Sunday Alamba, AP Photos
LAGOS, Nigeria — Africa-influenced fashion, from Yves St. Laurent's 1960s collections to Proenza Schouler and Derek Lam's Spring 2012 shows, have been featured in designs for decades. Now, however, more and more African fashion designers are using both their heritage and international trends to gain attention on the world stage.
ARISE Magazine Fashion Week in Lagos, now in its second year, highlighted the work of mostly African or Africa-influenced designers. The 77 designers offered a range of outfits blending traditional fabrics with international aesthetics, elevating the mundane with elegant dresses and offering a taste of haute couture in a hotel-turned-fashion haven, separated from the hustle-and-bustle of the megacity of Lagos.
"We are demonstrating that Africans can contribute and be the best and be world class," said media mogul Nduka Obaigbena, who publishes ThisDay newspaper and ARISE Magazine and partially bankrolled the event.
But the struggles affecting both the poor and the rich wrought havoc on an event meant to run six days. The first two days were canceled as electricity problems are rampant in a city where most depend on generators for power. Obaigbena himself, wearing a traditional outfit, supervised the installation of four generators the size of a standard moving van at the site, while local up-and-coming models complained about their pay compared to their international counterparts.
But the show finally began and drew a crowd that embraces African fashion not as a sideshow, but as a main component of international design.
Folake Folarin-Coker, the creative director of Tiffany Amber, has been making dresses for Nigeria's rich and famous for 13 years. Last year, she was invited to her first London Fashion Week, after showcasing collections in Paris and New York.
Folarin-Coker belongs to a school of Nigerian designers who have attracted international attention by translating local prints usually found on stiff fabric onto flowy cloth that drapes the body.
In her "Metissage" collection, she took it a step further by printing sequences of woven bamboo on silk to make a head-to-toe patterned ensemble. She also featured classic dresses, some referencing a military trend, such as a black flowing chiffon dress with long sheer poet sleeves and three rows of heavy metal buttons sewn on a black guipure lace with a wide and sturdy pattern. Lace, like prints, are widely used to make traditional clothes across Nigeria. Here, they found a new interpretation.
A Paris exhibition on Alix Gres, a peer of Chanel and Lanvin, was the starting point of London-based Nigerian designer Tsemaye Binitie's research.
His textured collection included a sleeveless black catsuit festooned with bits of hand-embroidered vinyl, creating a kaleidoscopic effect.
He then added utility to elegance by pairing a black backpack with a little white dress.
"I wear a baseball cap every day, a T-shirt and a backpack because my computer is in it, so I took those pieces from my wardrobe and interpreted them for women," Binitie said.
Binitie is a young designer who has worked for famed British designer Stella McCartney. He sells his designs in London, New York and Lagos.
"We do everything in London, but we are a global brand," he said.
New York-based designer Loza Maleombho debuted a collection that draws from the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara Desert and Afghan traditional wear. She brought another twist by using popular West African fabrics such as the colorful Ghanaian woven cloth known as kente and the ankara print fabric popular in Nigeria.
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