Arise Fashion Week is Africa’s annual industry showcase that takes place in Lagos – Nigeria’s largest city – between the 19th and 22nd of April. Now in its sixth year, AFW is going from strength to strength and is as prestigious as any of the fashion weeks that are held in the ‘Big 4’ cities around the world.
During last year’s event, Naomi Campbell brought the world’s press with her, to shine a light on the emerging and established African talent that had been cultivated on the continent. Co-incidentally it was also the year that every influencer and celebrity from the African diaspora spent the Christmas and New Year season partying across Ghana and Nigeria. Think Idris Elba, Reggie Yates, Skepta, AJ Odudu, and Boris Kodjoe – the latter in response to Ghana’s landmark “Year of the Return” tourism campaign marking the 400th anniversary of the first enslaved Africans arriving on US soil.
As part of the 2019 event, in what was the biggest endorsement for Arise Fashion Week so far, British Vogue Editor Edward Enninful was in attendance, alongside Ms. Campbell, and former editor-at-large of Vogue Magazine Andre Leon Talley.
The showcase also attracted a number of guest designers (from London to New York), who presented on the runway, including Pyer Moss, Esteban Cortazar and Bethany Williams. Although, it was the homegrown talent that showed up and showed out. Collections from Okunoren gave classic tailoring a contemporary twist through graphic artisan embroidery, Deola Sagoes showed ethereal eveningwear, and my personal favourite Andrea Iyamah; who’s swimwear stands out amongst her RTW offer, for its re-working of African-inspired mark-making prints into sculpted bikinis and one-pieces.
The business of fashion was also a key consideration, as the organisers explored the major socio-economic trends that will be the main drivers for change for those working within the African fashion industry in the future. The ‘Arise Talks’ segment tackled everything from ‘Retail to Export: Building A Sustainable Market’ to ‘Emerging Markets in Africa’ and ‘The Essence of Design and Textiles: Preservation, Protection and the Advancement of Craftsmanship’ which featured Model Liya Kebede.
So, who should you have on your next season wishlist from the designers that presented during the 4-day event? Well, read on, for my top 5 names-to-know….
Kenneth Ize – Having founded his namesake label in 2016, Ize’s brand is only 3 years in the making, yet the Nigerian designer can name Beyoncé and Burna Boy (who was styled in one of his check suits for his set at Coachella, no less) as fans. Known for his twist on traditional Yoruba textiles, he works with local craftspeople to create colour drenched tailoring for both genders. He is also a finalist of this years LVMH Prize, one of only 2 Africans in the prizes 5-year history.
Thebe Magugu – Sharing the stage with fellow LVMH nominee Kenneth Ize, Thebe is a South African designer, who creates deconstructed tailoring and subverted womenswear that could stand alongside the most avant-garde designers of Paris fashion week. Working across multi-disciplines, Thebe is also the creator of a zine called ‘Faculty Press’ that, according to ID Magazine, takes ‘traditional images of Africa and insert(s) them into a contemporary vision’ and as a keen collaborator he has worked with jewellery designers, printmakers, and illustrators such as Phatu Nembilwi
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“African Studies” is an introspective collection inspired by motifs and references from my own culture, with visual cues I picked up growing up, revised and reworked. The collection has a lot of hidden, often juxtaposed details – masculine wide-leg pants with a side slit that reveals a silky, lace-trimmed pant-leg (reminiscent of the piles of slips my gran swore by), garments that subtly ‘rip’ to reveal another garment all together, and pictures (printed on Dutchess Satin) stitched into places one might never come across. Its all quite personal, almost acting as an amalgamation of my environment and memories while trying to present key cultural cues from my heritage in modern ways. Collaborators this season are with: @phathudesigns – whose illustration on the updated Girl-Seeks-Girl Dress is an inspiring and beautifully-abstracted piece of art that SIMPLY CELEBRATES the female black body, which is either antagonised or fetishised. @therealcrystalbirch – whose breathtaking work in millinery, headed the creation of delicate, full-feathered hats – in periwinkle and lime – for the collection. This collection forms part of our “African Studies Series”, which includes our exhibition at @somersethouse in February through IFS and the launch of @facultypress , which is also themed “African Studies”. Images by @eunicedriverphotography for @safashionweek
Lisa Folawiyo Studio – Founding her brand in 2005, Lisa Folawiyo could be considered an industry veteran. She has had her RTW collections appear in Vogue Italia, been stocked in Selfridges, and most recently her brand was part of The Shop at Bluebird’s ‘Between Us’ pop-up that was a celebration of African design and inspiration. The designer has also been featured in The Business of Fashion’s ‘BOF 500’ index, as she is considered one of the many creatives that are shaping the industry today. Her collections fuse contemporary African prints with expertly cut tailoring and feminine silhouettes geared towards the modern woman’s wardrobe – think cutout midi dresses, blouson blouses and split-thigh slips. The brand has global handwriting and is stocked in the UK, US, Nigeria, and South Africa.
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Ankara. Our first love. The PRINTS, the color, the fabrication, it’s historical influence in this part of the world, come together to form the biggest part of the @lisafolawiyo_studio JewelByLisa story. It is our core. Our foundation. Our first love. And will always be. Old stories and the new have been told through it. That lives have been changed, jobs have been provided, our people have been empowered, and an industry resurrected through this fabric, only goes to show that though the ‘conversation’ of its origin still ensues, this fabric has been revived by us. We may have adopted it, but we have given it it’s real meaning. We have breathed fresh life into it. A rebirth. We have rechristened, designated and given it its true and proper origin. This we know deep within. Ankara is ❤️ @lisafolawiyo_studio. We were delighted to have presented our Coll 2 2019 @lagosfashionweekofficial held @theshopatbluebird —————————— . •Look 1: She Reigns Ornate Dress •Look2: Knot-Front Tiered Maxi Dress •Look3: Tri knot Fringe Coat, Colored Back Detail Summer Dress ————–————— Available to preorder via email@example.com Select pieces also available to preorder and buy @templemuse
Andrea Iyamah – Conceiving the idea for her brand at only 17, Dumebi Iyamah, although a purveyor of ready-to-wear, is best known for her striking swim and resort wear, that was first presented in 2013 and is a consistent lesson in skillful pattern cutting and cultural fusion. Featured in Elle, Cosmopolitan, and the Huffington Post, Iyamah’s DNA is firmly rooted in her heritage, with mark-making prints and sculptural details that emphasise the waist and hips. The brand has stand-alone stores in Canada, where it is based, and Nigeria that reflect its elevated aesthetic.
Mowalola – Mowalola Ogunlesi is a young designer who, after only a year on the scene, has been labeled by British Vogue as “The Nigerian Designer [who is] Dressing London’s Cultural Revolution”, no small feat for an emerging designer, who’s first runway show only took place this February at London Fashion Week.
As an alumnus of Central Saint Martins coveted BA course, Mowalola’s creative outlet is through the medium of menswear and print, citing ‘Nigerian Psychedelic Rock’ as a key influence. She is among a growing cohort of designers (think Orange Culture and Grace Wales Bonner who are challenging the traditional tropes of masculinity and is instead choosing to present him in all his guises. In her short time since graduating she has worked with the likes of Skepta, Solange, big brand names such as Nike and most recently, Drake – who wore a custom-made leather jacket on the London leg of his Assassination Vacation tour.
All this is evidence that Africa has BEEN rising, and this groundswell of attention will be considered long overdue to the plethora of talent who have been honing their craft on-and-off the continent, building brands that have been stocked in luxury concept stores, as well as being nominated for prestigious industry awards.
It is my hope that with the world’s attention caught, we can change the way African fashion is viewed and Arise Fashion Week will be placed firmly on fashion editors’ radars and considered among the new fashion hubs to watch.
Words by Angela Baidoo