I was going through my recent updates on BB when I saw a friend(model) who worked at the AMFW  calling his fellow models to click the link on his status. Out of curiosity, I clicked the link and hence it was an article or rather a review/observation from a Guardian UK online reporter who was invited for the AMFW.

At first I found it annoying(as foreign reporters usually start with the negatives when writing about Nigeria) but as I read on, the truth started to sink in. Was she right? Is this what happened? Is Nigeria really like this? Did she twist her words?

In my opinion, It’s the truth. No mincing of words, very constructive criticism, genuine with no unnecessary embellishments, starting off with the negatives and balancing out with positive criticism. So I decided to read it all over again and review her article with an open mind. You will find my thoughts in brackets.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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LAGOS FASHION WEEK: Putting Africa on the Map – Eleanor Morgan

 

 

 

 

The stress of travelling to shows at any fashion week can be compounded by bad traffic. Arrive late for a show and you may not get in and have to – God forbid! – watch it online. However, take this as gospel: you have never seen traffic until you go to Lagos in Nigeria, where I was for the Arise Magazine Lagos fashion week.

Here, a scheduled 10-minute journey can take well over an hour. Cars form giant segmented beasts that chug along the potholed roads at glacial speed among packed buses and open-backed trucks with dozens of construction workers riding them like surfboards. It’s worlds away from being stuck in a taxi on the Champs-Elysées and, if you are prone to motion sickness as I am, quite tortuous. Especially in 35C heat with 80% humidity that, when you finally do open the car door, feels like you’re walking into a casserole. (This is spot on. Daily after work, I spend 2½ hours in this Lagos traffic  and get home totally exhausted. And i’m not only one who can testify to this)

The event itself was as chaotic as the main road outside its location: a series of tents outside a fancy hotel that foreign visitors nicknamed the “fashion cruise liner” because it resembled an enormous P&O ferry, swarming with fashion buyers, designers and journalists. The shows started almost two days late(Oh yes it did, on Day 1, the venue didn’t look like a place fashion week was meant to kick off in and as we all know, Day 2 was cancelled at the last minute) due to problems with electricity – power outages are widespread in a city that largely depends on generators for power(Electricity is a luxury in Nigeria. #LightUpNigeria). So, with 77 African or African-influenced designers including British labels David David and PPQ scheduled to show, this meant quite a backlog.

Rumours circulating among designers staying at my hotel suggested delays were also due to local models storming out in protest when they learned that the international models were being remunerated substantially better than they were(Local models want to be respected with no portfolio or good packaging? Do all footballers in the world earn the same pay?). And this wasn’t the only model-related issue. Upon arriving at the hotel from the airport, our rooms weren’t available due to a “clerical error”. The real reason? An international model agency offered to pay more for the booked rooms – 26 in total – and got them. That is, we were told, just how it works in Lagos(Isn’t it? Who has more money is who gets the preferential treatment and freedom to do as they please), so we were moved elsewhere. It’s funny now but, after a bilious journey from the airport, patience was fraying.

When the shows finally began, the atmosphere was extraordinary. One of the marked differences to the major fashion weeks was just how many local people populated the audiences(I can count with my one hand the number of local buyers or top fashion editors/writers/stylists I saw at the shows. More of regular faces you see at all events and black, yellow or red carpet). In Milan, Paris and London, the public barely get a look-in. Here, it’s all about the public. Seating was a first-come, first-served affair so, along with the international buyers and journalists, the front rows were full of ridiculously glamorous people (mostly women) dancing animatedly along to the show music and rising from their chairs to applaud designers(Oh! I had this in my head too, some people had done special shopping for this week and if they didn’t get front row, I saw so many disappointed faces).
Glamour is something the women of Lagos do inimitably; their dresses come in fabrics the colours of the rainbow, their made-up faces are immaculate, and their nails – long and sculpted – are covered in jewels the colours of the ocean, reflecting the catwalk spotlights. They’re not messing around(Is she lying? Have you been to a concert in Nigeria before? Girls dress like it’s their prom or like they are heading for the Queen’s birthday). In a sweaty T-shirt, with my hair having its ultimate Monica-from-Friends-in-Barbados moment, I’ve never felt dowdier(I know this feeling). I asked a girl in the toilets how long it had taken her to get ready. “Three and a half hours,” she said, slicking her lips with more violet lipgloss.(This right here isn’t true. The girl was probably trying to impress her. I spoke to a few people and asked how long it took them to get dressed. The most was an hour 30 minutes. 3 hours to get dressed? Is it your wedding day?)

Designers have had a love affair with Africa for decades, from 60s YSL to Derek Lam’s S/S 12 shows, but Nduka Obaigbena (aka The Duke), the Nigerian media mogul who publishes the This Day newspaper and Arise Magazine, and who funded the whole week as well as paying for more than 300 international visitors, sees Lagos fashion week as essential for putting Africa on the fashion map proper. “We are demonstrating that Africans can contribute, be the best and be world class,” he said, wafting around the crowds in a billowing white gown, martini in hand. “This is about putting Africa on the map.”(He’s doing that but still maintaining that Africans are disorganized).

One of the standout designers, Central Saint Martins-educated menswear designer Buki Akib – who is hopefully showing in London next year – concurs, but says it’s also about Africa “losing its novelty factor.” Being an African designer should simply be about where you’re from. “Anyone can copy African design,” she tells me in the back of a car, “but hopefully platforms like this will show the industry that African designers can fit in internationally without having to be a separate entity.”

Her collection, based on intricately patterned monochrome knitwear with metallic leather panels and big, swooshy boxing gowns, was one of the most accomplished of all the shows I saw. Other highlights were Bestow Elan, a British Ghanaian whose chic, feminine dresses came splashed with vibrant, Christopher Kane-like prints and large plaited collars. Loza Maleombho was another high point, debuting a diverse collection inspired by traditional Afghan wear and the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara, but using the Ankara print fabric that’s hugely popular in Nigeria.

The main attraction of the event for many was Ozwald Boateng, the British couturier with Ghanaian parents and the first black tailor to move to Savile Row back in 1995, who presented a mostly black-and-white, super-masculine collection inspired by a trip to Japan he made in 1990 when he was starting out. At the end of the show, which closed the week, he got a standing ovation as he saluted and danced his way around the U-shaped runway.

It was a perfect distillation of the spirit of the whole week – where fashion creates a collective experience, rather than one of isolation. I met women from all over West Africa – from Ghana, Cameroon and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – who travelled to Lagos to see the shows. “We love fashion and come to be inspired,” said one, “and to support our sisters.”

The local fashion industry is still in its infancy, though, and it remains to be seen whether the African models will break through internationally. Certainly the ones I spoke to backstage all want to, and were inspired by the presence of South Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek, now in her mid-30s, who modelled for designer Tiffany Amber, but they all have to keep day jobs to sustain themselves(How packaged are you? Do you have a team who believe in you?). As the week progressed, I felt ashamed of how few African models – whose frames are lean and muscular compared to the near-skeletal Europeans – there are in the fashion industry. It’s absurd.

The Nigerian models’ chances may be slimmer still with Obaigbena’s announcement that the next Arise fashion week may happen in Cape Town or Nairobi(They should put themselves together. It’s shameful that some of these models have been working for more than 5 years but still have to be called for auditions when just a phone call to your agency can get you on a plane to anywhere in the world). It makes sense to move somewhere where fashion is the only focus, not maintaining an electrical supply. But I have a sneaking suspicion that Lagos fashion lovers may convince him otherwise(I believe this too, but I also know Lagos fashion lovers are also proud that we have played host to this AMFW more than once). Despite their obstacles with power supplies and resources, designers across the country are determined to make their mark.

As a child, I always dreamt of being one of those models my sister and I used to stay glued on Fashion TV to watch. But growing up, I realized the fashion world is more than appearance. As a model, you don’t only need your agent, get an image team and professional representatives that care about your career more than their pockets.

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