Lagos Fashion Week Is Bringing African Style Into the Future

Each season, fashion weeks around the world show us what it means to tell stories through gorgeous costumes, but in Nigeria, where formal and ceremonial wear is taken very seriously, it’s just another Monday. Every October, Lagos Fashion Week opens the curtain on the burgeoning African creative scene in a country that loves to dress up. “With all the textures, fabrics, patterns and vibrant fabrics we have in our culture, style becomes something very innate, right from the start for many Africans and certainly for many Nigerians. I think the first attack he ever had was in elementary school, “Alexander-Julian” AJ “Gibbson tells me. It is on this sartorial scene that the Nigerian-American designer reflects in his latest photo shoot, which puts Nigerian designers first. plan.

“Yes, I think it’s so important to share the knowledge we’re seeing in Paris and Milan and from London to New York, but we should also recognize the places that inspire the people who influence those runways we admire.” For the seasoned New York stylist, who has experienced all major fashion weeks, Lagos Fashion Week holds a very special place. “I love Lagos Fashion Week. It’s actually my favorite, “he explains.” The reason I love him is in line with my philosophy of Nigeria and the continent as a great source of creativity. African creatives really thrive here … When I was young and I dreamed it seemed so far away. “

If you exist in the fashion world, especially as a person of color, you’ve probably noticed that the fashion establishment isn’t necessarily known for telling or even platforming for black stories. For Gibbson, like many other black guys, that lack of representation was a major obstacle to getting into the industry in the first place. “I think I don’t feel confident enough to seriously pursue fashion because I just didn’t know anyone or didn’t see anyone who looked like me in the industry,” she says. “So it didn’t seem like it was anything real and plausible to happen, especially being a Nigerian and coming from Houston.”

But Lagos is the other side of the same coin. While it goes too far in tapping into talent from across the continent, without systemic support it takes a lot of audacity for creatives to get this far. “It’s frustrating. Nigeria has so much talent. An exorbitant amount of talent, who only go around the country, but they get absolutely no government support. Because they are too busy supporting oil and all the other things that make them money.” so fast, but then they don’t realize they could push themselves as a cultural center, “he says, encapsulating the exasperation of most Africans in art. However, what Lagos Fashion Week made evident for Gibbson is that when no one else cares, roses actually grow from concrete. “I feel there is this very underprivileged sense of community among all those interested in the creative arts in Nigeria, especially as the country is full of so many young people.” AJ Gibbson details a community away from the cutthroat fashion industry that the West has popularized. Here people support each other and make room for each other.

For young Nigerians, last year outlined the extent to which they are alone. As the Covid-19 pandemic and protests across the country against the brutal SARS police force have put the fashion calendar on hold, creativity has become a crucial part of healing and survival. And after a year off, Lagos Fashion Week returned last October, feeling more vital than ever. For Gibbson’s return to the Nigerian fashion capital, he had to capture his extraordinary creative energy. This essence develops in the photo story, which puts local designers, hairdressers, make-up artists and models under the gaze of the famous Nigerian photographer Stephen Tayo. “The thing I love about Stephen’s work is that it feels very real. It is never something that was created in this fantasy world. I just thought his approach was the best setup to show Lagos Fashion Week as an entity, because I wanted to create something that felt very everyday in life, not so soft and not with crazy studio lighting. “

In a typical Lagosian concrete compound we see elements of worldliness elevated to things of beauty. The production, from its ceremonial style cues to traditional sculptural hairstyles, was the result of a genuine collaboration between talents – “no mood board”. “When you have really talented people who know what they’re doing and have their own ideas, it gives them all the free space to create and come up with something really cool,” explains Gibson. “We have booked our hairdresser [Tosin Idowu] and our makeup artist [Michael Ukponu] and I basically told them ‘Feel free. Do whatever motivates you and do whatever pushes you. ‘”

For his part, Gibbson has done what he does best: to elevate African designers through a “marriage of culture and style”. Style is where Lagos Fashion Week shines, highlighting the myriad of designers from different countries applying traditional techniques to modern silhouettes. You can feel it in woven bags from Bamako-based Awa Meité, in the vibrant fabrics of Elie Kwame’s Ivorian ensembles, and in the straw fringe trims adorning Banke Kuku pieces, which Gibbson says are reminiscent of Igbo dance uniforms.

With the weight of the world’s eyes on them, these designers work outside the mainstream of Western fashion, sometimes rejecting such antiquated systems altogether. A lot of clothes look like haute couture, but what is high fashion in a place where everyone dresses up? “A lot of the things that we would consider normal clothes in Nigeria, if another brand did it in London or Paris, would be haute couture,” agrees Gibson. “Whenever I go to Nigeria I’m always the underdressed person because Nigerians… ‘Boy, I’m tired of wearing clothes but you guys don’t stop!’” In the Western tradition, high fashion is qualified by being entirely hand-built by the beginning to end. But in Africa, this criterion extends beyond the track. Tailoring culture is prevalent, from bespoke everyday wear to the extravagant aso-ebi (traditional dress with coordinated colors) worn for famous Nigerian weddings. “Those tailors spend a lot of time making these dresses and mastering these techniques. And so it is the same concept behind haute couture, where couturiers spend their time hand dyeing, hand sewing or inserting these specific details. And I think the same kind of craftsmanship is present in African clothing. So it is something that is never far from prêt-à-porter designs ”.

Here, the fashion scene is just an acknowledgment of what is already a huge pillar for culture. But while drawing on heritage is key, AJ Gibbson is also wary of not getting too close to notions of tradition. “The fact that LGBTQ lifestyles are actually illegal here and the underlying homophobia is very much present in the way society is conservative. But then also according to our traditions, some of the things that people in the West would see like, “oh, this is tarnishing gender norms, this guy is wearing a wrap skirt.” These are actually a part of our traditions. This is nothing new for us. “He continues:” Fashion gives us the opportunity to reconnect with the things we have known for centuries and then, hopefully, follow the Afrofuturist way of bringing them into the new era “.

As Lagos quickly becomes the epicenter of fashion in Africa, Gibson’s work is about how young Africans can gain awareness and power through fashion. In this photo shoot with Stephen Tayo and some of Africa’s most incredible designers, Lagos Fashion Week is the backdrop to this unique state of individualism, momentarily free from the traditional gaze of both the public and the Nigerian government. This is the world that AJ Gibbson nostalgically imagines and hopes for. “We will get there, but it will take some time.”

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