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Lagos designers champion 'unapologetically African' fashion

Stephanie Findlay

Agence France-Presse

Lagos, Nigeria | Sun, October 28, 2018 | 09:09 pm
Lagos designers champion 'unapologetically African' fashion

Models present creations by The Dew Collection during the Lagos Fashion Week on October 25, 2018. (AFP/Pius Utomi Ekpei)

"You have to struggle so hard to make your voice heard, that's why Lagos will always stand out," model Larry Hector told AFP about Nigeria's gritty yet unquestionably glamorous megacity Lagos.

The statuesque 20-year-old dressed in all-white was standing backstage at the Lagos Fashion Week on Friday evening surrounded by a dizzying array of lush fabrics and gazelle-legged models.

A generator throbbed in the background -- the answer to Nigeria's erratic power supply network and a symbol of perseverance in the face of adversity.

"We're always pushing for something we haven't seen before, something that's out of this world," Hector said. 

"Now we have international people, starlets, celebrities from Paris, Milan, New York, everyone is coming to see what Lagos is about."

Fashion designers in Lagos are being courted by international tastemakers looking for talent and inspiration at a time when Afrobeat and African fashion are taking the United States by storm. 

The success of Lagos Fashion Week, which runs until Saturday, shows the growing appetite for African fashion and its invigorating colours, elaborate prints and standout street style.

On Friday, Moofa's show gave the audience flowing silk dresses and layered looks embellished with lace and accessorised with jaunty white fedoras chaneling 70's funk.

Ugo Monye's menswear had the audience roaring in delight. It was set to a remixed song from the soundtrack of 'Black Panther' and was accompanied by live drummers. 

Nigeria has had a bumper fashion year with A-list model appearances in Lagos and a flamboyant World Cup team that enamoured fans from all over the world.

Industry veteran Naomi Campbell came to Lagos in April to walk the runway. She fell in love with the megacity of some 20 million people, whose "hustle" defines an adapt-or-die creativity. 

"I didn't want to leave," said Campbell about her Nigeria trip.

"I feel like Africa, as a continent, is on the tip of explosion. It's the next destination," she said.

Read also: Jakarta Fashion Week: Cultural heritage at the forefront

- Gilded street style -

Not long after, Nigeria was once again in the spotlight for its sold-out football jersey, a neon green and white zigzag creation worn by the Super Eagles for the 2018 FIFA World Cup.

Nigeria, the youngest team of the tournament, not only had the coolest kit but also made headlines for their flamboyant style off the pitch.

"It's only just gotten better, I think people are starting to see what we have," said Amaka Osakwe, the designer behind Maki Oh, one of West Africa's most celebrated brands.

One of Oh's shirts, a black blouse with polka-dot ruffled sleeves and lined with the name 'Oh' in yellow, made headlines this year after being worn by Lady Gaga on the set of her blockbuster movie, A Star is Born. 

"We've shown that we have it and we are worldwide contenders," said Osakwe. 

The appeal is undeniable. "The elegance of intricate African patterns on silk," gushed Vogue writer Suzy Menkes in an Instagram post about an indigo blue Tiffany Amber cape by designer Folake Coker. 

Afrobeats star WizKid, whose gilded street style exemplifies Lagos, has recently done a campaign with Moschino and walked the Dolce and Gabanna runway. 

Read also: Revamped Sao Paulo Fashion Week highlights new format, new brands

- 'Unapologetically African' -

Now the city is emerging as the destination for African designers to show their work. 

"Lagos has this vibrancy and energy that is unapologetically African," said Iona McCreath, a 22-year-old designer from Nairobi, who came to show KikoRomeo. 

"If you can make it in Nigeria, you can make it in Africa."

For some, it feels like finally African fashion is being given its due after years of determination and entrepreneurial vision. 

"Of course we built this, the world has changed," said Abrima Erwiah, the co-founder behind Studio One Eighty Nine, a creative collective split between Ghana and New York. 

"I think we're exporting culture," she said, "it's very empowering."

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