Each season, a new generation of young designers seek to answer the primordial question of how to make an unforgettable debut, They hustle their way towards a coveted showcase slot at the Lagos Fashion Week Nigeria, using its street style grounds as an audition gallery. It is hard to tell their motivations, as the opportunities available to them have shrunk. The Lagos Fashion Focus programme, once the primary funnel for finding designers draping their own paths to relevance has evolved since its modest beginnings, expanding to accommodate 14 designers in its golden age (circa 2014) and shrinking as a carousel of partners and sponsors entered and exited the programme.
In its current iteration, the Fashion Focus programme has expanded to include designers from all of Africa while simultaneously cutting down on the number of slots available to finalists. It makes creative and economic sense for LFW as its repositions itself as a continental player but the fallout has been disastrous for Nigerian designers who realistically only have a single spartan chance to debut under the Fashion Focus Programme.
View this post on Instagram
SOVEREIGNTY • ILI PRESENTS SPRING/SUMMER 20’ AT LAGOS FASHION WEEK TOMORROW!!! • 24/10/2019 by 6PM • The collection is inspired by the Pan-Africanism movement and through our creative thought processes we have made use of several African traditional elements and have done this in a modern way. The collection speaks more than just clothes. • For the fabrication of the SOVEREIGNTY, Africa is a main focus and we have gone with colors in the same family as the ones on the 1897 Ethiopian (green, yellow and red) flag since it is the continent’s oldest independent nation as well as earthy colors. We have combined these colors with strong African (Adinkra) symbols, of Ghanian origin and produced the fabrics using batik on cotton and also aso-oke all hand made in Lagos, Nigeria. • The Adinkrahene (A symbol of leadership and charisma), Adwo (Tranquility), Duafe(symbol of beauty), Gye Nyame (A symbol representing God’s Omnipotence) are some of the symbols selected for our design as they all represent key features of a sovereign being. A sovereign being is a person with supreme power and authority and we have designed clothes and paired them up in looks that show this being in different states and feeling like they are where they are supposed to be, doing what they’re supposed to be doing, dominating the world around them. • These elements combined with the classic silhouettes of our pieces come together to portray the sovereignty the eternal ruler(God) has over earth’s ruler(Man) who now has the authority to rule the earth and maintain it’s natural beauty. #ilibyamali #SS20 #madeinnigeria #sovereignty #fashionfocusafrica #fashionfocusfive #africanism #batik #lagosfashionweek #heinekenlagosfashionweek #heinekenlagosfashionweek2019
There used to be a time where the Fashion Focus programme felt like a joyful celebration of designers with a point of view, a desire to experiment and a willingness to make mistakes. Designers at the cusp of a career explosion. There was none of that excitement when Amali Curtis’s Ili, the only Nigerian designer chosen for the programme this year sent his first look down the runway. The designer’s Africanisms SS20 collection had teased African influences and unique prints featuring Akan motifs, used in a number of looks, but that was where the influences ended. The clothes stayed squarely in the safe, hyper commercial aesthetic Curtis has built, relying heavily on classic suiting broken up by the occasional pair of shorts and the occasional beach ready look. As a whole, the silhouettes were too pedestrian to pique anyone. Even the ‘surprise’ of Big Brother Africa star Ike closing out the show in a geometric print, duo tone coat couldn’t save the show from the wooden execution that plagued it.
After a year of mentorship and business development, its says quite a lot that Curtis brought no showmanship to LFW this year. It begs the question; has the LFW Fashion Focus programme become so commercialized that it longer celebrates the cutting edge of design, or has the process become so cut-throat that designers will novel ideas have been muscled out by see-now-buy-now fast fashion modelled labels. In light of the absence of any retail framework to support even commercial designers, how does this all play out?
Sitting on the other end of what happens when the designer creates purely for the customer’s tastes is evening wear designer Yuteerone. A darling of the Nollywood startlet/high profile influencer, the label is best known for its draping Yorrywood screen queens like Toyin Aimhaku and Mercy Aigbe in extravagant evening wear characterized by exaggerated detailing and yards and yards of tulle and a celebration of unabashed gaudiness that can be traced directly to Nigeria’s thriving Owambe scene.
As a label, Yuteerone transitioned from the wedding reception circuit through high powered partnerships with some of its influencer clients. It cut its teeth in runway showcases on the reality competition circuit dressing finalists at shows like the annual Elite Model Look finale.
Yuteerone has clearly struggled with divesting her label from fanfare, evident in her decision to open her show with celebrity OAP and influencer Toke Makinwa. As a gimmick, bringing out a celebrity could have worked if Makinwa wasn’t forced to hold her dress, a misshapen monstrosity made for someone two sizes bigger, in place the entire time she was on the runway.View this post on Instagram
YUTEE RONE SPRING/SUMMER 2020 • • DECONSTRUCTIONS/ SILHOUETTES/ PASTELS Dear Yutee Rone woman, Thank you so much for being here and for trusting us….every dream you made a reality, our passion you made a purpose, just by wearing the pieces, you fill our hearts with love. Thank you • Yutee Rone
That ominous beginning haunts the rest of the collection. Attempts at draping never quite attain the casual perfection of the designers from which Yuteerone takes inspiration. She attempts several iterations of the accordion pleated pants trends is attempted with varying degrees of success, as she does with bouffant sleeves. Then of course, there are the Tomo Koizumi inspired voluminous tulle dresses, attempted half-heartedly with out the skill or intent to follow through.
The collection’s strongest looks come when the designer directs her attention towards form fitting looks and delivers on deconstructed bustiers, simpler bandage dresses and applique used to elevate otherwise average looks. But those flourishes of brilliance are not enough to paper over the terrible execution and refusal/inability to fit dresses properly that tipped even manageable looks out of the realm of acceptance.
This doesn’t mean that this outing has been an entire failure for the label, having Toke Makinwa open and close the show is its own message, that the label might engage in the circus of design showcases but it knows exactly who its is really trying to please.
If only we could say the same for women’s wear designer Idma Nof. The conceptual label also made its LFW debut this year after two years of bubbling under and making waves for its singular point of view in its previous collections. The label had announced itself with a high conceptual collection that took inspiration from the Lagos metropolis and its ever evolving relationship with traffic, upcycling vehicular paraphernalia as a collection motif, drawing inspiration from triangular signs, zebra crossings and advertising signage. Her second collection, debuted at last year’s GTB fashion week didn’t have the same laser sharp focus but was still satisfactory as an expression of the label’s skill with artisanal crafting. This season, however Idma Nof was unable to replicate the level of innovation that made them the label to match in 2017.
The collection this season had too many references to the deconstruction of patriarchal ideas behind women’s work wear, a niche essentially cornered by Gozel Green at this point. Specific references from Gozel Green’s Fashion Focus debut “Broken Pots and Other Stories” where thread was used to create three dimensional texture on panelled skirts and layered blouses were a recurring motif in the new Idma Nof collection, as was Gozel Green’s rejection of hyper femininity in styling. The label managed to distinguish its take on this idea by working in exaggeration through fringed sleeves that extended beyond the model’s hands draping on to the floor. The collection’s signature print, a monochromatic abstract was interesting enough on its own, but its beauty was drowned by all the needless activity in the collection. There was also ultra-bright neon knitwear with frayed contrast patches, multi-hued applique embroidery on jumpsuits, blouses and jackets and strips of woven fabric, steepled onto blouses and tacked on to baggy pants. The play on volume continued with giant bow collars and oversized Fila inspired hats, styling choices that felt tacked on rather than integral to the collection’s storytelling.
There is no story at the end of Idma Nof’s presentation, just a mood board of half finished ideas that could have become a cohesive personal statement with some ruthless self-curation. We’ll just have to wait to see if it all comes together next season.