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.

Lagos Fashion Week A/W 2018 Day One Review

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.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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”.

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

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!

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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,

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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?

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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.

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

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.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

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.