May 27, 2014

Live from Africa Fashion Week Nigeria 2014

Just like a kid at the candy store, I found myself at this year's Africa Fashion Week in Nigeria.  As usual for a fashion show, it's models galore; crew that included stylists, make-up artists, loads of lights, camera, oglers, and most importantly the people that keep it all going smoothly—the backstage manager and model coordinator.

In my usual habit, I have a thing for lenses that flicker, especially my own.  So as usual, my lens flickered while I quietly observed.  One thing peculiar about models—they are consummate professionals in unflinching stances.  It's easy to mistake them for mannequins as they're all dolled up like so.  It's easy to forget: that's a human standing there, until one walks up to you in the restaurant while you're getting some lunch and says "Hi, I hope you're coming back?" And I say "Of course, I'm not going anywhere!"  How do you yank a kid away from a candy store?

So there I was, amongst folks here to ensure it commences without a hinge.  Of course, I wasn't the only photographer there, there were quite a few of us, each looking to capture a unique moment.  There's exchange of pleasantries, collaborations form between creative people, all looking to make a mark in the world.  I met some amazing hair artists, photographers, media houses, writers, bloggers and everyone with a unique gift in between.
I truly believe my favorite part of a fashion show is backstage.  I love watching some tall and lanky girls next door transform.  I love the artistic creativity of stylists and makeup artists; you get to see all the colorful pieces on a line.  At this time you can pretty much interact with the models as they prep, they make my job so much fun as they work their poses.

While models prep, crew members work tirelessly to put the stage and runway together.  It's the "hurry up and wait" phenomenon as usual in this business.  Everyone's on a timer anticipating a big show.  This year's event would be the first and one of the biggest of it's kind for Nigeria, many years in the making.  Its creators successfully launched Africa Fashion Week in London in 2011 with subsequent runs till date.  Founder and CEO Ronke Ademiluyi reassures Nigeria of the show's success.  "The first edition of the Africa Fashion Week Nigeria is set to be a successful one.  We have such a diverse cross section of designers participating, showcasing the great talent coming out of Nigeria and Africa as a whole at the moment. We inten[d] to create a generation of brand new Nigerian Designers by need analysis which is identifying what the young up coming designers need and creating a method of assisting them into becoming sustainable brands.  We are confident that this will positively impact on the economic growth of Nigeria."  She intends to create a paradigm shift towards the perception of Fashion design as an instrument of economic reconstruction.  This year's tentative date for London is slated for August 7th-9th.  There are tentative dates for Amsterdam and Brussels.
I indulged model and fashion designer Diana Tambe Blackpearl—founder of Africa Fashion Week Amsterdam and owner of her own clothing line Blackpearl Street in a little chat.  Originally from Cameroon, she now resides in Holland; here in Nigeria for the first time.  Diana knows firsthand African Inspired fashion and designers need a platform, hence she launched the first AFWA in 2011 after showcasing some seasonal collections on popular runways.  Ms. Tambe introduced the first and only African fashion week in Amsterdam.  Since 2011, AFWA has gained momentum.  Upcoming event this year in August 29-31 2014 will boast big names in the fashion industry, CEOs, high level politicians and media powerhouses from all over the world.

With ever increasing need for a platform where emerging African designers can be noticed and recognized, this event has done just that.  You had to wonder why we waited so long for this—the designs were breathtaking, mostly rich and luxurious fabrics with luscious colors in African prints the fashion industry have come to know and love on a global scale.  The dress makers brewed with so much creativity and it showed.  The pieces just hung on the moving mannequins in all it's crafted glory.  One-by-one, models sashayed the runway in one unique design after another in mostly wearable pieces.  I wouldn't mind some of the designs in my own closet.
I wanted to pick the brains of one of the designers, so I got the attention of Nigeria Next Top Designer Olasimbo Alabi a.k.a Olasimbo Syms of Syms Designs after I'd spent time admiring one of her pieces and engaged her in conversation:

M: What inspired your collection this year?
O: Majorly, it's not really my own inspiration, I participated in a competition and were told to give a
    particular expression to a theme.  We had two themes, one is a revolution, kind of like the evolving
    of fashion and stuff like that; and then the other one is 'em, Ever green--like going green.  So, that's
    majorly it.

M: Are you based here in Lagos, Nigeria?
O: Yes.

M: Is this your first show?
O: This is my first major show, I've done other shows here in Lagos too, and that's Mr. Ideal and then
     I've also done some at Ife (Obafemi Awolowo University),  that's a student's Ife Runway Show,
     not the one by Black and Bold.  Those are the major ones.

M: How did you get started in fashion?
O: Well, I'm an architect and I finished my OA at Obafemi Awolowo University.  It's kind of like part
     of me and my mum is a tailor, so I've been designing all my life.

M: Are you one of those people who'd been scrawling on a notebook for a longtime (laughs), and
     now you've decided to show your gift to the world
O: (Laughs) Exactly.
AFWA Production Manager and Adviser Aydin Acik and Diana Tambe BlackPearl.

M:  That's a bold step, that's very good!
O: Thank you very much.

M: I like people who showcase their talent, they're not afraid to do something different from the  
O: Thank you.

M: That's really commendable.  So, where do you see yourself in the next few years?
O: Ehm, well I intend participating in Project Runway.  Which actually, they might do it in the US or
     Canada, wherever.  I hope to participate and I think it's going to move me to the next level and I
     hope to interact with the popularity—the people in the US or Canada and all like that.  So that's
     majorly it, but as of the moment, I'm going to do my Master's, I'd also have to go to fashion
     school,  I want to go to fashion school because, whatever knowledge I have is just basic
     knowledge.  I'd like to see what is out there.

M: Well, we see your basic knowledge and there's nothing "basic" about it.
O: (Laughs) Thank you very much.

M: You're just going to be adding to what you already know.  It's gonna be more like an enrichment.
      One more question, is there a place to find your collection?  Do you have a store?
O: Ehm, I actually work from home, I have a small place in my house where I do my work, but you
     can contact me: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter.

M: I wish you the best in what you're doing, I hope to see you somewhere that's really, really I can
      say: "I know her!"
O: (Laughs) Thank you.

M: Thank you so much for interviewing with me.
Some designers and clothing lines to note are ones showcased by NNTDs; Ade Bakare, DZYN, Daviva collections, Pokello by Big Brother Africa winners Pokello & Elikem (Polikem), Queen E Collection,  Jazz Effect, Belois couture, House of Marie, Designs by Veteran designer princess Abba Folawiyo of Labanella Couture as just to name a few.  The show also delivered heavyweights of Nollywood—Ramsey Nouah and Monalisa Chindas; Big Brother Africa Contestants, Sen. Daisy Danjuma—Grand Patron of the first edition Africa Fashion Week Nigeria; Nigerian Idol Season 1 winner Amarachi.

I'd like to thank AFWN: Ronke Ademiluyi—Founder and CEO of AFWL and AFWN; Madamme Abiola Okoya, for such a great effort and a successful show I'm proud to be a part of.  Special shout outs to all artists I met and mingled with during the show, all the admirers (you know who you are).  It's been a blast!  This scene will always be my wonderland.
Olasimbo Syms and Muse.
Thanks for reading.
I appreciate you.

Exclusive photos of the event now available here

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