Lagos Fashion Week brings African style into the future
Every season, fashion weeks around the world show us what it means to tell stories through stunning costumes, but in Nigeria, where formal wear is taken very seriously, it’s just another Monday. . Each October, Lagos Fashion Week pulls the curtain down on Africa’s thriving creative scene in a country that loves to dress up. “With all the vibrant textures, fabrics, patterns and textiles that we have in our culture, style becomes something very innate, from the start for a lot of Africans and certainly for a lot of Nigerians. I think the first seizure I had was in elementary school, ”Alexander-Julian“ AJ ”Gibbson tells me. It is this sartorial scene that the Nigerian-American stylist reflects on in his latest shoot, which puts Nigerian designers at the forefront.
“Yes, I think it’s so important to share the knowledge that we see in Paris and Milan and from London to New York, but we also need to recognize the places that inspire the people who influence the catwalks we admire. For the seasoned New York-based stylist, who has lived through all the great 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 it is very much in line with my philosophy on Nigeria and the continent as a great source of creativity. African creatives really manage to flourish here … Back when I was young and dreamed it seemed so long ago. “
If you exist in the fashion world – especially as a black person – you’ve probably noticed that the fashion establishment isn’t necessarily known for telling or even promoting black stories. For Gibbson, like many other black children, this lack of representation was a big barrier to entering the industry in the first place. “I think I didn’t feel confident enough to pursue fashion seriously because I didn’t know or see anyone in the industry who looked like me,” he says. “So I didn’t feel like anything real and plausible was happening, especially being a Nigerian from Houston.”
But Lagos is the flip side of the same coin. While it excels at harnessing talent from across the continent, without systemic support, it takes a lot of daring for creatives to even get here. “It’s frustrating. Nigeria has so much talent. An exorbitant amount of talent, just walking around the country, but they get absolutely no support from the government. Because they’re too busy supporting oil and all the other things. other things that make them that quick money, but don’t realize they could position themselves as a cultural hub, “he says, summing up the exasperation of most Africans in the arts. Yet what Fashion Week does de Lagos has highlighted for Gibbson is that when no one else cares, roses really grow out of concrete. “I feel like there’s that very sense of community. overlooked among anyone interested in the creative arts in Nigeria, mostly because the country is filled with so many young people. “AJ Gibbson details a community far from the fierce fashion industry the West has popularized. Here, people support and stand for each other.
For young Nigerians, the past year has demarcated how lonely they are. As the Covid-19 pandemic and nationwide protests against brutal SARS police forces have put the fashion calendar on hold, creativity has become a crucial part of healing and survival. And after a year-long hiatus, Lagos Fashion Week returned in October, more vital than ever. For Gibbson’s return to Nigeria’s fashion capital, he had to harness his tremendous creative energy. This essence unfolds in the photostory, which places local designers, hairdressers, makeup artists and models under the gaze of famous Nigerian photographer Stephen Tayo. “What I love about Stephen’s work is that it feels very real. It is never something that is created by this fantastic world. I just thought his approach was the best setup to showcase Lagos Fashion Week as an entity, because I wanted to do something that feels very day in life, not so mellow and not in a light of day. crazy studio.
In a typical Lagos concrete compound, we see elements of worldliness raised to the rank of beauty. The production, from its ceremonial styling elements to traditional sculptural hairstyles, was the result of true collaboration between talents – “no mood boards”. “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 that’s really beautiful,” says Gibson. “We booked our hairdresser [Tosin Idowu] and our makeup artist [Michael Ukponu] and basically I just told them, ‘Don’t hesitate. Do whatever motivates you and do whatever pushes you.
For his part, Gibbson has done what he does best: uplifting African designers through a “marriage of culture and style.” Styling is where Lagos Fashion Week shines, showcasing the myriad of designers from different countries applying traditional techniques to modern silhouettes. You can feel it in the woven bags of Awa Meité of Bamako, the vibrant textiles of Ivorian Elie Kwame’s ensembles, and the straw-fringed trims adorning Banke Kuku’s pieces, which Gibbson says are reminiscent of uniforms. Igbo dance.
With the weight of the eyes of the world on them, these designers work outside the mainstream of Western fashion, sometimes rejecting these archaic systems altogether. A lot of clothes look like high fashion, but what is high fashion in a place where everyone is dressing new? “A lot of things we would consider ordinary clothing in Nigeria, if another brand did that in London or Paris it would be haute couture,” agrees Gibson. “Whenever I go to Nigeria I’m always the person in the underwear because Nigerians…” Boy, I’m tired of wearing outfits, but you don’t stop! “” In the Western tradition, haute couture is characterized as being completely handcrafted from start to finish. But in Africa, this criterion extends beyond the track. Made-to-measure culture is rife, from everyday tailored clothing to extravagant aso-ebi (traditional color coordinated outfits) worn at Nigeria’s world-famous weddings. “These tailors spend a lot of time making these clothes and mastering these techniques. So it’s the same concept behind haute couture, where couturiers spend time hand-dyeing, hand-sewing or putting on those specific details. And I think that same type of craftsmanship goes into African clothing. It is therefore something that is never far from ready-to-wear.
The fashion scene here is just a recognition of what is already a huge pillar for culture. But while tapping into heritage is essential, AJ Gibbson is also reluctant to get too close to notions of tradition. “The fact that LGBTQ lifestyles are in fact illegal here and the underlying homophobia is very much present in how conservative society is. But also, based on our traditions, some of the things people in the West would consider to be, “oh, that blurs gender norms, this guy is wearing a wrap skirt. These are in fact part of our traditions. This is nothing new to us. He continues: “Fashion gives us the opportunity to connect with things we have known for centuries and 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 shows how young Africans can gain notoriety and power through fashion. In this photoshoot with Stephen Tayo and some of Africa’s most incredible designers, Lagos Fashion Week serves as the backdrop to this unique state of individualism, momentarily free from the traditional gaze of the Nigerian public and government. This is the world AJ Gibbson nostalgically imagines and hopes for. “We’re going to get there, but it’s going to take us a while.