Lagos Fashion Week

African fashion on the world stage

On show at Lagos Fashion Week, which ended last Saturday, were creations by designers (from far left) Cynthia Abila, Hephzibah and Fruche.
On show at Lagos Fashion Week, which ended last Saturday, were creations by designers (from far left) Cynthia Abila, Hephzibah and Fruche. PHOTOS: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Designers in Lagos are being courted by international tastemakers looking for talent

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

The statuesque 20-year-old dressed in white was standing backstage at the Lagos Fashion Week last 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 and 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 ended last Saturday, shows the growing appetite for African fashion and its invigorating colours, elaborate prints and standout street style.

Last Friday, Moofa's show gave the audience flowing silk dresses and layered looks embellished with lace and accessorised with jaunty white fedoras channelling 1970s funk.

Ugo Monye's menswear had the audience roaring in delight. It was set to a remixed song from the soundtrack of Black Panther (2018) 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 about 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."

Not long after, Nigeria was once again in the spotlight for its sold-out football jersey, a neon-green and white zig-zag creation worn by the Super Eagles for the Fifa World Cup this year.

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 got 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 her 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 (2018).

"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 & Gabbana 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," 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 African fashion is finally being given its due after years of determination and entrepreneurial vision.

"The world has changed," said Abrima Erwiah, co-founder behind Studio 189, a creative collective split between Ghana and New York.

"I think we're exporting culture," she said.

"It's very empowering."


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 30, 2018, with the headline 'African fashion on the world stage'. Print Edition | Subscribe