Looking to Lagos

· Runway · , , , , ,

Just as the latest Tokyo Fashion Week proved, there’s more to see in the fashion world than what’s typically covered. That certainly applies to Lagos, Nigeria, where Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2016 showed some of the strongest talents in African fashion.

African fashion and design often goes vastly under-appreciated, rarely covered in the mainstream fashion media likely due to prevailing stereotypes surrounding the continent. Yet in recent years, labels like Orange Culture, Maki Oh, and Washington Roberts have drawn increased attention to the scene, proving the magic that comes from a mix of strong culture and modern innovation.

This time around, that mesh of tradition and modernity was just as apparent as ever. Not sacrificing work that was proudly and boldly African, brands such as Lisa Folawiyo – a favorite of Nigerian it girls – showed prints and textiles that looked more authentic than your everyday fashion pieces, bolstered by unique silhouettes and pristine fabrics. The same goes for labels like Loza Maleombho and Odio Mimonet, where there was a noticeable nod to cultural relevance, modernized into quirky, one-of-a-kind garments that you’d rarely see in any other major fashion capital. And if there’s anything an African designer has mastered, it’s a pop of color. At shows like Washington Roberts, Gozel Green, and Bridget Awosika, lush hues brought already-stunning models’ looks to the next level, all while still maintaining their respective strong brand identities. Some of the pieces shown even appeared straight out of a fantasy, with ruffles, embellishments, and other garnishes presented in a way that was less basic, “fairytale princess” and more “work of art.”

While plenty of labels at LFDW showed aesthetic similarities (though set apart by individual houses’ unique design approaches), there were some that shared work that was completely of its own caliber. Tsemaye Binite’s luxe line was the thing dreams are made of, still toned down and modernized in a way that could appeal to even the most particular customer. The remarkable draping and muted tones at Rayo were made even more appealing with exaggerated cowboy hats, while Andrea Inyama’s feminine fantasy had all the elements that drive editors, buyers, and other image-makers wild. Then there was Nkwo, arguably one of the coolest brands to come out of the African fashion scene, showing a vastly experimental approach to denim for both men and women; there’s no denying the immense skill that came from the designer’s former role as a psychologist.

On the menswear front at LFDW, Adebayo Oke-Lawal’s Orange Culture continued to be a standout not just in Nigeria, but on the global menswear scene. Bold prints and colors, silhouettes typically not attempted for men’s fashion, and even some seriously sharp tailoring, this could potentially be one of the label’s hottest moments yet. Tokyo James was also a major menswear moment, with even more stunning tailored looks upgraded by atypical cuts and shades. But we can’t deny the magic at Keleche Odu, POC, and Maxivive, all of which showed more inspiring menswear than we’ve seen almost all year across the globe; not contrived, entirely authentic, Lagos’ menswear experts have some of the most promising visions around.

It’s clear that much of what’s been shown at Lagos Fashion and Design Week comes with the intention of attracting global customers, editors, and other major players in the fashion industry. But this global appeal still feels organic, with designers not sacrificing their identities and inspirations for mass commercial appeal. There’s no denying the beauty in African culture, so it’s not surprising that this effectively and easily translates into high fashion. And now more than ever, this stunning mix of tradition and progressiveness could finally put African fashion on the map.

Check out some of the top looks of Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2016 below:

Photos by Kola Oshalusi courtesy Lagos Fashion and Design Week

Maria Borges and Ajak Deng photographed by Ed Singleton and styled by Solange Franklin for "Africa Rising"

The Big Break

· Features, The Come-Up, Travel & Culture · , , , ,

While many were upset by Valentino’s questionable attempt at a tribute to Africa, we can wonder how the intended “cultural exchange” would look if carried out by authentic African designers; there’s no denying the fact that coverage of the continent’s fashion scene has been pretty minimal. Well things are changing, as the global fashion map is broadening more and more each day.

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· Features, Inspiration, Travel & Culture · , , , , , , ,

One of the most incredible attributes of my time in Kenya was definitely having the chance to witness an amazing company in action. I’ve already mentioned all of the great work being done at Matonyok, but seeing everything firsthand gave me even more respect for the unique and magnanimous brand. Coincidentally, Matonyok has recently teamed up with Ethical Fashion Africa, an organization of fashion entities that provide sustainable development through their involvement in the astronomical industry. Joining the likes of Sass & Bide, Stella McCartney, and Vivienne Westwood, Matonyok truly defines the concept of “ethical fashion.”

Before jumping to conclusions, as many people do when considering Africa, Matonyok is not a charity. A huge sum of proceeds is set aside to help women in the Maasai community obtain stable healthcare and education, but the crafty ladies use their exceptional beading skills to perform to the best of their abilities just like at any other job. Meanwhile, co-owner of Matonyok, Mary Argimon ensures that her employees are properly trained and paid. There aren’t any handouts, as everyone earns their compensation through quality work, and the conditions are held at a high standard of comfort and respect for the women.

We live in such a globalized world, especially when it comes to the fashion industry. So, why is it that so few designers or companies would do more than simply create a “Maasai-inspired” collection?

It’s refreshing and inspiring to see an impressive fashion line have such a large understanding and practice of social responsibility while still maintaining a professional balance. Going behind the scenes at Matonyok was certainly an eye-opening experience to an ideal part of the fashion world.

Some leather samples used for Matonyok.

Some leather samples used for Matonyok.

Co-owner of Matonyok, Mary Argimon discusses business plans with a Maasai tribe near Amboseli, Kenya.

Co-owner of Matonyok, Mary Argimon discusses business plans with a Maasai village near Amboseli, Kenya.

One of the many leather studios providing resources for Matonyok's pieces.

One of the many leather studios providing resources for Matonyok’s pieces.

Mary Argimon explains certain design concepts and quality control to a women's village outside of Nairobi.

Mary Argimon explains certain design concepts and quality control to a women’s village outside of Nairobi.


Maasai Fashion

· Features, Inspiration, Style, Travel & Culture · , , , , ,

Long before today’s fashion, Maasai women mastered the medium of couture quality craftsmanship and one-of-a-kind designs. Surrounded by a kaleidoscope of intricately beaded jewelry and an unlimited spectrum of adornments, it’s impossible to deny the abundance of skills and style in a Maasai village. Every bracelet, necklace, and collar is hand-beaded in unique shapes and patterns, showing more precision than many haute joaillerie items. And if you think the Maasai are only gifted in the accessories department, you’d be extremely wrong. The same type of dapper draping that seasonally parades down Paris’ runways is another element of “Maasai chic,” noted by made-to-measure shukas. Said shukas often appear in juxtaposed reds and blues, proving to be even more aesthetically appealing.

However, the regal ensembles amongst the Maasai aren’t intentional fashion statements, but instead deeper cultural elements. For example, different colors of the beads used in the jewelry represent pivotal concepts; red signifies blood, blue corresponds to the heavens, and green symbolizes prosperity, fertility, and peace. Possibly even more impressive than the immaculate Maasai savoir-faire is the tribe’s persistent strength in their traditions, especially in the face of modernity and Westernization.

The Maasai’s captivatingly diligent spirit highlights their astonishing handwork, and although fashion might not be the motive, it’s impossible to find their ensembles any less than beautiful. If they haven’t already, designers and couturiers should take note of the generations of Maasai mastery. This is real, organic high fashion.

Check out some more detailed images of Maasai beadwork that I took during my recent stay in Kenya!