Nigerian clothing designers champion ‘unapologetically African’ fashion
“YOU HAVE to struggle so hard to make your voice heard – that’s why Lagos will always stand out,” model Larry Hector says of Nigeria’s gritty yet unquestionably glamorous mega-city.
The statuesque 20-year-old dressed all in white is standing backstage at the Lagos Fashion Week surrounded by a dizzying array of lush fabrics and gazelle-legged models.
A generator throbs in the background – the answer to Nigeria’s erratic power supply 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,” says Hector. “Now we have international people, starlets, celebrities from Paris, Milan, New York – everyone is coming to see what Lagos is about.”
Models show pieces by Cynthia Abila during the Lagos Fashion Week, which aimed to promote the Nigerian and African fashion industries./AFP
Fashion designers in Lagos are being courted by international taste-makers 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 ended on Saturday, shows the growing appetite for African fashion and its invigorating colours, elaborate prints and standout street style.
A model wears a Kikoromeo creation./AFP
On the Friday, Moofa’s show gave the audience flowing silk dresses and layered looks embellished with lace and accessorised with jaunty white fedoras channelling ’70s funk.
Ugo Monye's menswear had the audience roaring in delight. It was set to a re-mixed 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.
A model presents a creation by Anyango Mpinga. /AFP
Industry veteran Naomi Campbell came to Lagos in April to walk the runway. She fell in love with the mega-city of some 20 million people, whose “hustle” defines an adapt-or-die creativity. “I didn’t want to leave,” said Campbell. “I feel like Africa, as a continent, is on the tip of explosion. It’s the next destination.”
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 World Cup.
Nigeria, the youngest team in the tournament, not only had the coolest kit but also made headlines for their flamboyant style off the pitch.
“It’s only just got better. I think people are starting to see what we have,” says 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,” says Osakwe.
The appeal is undeniable. “The elegance of intricate African patterns on silk,” gushes Vogue writer Suzy Menkes in an Instagram post about an indigo-blue Tiffany Amber cape by designer Folake Coker.
A model presents a creation by Nack. /AFP
Afrobeats star WizKid, whose gilded street style exemplifies Lagos, has recently done a campaign with Moschino and walked the Dolce and Gabanna runway.
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,” says 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,” says 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.”