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!

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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.

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

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

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

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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

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

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

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

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