When a label like Bridget Awosika chooses to forgo a season of fashion week, everyone notices. How could we not, when Awosika’s personal journey in fashion has become a mold many other younger designers try to emulate. She was the first to start a high profile, long-term relationship with a celebrity pop star (Tiwa Savage) long before it became de-rigeur for reality television stars to clomp down the runway and her collections took inspiration from abstraction and executed with surgical precision.
It didn’t help that the season of her absence was the one where her closest contemporary Lisa Folawiyo, closed out Fashion Week with a collection so polarizing, everyone seemed to agree it was better to pretend it didn’t happen at all. A comeback might be the wrong word, but it was certain everyone was eager for a return to Awosika’s tailored excellence. And she did not disappoint.
Though the season’s influences were not immediately clear, it became increasingly obvious that the designer had looked to cartography for inspiration for the collection. As the world evolves into a digital maze where everything is scanned and mapped, cartography has moved into the realm of a dying art, and cartographers, an elite group of artists. Awosika’s decision to go in this direction follows the nature driven trends of her last two collection that drew inspiration from foliage and roads. This idea is expressed through uneven hemlines that illustrations of elevations, a simple line of embroidery breaks up a simple shift. Contrast applique demands attention against black sheer mini-dress with barely ruffled satin hems. Diagonal ruching gives character to sheer blouses and structured day suiting.
There is of course Awosika’s signature pleating and draping, often strategic positioned to make the dresses flattering even when they aren’t worn by size 6 models. The designer also warms up her usually conservative palette with brilliant whites, mustard hues and peach detailing. By the end, you realise that Bridget has transcended the need for critical acclaim and is content to micro focus on elements that made her brand such a darling among Nigerian women. Her ability to take a single feature from a vast and interesting discipline and craft an entire collection around it remains unmatched.
Another brand drawing heavily from heritage this season is Ghanaian breakout star Christie Brown. Since the label debuted in 2017 at the Lagos Fashion Week, it has come to dispel all the arguments that ankara style prints are played out, or that Victorian influences cannot be married to an impressive African heritage. 2017 saw Aisha Obuobi, the creative director of the brand put her money where her mouth is considering collaborations and invited a number of bubbling under Ghanaian designers including Papa Oppong (who formerly worked with Abrimma’s Studio 189) to join her house. The resulting collection was such a technical marvel, Obuobi’s audacity put it in stark contrast the middling collections Lagos’s women’s wear designers had presented.
Obuobi’s line up has changed some (Oppong is away at Parsons), and as has her approach to editing her final showcase but the quality and talent and execution has only grown. This season. there was an overt allusion to the idea of brand DNA, emblazoned as embroidered double helixes on skirts and culottes. What is this DNA, you ask, the collection’s openers might provide a clue. Two models cinched at the waist with embroidered bustiers floated down the runway in prairie style full skirted dresses, the translucent gauze teasing an underlayer of Ankara. This idea of layering Ankara as an extra surprise is played out through the collection, peeking under flared dress pants, sewn into collars and lining of coats.
The Ankara fabric is never presented as is, signature like script in a cursive text is printed directly onto the fabric, half-stitched on to seams and hemlines to create a three dimensional effect. It is stoned and beaded, its motifs re-engineered into cut-out motifs. But truly, all these discordant ideas meld into a cohesive product in the collections skirting. Offered in a variety of fabrics and zjujzed up with embroidery, asymmetric hemlines and interesting detailing. It was reclaiming of sorts, of the racist ideas behind the bustle skirt, of the debate surrounding the origins and contemporary uses of Ankara, on the idea of what African design should look like. Heritage, platforms and excellent design, that is what Obuobi’s audience came with after her showcase.
CLAN however, was not so keen on heritage. Deola Ade-Ojo’s diffusion label has gone through quite a number of iterations as it seeks to reach the millennial crowd of ultra-fashionable, deep pocketed tween girls that her trio of daughters seemed to personify. There was the early pop-culture, harajuku driven era of the label with deconstructed jerseys and looks co-opted straight out of hip-hop music videos. This was followed by a hard left towards women’s work wear. This era of CLAN saw the label try to position itself at the vanguard of the women’s rights movement that was sweeping through the country and aligning itself with powerful women in industry and private enterprise. They largely succeeded on the PR front, but the clothes were too expensive to be truly aspirational to the women they sought to inspire. That was a niche Grey Projects understood much better.
Then of course there was last season’s ‘celebration of women across the World’, with softer pastels and pinks and more sensual lace, velvet and crepe permutations. In all these collection, the ages seemed to skew towards older women in their late 20’s – early 30’s, who wanted a bit of risk, stirred into the demure.
CLAN SS20 seems curated with the sole purpose of dismantling this carefully wrought image. Mrs. Ade-Ojo has spent the last year playing a dance of asserting herself and her brands in the public eye, while working to ensure her outsize legend doesn’t overshadow the stellar work that goes into the collections. Part of that, has been enforcing intellectual property on her critically acclaimed and heavily plaigarized Komole Kandid series, and significantly skewing clan towards a younger, Instagram ready generation. There are only hints of the parent brand in the new CLAN communicated through duo tone, iridescent fabrics but none of its reservation. The collection’s first looks bear strong resemblance to the Fenty’s lauded first collection, cut more the instagrammable beach party than the boardroom. Animal prints also make a return to the CLAN runway, sequinned for drama, washed out and used as an accent for monochromatic looks and plastered with the CLAN logo. The collection toes the line between gaudy and glorious, daring us to tip it in either direction.
Save for a few staples, the new CLAN collection is millennial driven and selfie perfect, a plug and play collection that the brand clearly hopes will draw in a crowd looking for the early adopter advantage.