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Looking to Lagos

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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