise long sleeved chiffon blouses and hip skimming boot cut pants in brushed gold and aquamarine. A sequence of teal, grey and white aso’oke pieces, the finest of which was a maxi house coat, brought to mind an At Home, the African edition, in a grand colonial era villa, complete with trays filled with champagne coupes and Salif Keita playing on the discreet Bose speakers as guests toasted the host on another successfully concluded multi-million dollar deal. Does the Sunny Rose woman work? Certainly, although the pieces evoked private income and philanthropy rather than running through the city hustle game on and with her spare phone plugged into a power-bank. But if a collection is about distilling what living the dream looks like, then this most definitely was it. And everything that went on the runway, had sell-fast and sell-out for a certain well-heeled customer.
Before it had even commenced the Emmy Kasbit show was a sell-out as guests squished onto benches and resorted to standing to see the latest from this evergreen and ever-popular brand. The ethical fashion moniker certainly helps in these environmentally conscious times and the added celebrity endorsement in the form of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is also a great way to ensure the tills keep ringing. However, this evening we also saw an assured collection that lived up to the hype and the major fandom action that was evident in the audience. Conceived with a clear eyed vision the palette was restrained with pinstripes in black and camel underpinning the collection and pops of colour coming courtesy of either olive green aso’oke panelling or red and yellow rhombus patterned aso’oke. Polo necks in fire engine red, sky blue or grass green were the winter warmer of choice and accessories came in an assortment of outsize and exotic hides, some bearing slogans and art that are guaranteed to make even the dourest smile on the morning commute. The silhouette was slim and dare one say it unforgiving, but assuming you had been minding your carbs and visiting the gym you would look more than fantastic in everything. An assured showing for a brand that only seems set to grow stronger with each season.
The night concluded with Onalaja, and she chose to do a sartorial deep dive into the art of dressing entirely in black. But with one caveat, make sure it’s high octane glamour, your heels are high hair scraped off your face and eyes are lined fullu. Hemlines and silhouettes moved around as colour was the only unifier so offerings ranged from a frou-frou A-line polka-dot netted cocktail dress to a long column dress, embellished evening coat, textured and structured culottes teamed with a silk vest and a pour-your-body-into boot cut jersey pant with beaded tunic top. It was very easy to see both the commerciality of this collection and by having such an array of silhouettes the way it would appeal to an audience, who judging from their cheers like to go out a lot and needed everything shown, like yesterday. A fitting end to a Lagos Fashion Week governed by the see now, love now, buy now model.
As the crowds walked out into the night, until the next October edition one couldn’t help but feel that increasingly Lagos Fashion Week is reflecting what the fashion industry is and should be: diverse, experimental, commercial, glossy and with a necessary dash of rebellion. Just as we all do not look the same, nor should we all dress the same, and the twelve designers who showed shared their vision and kindly invited us to partake should we wish to. Some designers are clearly heading for the stratosphere, but all are an essential ingredient to the industry’s continued growth. Whatever the world may say Lagos is an undeniable fashion capital, and with the necessary capacity building and further industry cohesion it will soon become a retail destination too.
Day Two at Lagos Fashion Week will probably be best as the day where epic waits nevertheless yielded visually worth it moments. But far more than moments at fashion week we are seeking first and foremost direction and options. Direction in the form of clearly thought out expositions of what we should be wearing and the transformative effect said items might have on how we feel and second options in how to wear them. Some designers chose to follow this rubric to stunning effect.
The evening commenced with Sisiano, a designer who like many on the night chose to present both women’s wear and menswear. In Planet Sisiano Autumn Winter 2018 is all about wandering around in a sea of powder pink, camel, mustard and white with a dollop of bottle and olive green. The silhouette for both men and women was for the most part fluid, think cowl shapes, asymmetric long line cardigans, and trousers that were low in the crotch, but did not delve into costume territory. So far, so pleasing, especially when designed for men with several high-notes including a velvet and chiffon pullover teamed with wide leg trousers which had me, my neighbour and someone behind me let out an audible sigh. Also clever, surprising and ever so wearable was a bottle green trouser with a tuxedo style stripe but a utility fit. The women’s pieces though nice enough, seemed more mixed in message and approach, with body con, frou-frou, and retro 70’s references all being put into the pot to mixed effect. However, it was no matter as the men’s pieces more than made up for it.
Ré too sent out a collection of mixed efforts. Known as a maestro of aso’oke she surprised with an opener of silk aquamarine long wrapped skirt and cropped balloon sleeved blouse before returning to presenting aso’oke pieces of varying lengths and strengths. One can definitely see the white dropped shoulder shirt dress mini finding a way and a special place into many closets. The same could be said for the trapezium rainbow shift dress, however, the a line thigh grazing skirts with matching cropped tops and the chiffon and aso’oke baby doll dresses less so. A series of long line waistcoats with trousers were again an attempt to show versatility – but within this particular collection, felt more like an add-on than an essential ingredient. An electric blue zig-zag cape top teamed with pale grey high waisted cigarette pant was beautifully executed and hinted at where the collection could have gone. Sometimes it truly is a case of less being more.
And then there was Kenneth Ize. The wait was epic, but it was obvious from the start that the show had the makings of something remarkable. Taste makers, style icons and retailers took their perches in the front row with Reni Folawiyo, Nkiru Anumudu, Ozinna Anumudu, Tola Adegbite and Yegwa Ukpo among those keen to see the collection, and presumably purchase. The collection was entirely made from either aso’oke, in this instance fashioned into rich psychedelic palette combinations from teal with mustard to aubergine with a gold shot egg-yolk and tye-dye cottons in indigo, black and canary. But this was not a walk down memory lane with fabrics that are part of Nigerian apparel history, but a re-fashioning and re-purposing which made every piece, seem to psychically shout ‘Buy Me And Change Your Life Forever!’. For the bold; there was a series of single breasted double vented jackets for both men and women, with slim-line pants that were oh-so-covetable. For those who preferred things more subdued jumbo scarves, surely a bestseller in and of themselves and a glorious Missoni Who? flourish were teamed with black and white aso’oke pants to giddying effect, and a men’s tye dye tunic was a clean re-imagining of trad: be modern and if your ankles can handle it,do it the Ize way and forego trousers. Even the footwear, brushed leather sandals that came in complimentary colours to the pieces they adorned, were straight no chaser, shoe fire. It is rare that a collection feels like a stupefying and delicious cocktail, which you feel you can drink from forever, without a dodgy hangover of overkill. This was definitely it and one feels that the only words fit by way of conclusion are thank you.
Style Temple’s OG Okonkwo knows what the modern femme-fatale wants in her wardrobe playbook; pieces that are slinky, sexy and work a charm late in the evening and this season she offered a collection of just ten pieces that would more than fulfil their demands but with some interesting additions. Show opener took us to the 18th Century with a white skirt that had a hoop petticoat silhouette and was teamed with a white bodice that was more adorned bra with capsicum orange lace trailing straps. It was such a strong beginning, but the concept was sadly abandoned for a series of silk jersey culottes, dresses and trousers that came out in palette pairs of electric blue, imperial purple and fuschia pink and white. Sleeves were asymmetric, with trumpet sleeves teamed with bare, some trousers featuring slits and some dresses coming with harness type ties. There were surprisingly, for an Autumn Winter Collection no coats or cover-ups offered, perhaps when you look this hot your life is a series of chauffeurs, private jets and perfect temperature controlled rooms, but the omission was a missed opportunity as too was choosing not to expand on the theme of corsetry, so intriguingly expressed in the first sequence of the show.
With his increasingly growing portfolio in brand ambassador duties it can be easy to forget that Adebayo Oke-Lawal is first and foremost Creative Director of Orange Culture, a brand that has done much to push the conversation of gender dynamics and simultaneously make pieces that are commercially successful. Unlike anyone else, he provided show notes drawing out the themes of precipitation, it’s transformative effect and the fact that grown men are never given a space to cry. It is always pleasing to see such touches, as apart from anything else it gives context and sets parameters of purpose not only for the collection, but also for the clothes. What are we seeing here? How will one feel when one wears it? These are important questions to be answered, especially when selling luxury. A set was created, with umbrellas suspended from the roof, perhaps to catch those tears of joy, and to hint at a collection that also offered pieces that indicated a change of season. Standouts, and there were a number, included an abbreviated trench coat with cowries shells on the belt hoops, a mustard single breasted jacket with a sole jumbo purple button as fastening, an oxblood apron skirt worn over trousers and a series of print two pieces that take you from day to evening with élan. Women’s wear, which I have always felt was not needed, just wear the men’s pieces a la Katherine Hepburn and be done with it, came in the form of long line tunics, which were competent but did not pack as much as a punch as the men’s pieces. Knitwear, continues to be a developing and welcome addition to each Orange Culture collection, with a pink and purple sweater with Pierrot style collar, hinting at the theme of emotional expression and inhibition seen in the Commedia Del Arte. The hero piece was however a claret and black long line tunic sweater which was masterful in its tessellation which created a chequer-board of skin and wool.
The close of Day Two definitely felt as if there were plenty of reasons for consumers and industry players to be excited and the men’s pieces and collections were particularly strong. As with all creative disciplines fashion is principally about story-telling, and for the designers who conceived and charted a clear narrative arc for us to follow and created must-have pieces in the process, the future is bright not just here in Lagos but globally too. A definite case of watch this space and be happy you were there to witness the magic when it happened.
As the great philosopher Socrates noted, “no condition is permanent” and so it was with Lagos Fashion Week Day One which in many ways presented a change of order. Apart from the name change (design has been ditched and official has been added to the IG handle, more of that later), there was also a shift in format and of course venue. Attendees were offered for the first time a see now buy now model, a trend that has been adopted by some of the biggest global brands, and discreet order sheets were placed at the end of each bench, so one could presumably go wild in the aisles if you were buying for your store or indeed yourself. It was an important touch, as it also allowed for designers to test the temperature for certain pieces, before going into full-on production mode. Also of note was the space, the ground floor of the Wings Buildings was reminiscent of noughties New York off schedule presentations in down town Manhattan or Fashion East in London, before it got mega-investment and became glossy with it: the Industrial concrete flooring, triple height ceiling and plain white benches meant the clothes rather than any epic set were the stars of the show.
The night opened with Gozel Green, the design duo that embarked on a glowing international show rooms tour organised by Style House Files last autumn and have garnered a loyal clientele who love their play on proportion, finishing and contrasting palettes. For this season, all of those elements were present and correct, so no major scares for the core customer. However, and this was an exciting development, we were treated to athleisure motifs which found their way into pieces from the toggles on the hemlines of skirts and dresses through to a hoodie finish on a cropped blouse with the emblem “Me, My Earth, My Culture”.
Outerwear also experienced an existential moment as jackets had partially exposed sleeves, surely the cold would get in one thought, or maybe we were meant to rethink what it was to be a jacket, with the exposed opening an invitation to wear a contrasting long sleeved vest underneath? Either way it was a winner that got my pen twitching on that order sheet!
Also of note was a lime apron dress, with pleating and body-merciful cocoon silhouette, it is no surprise that Gozel Green has managed to achieve the hallowed feat of appealing across age-groups. Worn with trainers or as the models did here with wooden sandals with net meshing and you were a Millennial, pop on some heels and if you are not delighted by your upper arms, a white shirt, and boom, Coolest Auntie Ever/Fashion forward executive. Continuity with a dollop of new doth a great collection make,
As Beyoncé’s ‘Party’ came blasting from the speakers it was clear that Mo Agusto’s collection was going to be for the rockers in the house. Show opener, a silk satin a line mini in midnight and ice blue was definitely revving of engine hot, and it was clear that the Mo Agusto woman would probably have ‘Slay Queen’ in her Instagram Bio.
We were treated to a pallete that alternated between blush pink and raspberry with sheer white accents or midnight blue and ice with silver. Aso’oke featured heavily, either as a contrasting silver panel on a three quarter length jumpsuit or in all its glory in a sugar pink only for the brave or sensational of leg a-line mini dress and slim line city shorts.
There were hints of historicism in the sheer blouses with their exaggerated ruff on the wrist, and modesty and commerciality had been taken into consideration with hemlines either at a modest mid-calf or for the brave grazing mid-thigh. She is definitely a designer whose popularity, particularly in her home market, is assured.
Last show of the night and by no means least was IAMISIGO. We knew we were in for a spectacle, or as much as one could have within the new austere space when a set of ten chairs was placed, in a formation that had me thinking of childhood games of Musical Chairs. Would the models have to fight it out for the last chair? Of course, I should have known better from Bubu Ogisi, who is far too cool to opt for such a gimmick.
Instead models sauntered in, hair in a studied bird’s nest disarray, and with white Ori chalk marks across their faces. Show opener a powder blue trouser suit with a lime overlay was a stunner. Fist bumps and double marks for the layering effect of the trousers and the contrasting colour on the jacket and the frankly inspired use of Guinea Brocade, which is often associated with menswear, in so many of the pieces. Why should the boys have all the fabric fun so to speak?
The seemingly unfinished side hems on many of the pieces hinted at a girl, who just couldn’t be bothered with preening, knew when she looked great and kept it moving. A white floor sweeper dress and an off the shoulder lime and white two piece reflected this ethos perfectly: day, evening, beach, at home, all will be well, style wise at least in these pieces.
A collaboration with It-Accessories brand Shekudo pulled everything together as the aso’oke weave on the footwear married well with the brocade on top. A surprise and great addition was the denim sequence with one double layered coat, destined to become an Autumn-Winter hero piece. IAMISIGO ensured that Day One closed on the high we all wanted and indeed expected.
As to what to expect from Lagos Fashion Week Official, still with founder Omoyemi Akerele at the helm, I think the clue is in the name. A focus on location (Lagos, Nigeria and also Africa in a wider sense) and the vitality and creative brilliance that has chosen here for its home is an obvious objective. Secondly, there are the aims of genuinely augmenting the diverse actors, organisations and systems that not only constitutes, but also are necessary for a healthy industry. This is seen in particular in the Fashion Focus funds that emerging designers have access to, and the order sheets which allow the designers showing presently to immediately make money. And finally, the addition of the word Official, we have all seen it a hundred times on the ‘gram, especially in issues of celebrities wanting to distinguish themselves as the ‘real deal’, but in this particular instance it is about authenticity of intent. Yes, we all love a party, especially one where fabulous ensembles come into play, but come here, show here and buy here and you are supporting an industry into its future.
Once upon a time in Planet Fashion there were three kingdoms. Haute-Couture was a mythical, magical place where pieces took months to make and were destined to be worn by the minted and gifted (that would be billionaires and Hollywood A-Listers during Awards Season). Pret-A-Porter an almost equally fantastical place was where beautiful clothes were still the order of the day, although retail and shops were in mind rather than customers who had never flown commercial, hence a shorter turnaround time in the presenting and making and greater profits for designers. And then there was Diffusion; call her the spunkier younger sister of Pret-a-Porter, obviously related, but with a different point of view: pieces were often edgier, fabrics maybe not quite as luxe and because of this clothes were a great deal cheaper. Of course there was another kingdom, sprawling in size and bigger than everything else put together called High-Street, but that’s a story for another day.
But returning to our siblings Pret-a-Porter and Diffusion; things have been what can one say, complicated in terms of growth, development and market share. It used to be simple go to any department store in the world and the sister’s domains were clear cut for a shopper: one floor would be full of Pret-a-Porter, Dolce and Gabanna, Marc Jacobs, Donna Karan, Prada and so on and the next floor would be full of diffusion: D&G, Marc by Marc Jacobs, DKNY and Miu Miu. But consumer habits (happy to shop in the High Street Kingdom for most things, save/max the credit card for key pieces in Pret-a-Porter and remortgage their home/pray they bagged a billionaire for Haute Couture) meant some of these Diffusion brands have shuttered, and in the aforementioned list only Miu Miu has successfully transitioned from younger sister to player in her own right as its quirky aesthetic was refined to something every bit as covetable as Prada’s.
However, observe the African markets and things are a little different. The love and devotion to looking fantastic is every bit as intense (in fact I would argue sometimes more so), as in other parts of the world, but the way that the industry has developed means there is space and in fact a desperate need for diffusion lines. It begins with the absurdity that ALMOST everyone, and this is no exaggeration, perceives and describes themselves as ‘Couture’ never mind that hems remain unfinished, construction hit and miss, petit-main precision is nowhere to be seen and the fabrics are itchy-scratchy synthetic rather than the finest silks, wools or cottons. This is not to say that there are no lines producing haute-couture in Lagos or elsewhere in Africa, but the waters are muddied by there being no clear demarcations and the term being used with no real understanding of what it takes to produce like that. A Second reason for a need for diffusion is due to the current locus that the most of the celebrated designers in Africa are operating in, the Pret-a-Porter Demi-Couture space, being where production costs and attendant challenges gobble up margins most. While some fashionistas in Lagos eye roll and hiss at the cost of a Bridget Awosika, Orange Culture or Lisa Folawiyo Studio piece, it is quite simply not easy to produce and retail here in Nigeria, and we would all be kind to remember that these are businesses and luxury brands not our tailor that we all have on speed-dial to whip something up sharpish.
– With upgraded High-pressure pulse technology, it shortens the time spent on daily flossing from 120 seconds to 60 seconds, while still promises the effect on teeth whitening.
– For oral care, it also provides 3 flossing modes (Normal, Soft and Pulse) for each purpose.
– From 40-90psi with 1700 pulses per minute, high-intensity pulse water column cleans away 99.99% of plaque.
– A reliable & professional dental oral irrigator for you to trust.
Stepping up to the challenge of developing a sibling brand to feed insatiable fashion needs here is Lisa Folawiyo, who launched her diffusion line J Label to critical acclaim at Temple Muse last month: “there was a growing need for us to fill an increasingly widening gap in the Nigerian fashion market…a need for stylish well designed, beautifully finished with a luxurious appeal but most importantly affordable clothing.” Says Folawiyo, who pioneered embellished Ankara with her Jewel By Lisa line and cemented her dominance with an international celebrity-heavy client list and LF Studio a line that expands on her mastery of juxtaposing print and proportions. Known for her own love of international designers (her IG feed is an intoxicating mix of her rocking the hottest looks from the runway, Balenciaga and Vetements being firm wardrobe favourites as well as accessories that will cheer the heart of any fashion enthusiast), she was keen for her brand in particular to be more inclusive and not just for the privileged few.
With J Label, Folawiyo has cleverly not fallen into the trap of diffusion breeding dilution. There is a continuum of her brand DNA but without too much compromise: “our unmistakable brand identity is still there, you will still see the mixing and matching of prints, impeccable cuts and clever detailing but because it is a more affordable line there is little or no use of hand embellishment.” The result are pieces that are undeniably Folawiyo designed; one pleated asymmetric skirt and blouse ensemble that combined a navy, coral and dove colured print with a more subdued white and dove counterpoint is a runaway hit in the making with its multi-purpose possibilities. One could wear it on a date, for cocktails with the girls and even church followed by a meet the parents easily. Also flying off the rails on launch night was a lemon yellow, brick red and sky blue maxi jacket: the options of how to rock this particular piece were numerous too: it could used as an up the ante pop of colour accompaniment to jeans and t-shirt, the final flourish to a print-maximalism outfit with a contrasting trouser and blouse combo as styled in the J Label look book ,or if you are planning for a fashion editorial spread worthy summer holiday, as the ultimate bikini cover up as you take in the rays on your super-yacht.
The collection didn’t have a name: a clever approach as it allows the wearer to make it their own without worrying whether or not they are channeling the designer’s inspiration: “The J Label girl is youthful, whether young or older, she is super cool, spirited, curious, she’s confident and bold, and a lover of self and life, but above all, she wants to look and feel good at all times. “ In setting the parameters of engagement wider Folawiyo has sidestepped the ‘mutton dressed as lamb’ debate, which has often dogged diffusion lines. J Label is neither for the under 35s only or for only the pin thin. Yes, some of the dresses are super short, but nothing a spin class and mindful eating cannot remedy; what the wearer must have is confidence, vivacity and a joie-de-vivre that is every bit as smile inducing as the prints.
Reassuringly this is not a mad-dash-to-the-border for sales and further recognition on Folawiyo’s part and J Label is part of an integrated expansion and development plan for her brand: “We released a very small J Label collection in 2013. This was to test the waters and although the market was ready we were not. A few years later with improved capacity longer preparation time and greater insight we released this collection. For us J Label is here to stay, we see it as not just offering clothes but having an integral role to play in developing the field of play of fashion in Nigeria. For ten years, clients have come to know and come to us for luxury, and I am still the creative director of a luxury brand, but as a company we are also interested in accessible fashion, of more people being able to experience and enjoy the brand, wear the pieces, live their lives in our clothes and make happy memories in them.” In response to the global trend of luxury brands closing their diffusion offerings and focusing on collaborations with the high-street or indeed the risk of launching at this time Folawiyo remains sanguine: “We have chosen to do what is best for us at this point in time, as those brands chose to what was best for them. Do them closing their diffusion lines ultimately mean we have taken a risk, I don’t know. However, one thing I know is that success will not be achieved without taking risks. The fashion industry is fickle, yes I said it, it is. And nothing is certain. But we do know is that this step is necessary and very important for our brand right now.” And very important for all of us fashion lovers here in Lagos and with prices starting at an entirely doable N19,500 and ending at a reasonable N65,000, no need to expect the bailiffs at the door due to a key items spend=out.
Whilst diffusion lines might be fading to black in other parts of the world they remain an important new ingredient in the contemporary African fashion landscape. Between a growing burgeoning middle class that is ready to spend and fluctuating foreign exchange rates rendering many of the frequent travelers grounded rather than off to Europe and the Americas to go wild in the aisles, sibling brands that are as directional as the main line’s offering are essential. Add to this a fashion manufacturing industry that continues to increase in capacity and digital platforms that allow for clothes from anywhere in the world to land on one’s doorstep and the probability of J Label and other African diffusion lines being rocked in other global fashion capitals becomes an inevitable reality.
For lingerie lovers; the first time you are confronted with a piece’s beauty and possibility to make you feel sensational is never forgotten: “I was a classic, British, Marks and Spencer’s girl until a boyfriend bought me an amazing set of lingerie when I was 21. This opened my eyes to a different world” says Damaris Evans, creative director and founder of Damaris and Mimi Holliday, two of the world’s most celebrated luxury lingerie brands. For myself, what led to a lingerie wardrobe (knickers drawer does not adequately reflect the artistry contained therein), and took me on a Paris and London focused quest for the ultimate bridal trousseau, (theme: ‘maximum wahala factor’), the love affair started a little earlier. A white broderie anglaise detailed training bra with matching full briefs bought in the Selfridges lingerie department three days before I started secondary school confirmed two things: firstly, my mother was right and one must and I quote: “dress from the inside out”, and second, matching sets was the only way to go.
In 1889 the first brassiere was created in Paris by Hermine Cadolle and the city is arguably the epicentre of haute lingerie with the likes of the aforementioned Cadolle, Sabbia Rosa, ChantalThomass and Odile de Changy all creating exquisite pieces whose prices might make one’s eyes water, but are without question, next level gorgeous. Whilst La Perla has done a globally impressive job of ‘owning’ the luxury lingerie story, for true aficionados, all roads lead to Paris rather than Rome or in La Perla’s case Bologna. A quick editorial disclosure at this point: I own pieces from all the houses mentioned in this article, so I write without prejudice. However, contemporary lingerie received its jolt of energy from London. The axis turning to London can be traced to the mid-90s and early Noughties with Agent Provocateur, Myla and Coco De Mer opening shop within a decade of one another. Suddenly, being a lingerie enthusiast no longer provoked a quizzical raise of the eyebrow or knowing wink, in fact it was the new niche in luxury to be into. Furthermore, many of those involved were injecting British irreverence, rebellion and naughty seafront humour to sartorial proceedings: it was during this creative renaissance that Damaris herself started her business: “I thought to myself, “yes, I can push this forward”. What a fun genre to work in; I knew this was what I wanted to do every day!” She says of those early days, which had her launch her eponymous line in Notting Hill’s iconic Julie’s, with models sexily sashaying through the restaurant’s three labyrinthine floors and skulking sultrily in alcoves in peek=a-boo side-tie knickers. Focusing on creating lingerie that has high fashion editorial memorability has become an essential part of Damaris’ aesthetic DNA: “I think of Damaris as an extravagance, a spontaneous purchase, something that you simply want but don’t necessary need. It may only be worn once but I bet you everyone who has worn it remembers it! That’s why the bow knickers, corset knickers and the peep knickers get reinvented each season, because people can’t get enough of them.”
I would heartily concur. Damaris is not planet multi-pack-briefs territory; in fact one may need to utter the immortal lines of ‘slipping into something more comfortable”; before re-emerging looking hotter than the midday sun. With Damaris and sister-line Mimi Holliday, it is about creating those lasered- into- the-memory=bank-of-life experiences for both yourself and your loved one. Here at MO we are thinking that the pieces are perfect to be worn slinking round your home after dark. Bonus points if you serve a pot of home-made Egusi Soup and Pounded Yam in said ensembles and continue to act casual, like, why the hell not move around the home in haute lingerie responding to messages on one’s phone, pouring another glass of vino or idly chatting about what happened in the day!
Back here in Lagos, haute lingerie retail is being ably handled by Sshhh! Boutique which is owned by the glamorous Joy Adesanya, and praise be, stocks Damaris and Mimi Holliday. “Sshhh has been in full operation for about 8 months and the feedback has been pleasantly but not surprisingly overwhelming” says Joy, whose shop is located in the heart of Lekki. Given that she is a one-woman lingerie retail revolution it is hardly surprising that customers have been beating a trail to the shop and purchasing with alacrity. A lingerie lover to the core Joy happily admits to “a monthly habit of ferreting through my lingerie drawer and discarding anything with a stitch or string out of place.” But creating the store was also borne out of finding a solution both for herself and the many like her: “Most times I had to wait to travel back to London before topping up my daily necessity, which became very frustrating.” For those of us living in Africa, luxury lingerie shopping has until recently been a case of begging a relative, friend, heck even associate to assist in bringing items back for you when they travelled ‘out’. Joy has removed this stress and provided a boutique which stocks lingerie from Europe and the Americas as well as assorted adult accessories. Furthermore, she upends many established assumptions that Nigeria is a country where conservative orthodoxies around sex are so dominant that any vocal admission to an exploration in alternative modes of pleasure is not only a potential and effective form of social suicide, but also has rendered the female population disinterested in lingerie. “Nigerian women are more open about exploring their sensuality through lingerie… [in fact}I am truly intrigued by some of the choices women make from our selection. The most unlikely customer picks the most daring sets”
Both Damaris and Joy are emphatic about the power lingerie bestows upon the woman wearing it with the tired trope of it being a means of subjugation by way of objectification dismissed roundly. Damaris asserts “Lingerie, for me, is one of the most powerful things a woman can own. Who doesn’t feel ready to face the day when they have a gorgeous, matching set of lingerie on? It’s empowering, to know what you’re wearing underneath looks and feels amazing. You could be wearing a drab, grey two piece, or overalls, but you could also be wearing a hot pink bra with a corset knicker – and how fun is that?!” And as the scenario suggests a secret that only the wearer knows and thus she alone owns the experience in its fullness. Joy in turn adds: “Lingerie is about confidence, emancipation and sensuality. It’s an opportunity for women to explore their bodies and connect with what works for them through fabrics and cutting edge designs. It’s far beyond the basic bra and knickers, it’s an intriguing part of our female identity.” Both women spoke of lingerie with the absence of the male gaze anchoring both experience and perception. As with other areas of fashion the situation is more nuanced than detractors might suggest. Can one be a feminist and go weak kneed at the sensation of gossamer silk adorning your most intimate parts? Why not? Can one be a coquette in the evenings and at a nine o’clock meeting the next morning the epitome of corporate raider? Who says they are mutually exclusive? Is being and enjoying being sexy, a black mark against any other professional achievements or personal abilities one may have? Answering anything other than no seems faintly ridiculous.
As with any niche within fashion, long term success and impact belongs to those who choose to create pieces and curate experiences that excite and articulate wants and desires that a would-be customers may not be aware of. Damaris is clear when she thinks back on the role she has played in disrupting the luxury lingerie sector: “My favourite design will always be the bow knicker. I still smile every time I see a pair; it is the ultimate extravagance in lingerie. For me, it was the iconic piece which Damaris was known for and it changed the lingerie landscape completely”. Similarly, Joy is excited about the After Hours Soirees hosted at Sshhh! Boutique that give customers an opportunity to explore collections and accessories at leisure, and is steadily building a lingerie loving community in Lagos. However, those who like myself possess passions for intimate apparel that run deep, the first thing we put on in the morning and the last thing we take off at night remains the most thrilling moment of all.
As anyone who has lived in Lagos for any length of time will know, arm candy isn’t so much of ‘a nice to have’ as essential ammunition in your killer ensemble. However, seeking all of your luxury leather goods from ‘the abroad’ has become distinctly passé-composé. A combination of a recession that has grounded many who were previously disciples of the gospels according to Hermes, Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci, combined with a home-grown creative resurgence across all artistic disciplines, rubber-stamped by a government supported ‘Made In Nigeria’ initiative has made fashionistas not only seeking, but also open to domestic options. Add to this mix an emergent generation of leather goods designers creating covetable pieces that reflect the influences, cultural motifs and the ever evolving life of the contemporary African woman and the scene is set for an industry renaissance. I had the privilege of speaking to four of the leading lights in the movement to get their take on what contemporary leather goods designing in Nigeria means to them today.
“I’ve loved bags for a very long time, since I was a little girl. I’m drawn to structure, sensuality and functionality… It took me a long time to accept that I was indeed a designer, because it was so effortless. In the end, and for my own sanity, I had no choice but to succumb to it.” Luckily for the rest of us Zainab Ashadu surrendered to the muse which has resulted in Zashadu, her luxury leather goods brand that has garnered a glossy and international client base in an alarmingly short space of time. Pieces are crafted in her atelier in Festac, a suburb in Lagos, where her artisans work under her meticulous eye. “To become a Zashadu artisan, our artisans train for 3 years, full time, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.” This relentless pursuit of excellence demanded of herself and her team, coupled with Zainab’s own cornucopia of influences which range from literature to architecture have resulted in the creation of several modern classics. Clock any Lagos It-Girl and chances are she will be rocking Zashadu and most certainly have one or two more in her closet. And with their striking contrasting colour-ways coupled with bold exotic hide iterations it is clear to see what’s made them an instant hit with the fashion conscious. The TKO (Total Knock Out) as its name implies is a championship worthy piece that more than holds its own globally. A recent winning piece is the Easy Fold pouch for those unstructured days where a wearer wants to look un-put-together but still undeniably chic.
A similar sense of inevitability underpins the launch of Didi Isah, the brand that has Didi Daley at its helm as creative director. A biomedical research scientist by training, Daley began her design journey in London, “I began designing for myself, pieces that I wanted to wear but didn’t find on the high street.” After constantly being stopped by strangers wanting to know where to buy her designs, she held a trunk show which was an instant sell-out. A stall in world famous Portobello Market followed, but it was her return to Nigeria in 2005 where the company’s ethos truly took shape. “My aim was really to design beautiful handcrafted accessories produced in Nigeria that are affordable for the individual who understands that elegance is an expression not simply a price tag!” An antidote indeed to logo-mania obsessed individuals, who know the cost of everything and the value of nothing, Didi Isah’s aesthetic lies in reimagining classics and creating a new discourse with each piece. Recent bestsellers have included the Love Clutch, a snake-print heart-shaped evening clutch, with a handy chain that renders it cross-body should dancing follow dinner, and the Salema a capacious tote that doesn’t appear bulky, but magically fits all one’s work essentials with ease.
Creativity and originality are only one part of the story for this emergent crop of designers. Production in Africa remains an ongoing battle that requires Herculean levels of strength and resilience. “There are some challenges manufacturing locally and in Africa – poor or lack of infrastructure, distribution, logistics and awareness of the product are among the issues that most of the designers come across in general.” Betu Tshiongo Wiederkehr’s list might sound like any luxury goods producer’s worst nightmare, but it has not stopped this Lagos based Congolese designer creating Kumesu, her luxury line of handbags and leather goods. A canny approach from the former financial analyst has resulted in her own exacting standards never being compromised whilst injecting the influences of extensive travel and living in many countries. Hardware and zips are sourced in Switzerland where she spent her formative years, and chains from Italy with the hides sourced directly in Africa and pieces constructed in Lagos. Her pieces, combine clean lines with nature inspired palettes and have gained popularity across the continent since she launched in 2014, with a growing private client list as well as stockists in Nigeria and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Ronke Ladipo of RÜCH by Ronke emphasised the importance of her clarity of vision and the highs and lows of selling luxury in economically fluctuating times: “I know the thrill of having a huge day of sales, and the crushing disappointment of just one customer….Many people get into this industry with absolutely no clue what it’s going to take to build a brand that is even remotely successful. Blaming ignorance isn’t entirely fair…I had absolutely no clue how hard it would be either.” This is an important point, especially for those inspired by what they perceive as instant success, seeking to emulate her own journey. A cult brand whose Aso’oke back-packs and leather satchels have become the go-to bag of choice among the art crowd and whose custom leather trunks have a wait-list of their own; her distinct aesthetic coupled with accessible price points have resulted in a brand that 5 years on has grown from strength to strength. It helps too that in our image insatiable times she is quite the style-plate herself, with edge hair, a catwalk model frame, and a photogenic squad garnering her a natural fan and customer base for her pieces.
Looking beyond the individual success stories there is still a need to create an enabling environment for the industry to thrive long term. Daley points out “We have such amazing potential, we really do… [but] there is the issue of the lack of access to finance, as an SME in Nigeria it is incredibly difficult to get finance from banks, and so you raise all capital yourself.” Aside from risk averse financial institutions Ladipo speaks of the unique challenges of having such a fashion literate client base: “You have to be very creative…If you want to make things in Nigeria, that’s fantastic, but remember; you’ll be selling to, and competing against, other Nigerians and Nigeria is a country born of innovation.” Copy=Paste Crew beware indeed. Tshiongo Wiederkehr notes consumer expectations around luxury also need to be addressed “from buying or thinking that only foreign goods are of quality or high end products”. But for the brands that crack the code the sky is the limit as is seen in Zashadu’s global march with stockists in New York, London, Johannesburg, Dublin and Florida.
For the leather goods industry to thrive, all parts of the value chain from tanneries to factories to design schools and retailers need to come together to create a comprehensive strategy for growth and development. As with most things in Africa, government involvement and buy-in is essential but so too is engaging the private sector and attracting those elusive but much needed alternative sources of capital. Nevertheless, as with all luxury items things begin and end with the customer. A capricious creature who needs to be continuously courted and seduced, to believe in the ‘bag-tacular’ and willingly part with their hard earned money for a purchase that promises pleasure and so much more.