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.

Arise Fashion Week A/W 2018 Day One Review

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.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.