Talk about finding a gem! I just happened to stumble across the Meena design label; established over 5 years ago. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to find the Nigerian fashion house and its Creative Director, Uju Offiah. As soon as I saw the SS16 collection, I was like, “WOW”.
The Lagos based designer has showcased previous work at regional fashion shows, Music Meets Runway 2011, Arise Magazine Fashion Week 2012 and the 2012 MTN Lagos Design & Fashion Week. However, it was at the Heineken Lagos Fashion & Design Week 2015, where she revealed her SS’16 collection of structured dresses and custom made prints, that stopped me in my tracks while surfing the net. The SS’16 lookbook, entitled ‘Ochiagha’ from the Igbo language, translates into ‘Neoteric Warriors’.
According to Meena, the collection was inspired by ‘Nsibidi’ – a pre-colonial symbolic method of communication among the Igbo people, in the south eastern part of Nigeria: Symbols were arranged in clusters telling a story of victory, resilience, love & hate, peace and unity of Nigerians.
The collection artistically evokes unity and peace in spite of the recent challenges and insurgencies in northern Nigeria.
A modern person; a person who advocates new ideas (noun).
Belonging to recent times; recent (adjective).
Credits: PHOTOGRAPHY: Lakin Ogunbanwo (@lakinogunbanwo) | ART DIRECTION: Lakin Ogunbanwo & Uju Offiah | Model: Aduke (@adukebey_) of@bethmodelafrica | MAKE UP: Stella (@stellasaddiction ) | HAIR: Bernard (@bernardsmiless )
Snippets of an African legacy from a colourful perspective
It’s been a couple of weeks since Christian Louboutin announced the extension of his nude range of shoes from 5 to 7 different shades. A much welcomed announcement to shoe lovers (who can afford the luxury price tag), as it portrays an inclusive mind set in the luxury fashion industry. The range is labelled from Nude #1, which some describe as “porcelain,” and Nude #7, described by others as “deep chocolate.”
Louboutin’s first nude range launched in 2013, and three years later he’s broadened his horizons. I think the range should have been comprehensive from conception but at least attempts have been made to increase the Louboutin nude shoe collection. Luxury fashion may be accessible for a select few, but there are a diverse range of people who dabble in the luxury fashion bubble.
“The nude collection is dedicated to people who want to have great legs, to have a great silhouette,” – Christian Louboutin
I’ve always been uncomfortable with the description “nude” because I didn’t see options which matched my skin tone, and that was a problem. I felt that it was false advertising, not just from Louboutin, but from any fashion retailer who used the term, alongside a limited product line.
Previously, Christian Louboutin has explained that according to him, “nude is not a colour, it’s a concept”.
What do you think?
Could this be the start of a much needed evolution in the fashion industry? Some designers are pushing the boundaries of fashion in a positive direction, #NudesForAll.
Snippets of an African legacy from a colourful perspective
Fashion isn’t just about clothes and models; it’s supposed to be but it isn’t. There’s been a lot of talk about racism in the fashion industry, from those within and those outside the industry. Racism is a problem in many industries, fashion isn’t unique here. No matter how creative/chic/stylish the clothes are on runways in the West, the lack of ethnic diversity is always on show – race and fashion now come hand in hand.
The fashion industry has been a certain way for a long time and change is difficult to embrace. It’s not just about having more ethnic models on the runway, but ethnic people in positions of power and influence behind the scenes of the industry, whether that be designers or casting agents etc. Fashion designers get inspiration from various cultures, but generally display their creations on a white canvas. This has been done for years, but now with everything else that’s going on, it seems we’re grappling with race in nearly every facet of Western society. Whether it be in the education system, in the corporate world, the film industry, the judicial system – the issue of race lurks.
Black models have been complaining for years about makeup artists unwilling to work with them, not having the makeup they need for photoshoots and sometimes resorting to bringing their own make up. It’s also been voiced about how much harder it’s for black models to actually get modelling jobs, compared to their white counterparts. For one famous black model, Sudanese beauty, Ajak Deng the industry became too much to bear and she announced that she was quitting! Ajak didn’t explicitly say that racism was the cause of leaving a career that millions of girls around the world covet, however the media has drew its conclusions.
“I am happy to announce that I am officially done with the fashion industry, I will be moving back to Australia in order to live the life that I fully deserve. Which is real life.” – Ajak Deng.
Ajak arrived in Australia as a child refugee, and has been photographed in renowned fashion publications and modelled for world famous designers, such as Louis Vuitton, Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino, Givenchy and Marc Jacobs. She has appeared in Vogue Australia before, but it was earlier comments by her manager Stephen Bucknall, which gave further indications that her decision to quit had something to do with discrimination. Bucknall claims he finds it difficult to book jobs for Ajak in Australia, and was quoted in an Australian newspaper saying, “The Australian market doesn’t want to take the risk of using darker models as mainstream models…“They’ll book the big Caucasian girls, spend the big dollars, and fly them in from LA, but I’m yet to see them book a dark skinned girl in that way.”
Psychological and emotionally it’s hard to accept that a country you call home doesn’t accept you just because of your skin colour. However, when I heard that Ajak quit modelling I thought it was a bit premature and so did she! A few days ago, after a week ‘in retirement’ she announced she is coming back to modelling!
photo credit: fashionhauler.com
Even if she can’t get work in Australia, she does well in other markets! When you’re put in a position of prominence sometimes you have to stick it out and pave the way for those to come after you. She is part of a bigger picture and summed it up nicely:
“I feel like I have touched so many young people’s lives, gave them hope. Just because I come from NOTHING does not mean that I can’t make something for myself and for that I will still want to continue to touch more lives. Yes sure giving up is easier but who will fight the war that we are so in denial about? … I apologize to every kind souls/hearts that I have broken in the past week. I thought giving up was easier but I am going to stay and fight this war with kindness, forgiveness, love, and support to all humanity.”
Good for you Ajak!
“Representation” is another word you’ll find dancing around the fashion/race row boxing ring, but like most things in life, the solutions to this issue are not black and white. During Zac Posen’s show at NYFW 2016, 25 black models (including Ajak), walked the runway, displaying his designs.
Photo credit: Daniele Oberrauch.
This rubbed some people up the wrong way. There were white models in the lineup, but some spectators were not happy that black models were in the majority, in a country (America), where black people are a minority. In general Posen’s show was well received but some were not filled with the same sentiment. Is it simply a case of mirroring model quotas to census data of the general population?
Part of this problem is that there isn’t any balance in the world, full stop. If the fashion industry in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and Latin America was as established as it is in the West, then maybe there would be a larger pie to eat from? The race issue in fashion is no longer dormant. If the industry wants to divorce itself from its unsavoury companion, then it will have to change. That may only happen if society changes, after all the fashion industry is run by human beings. If the fashion industry is prejudice, it’s because society is still prejudice.
Whatever the cause / intention of one of the shortest retirements in history, the fashion and race discourse continues. Watch this runway…
Snippets of an African legacy from a colourful perspective.
The two-day annual African fashion extravaganza that is Africa Fashion Week London 2015, celebrated its finale on Saturday. Showcasing the talents of African and African-inspired designers from the continent and the diaspora. For a 5th year running this event was embraced by London once again. More than just a trend, there is no doubt that African fashion is here to stay. Owning the most colourful segment of the fashion industry, African designers can tell their stories through the woven threads of African print (and non-print) fabrics.
In addition to shows like this, the driving force behind the crescendo of popularity surrounding African fashion has been Africans themselves! In Africa and across the diaspora, social media has given African fashion a voice, with YouTube vloggers and fashion bloggers sharing their own favourite designs and fashion tips with the world, making African fashion accessible. One of the most notable elements of African fashion which has made a crowning comeback over the years within the diaspora is the head wrap.
Head warps were worn by Africans before slavery (where it was used a symbol of poverty and disgrace) illustrating the wealth and social status of men and the beauty, spirituality, marital and social status of women. As time has moved on, the head wrap has become a feminine accessory ubiquitous across Africa; and known by various names including dhuku and Gele.
Although the head wrap has been a staple in African traditional culture for centuries, it’s becoming a coveted accessory for the young and old, at special occasions and for every day casual wear.
What do you think about the head wrap? Vote below!
The highly anticipated Africa Fashion Week London descended upon the English capital this weekend. This brainchild of Ronke Ademiluyi, isn’t just about high fashion catwalk shows but also creators of African inspired products and accessories. Africa Fashion Week London provides a platform for African inspired creativity to be showcased globally and celebrates designers from Africa, the UK and the rest of diaspora.
Start as you mean to go on: Day 1 starts with a bang!
The burgeoning African fashion industry is going from strength to strength. There is no doubt that events like Africa Fashion Week London are a contributing factor to increasing awareness of African designer talents. Contrary to popular belief, African Fashion isn’t just about African prints but also, elegant tailoring and a fusion of various textiles. Endorsements from celebrities such as Michelle Obama who has been spotted in various designs by Duro Oluwa and fashion houses, including Vivienne Westwood and Burberry (despite the controversy) have also helped to move the African fashion industry from the fringes of the fashion world.
AFWL is collaborative and works with other events such as The Mayor of London’s Black History Month celebrations and the annual Africa Centre Summer Festival. It’s this collaborative format that allows the African fashion story to be seen by everyone and not just those ‘in the know’, which has seen African fashion become more than just a “traditional” or “ethnic” alternative but an important facet of the global fashion industry. The love for African fashion not only has a positive impact on the industry itself, but also on the perception of the continent.
Africa Fashion week London 2015 kicks off in a few days, providing the ideal opportunity to put the spotlight on African models. It’s not easy breaking into the fashion world, especially when you’re black, with short natural hair and ‘plus-size’, but Philomena Kwao has done just that. A Miss Ghana UK finalist in 2008, the London born Ghanaian model has a first class degree in Economics and a Masters’ degree in International Health Management adding to her list of achievements. Not subscribing to the usual stereotypes of the modelling industry and dubbed ‘Britain’s first black plus-size model’, Philomena is challenging what is means to be beautiful.
Find out more about Philomena in 60 seconds:
I’m not a fan of the term ‘plus-size’, but it’s human nature to categorize things. If you’re a model, then you are a model full stop. The average dress size in the UK is said to be size 16; women such as Holly Willoughby, Nigella Lawson, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez are celebrated (whether you like them or not) for their physiques; which are not seen at high fashion catwalk shows but admired in popular culture. The fact is, women (and men) come in different sizes and it’s normal to see this in real life. It’s about time the fashion world starts to imitate the real world, rather than having sub-cultures of modeling. Whether your ‘slim’ or ‘plus-size’, as long as you’re healthy, that’s normal, and seeing different body sizes at mainstream fashion shows should be normal.
After winning a national modelling competition with Models1, Evans and Cosmopolitan UK Magazine in 2012, Philomena went on to win the Rising Star award at GUBA (Ghana UK Based Achievement awards) that same year. Philomena signed with Ford Models and flew across the pond to NYC to commence her (unplanned) modeling career.
In December 2014, Philomena was introduced as the latest brand ambassador for Torrid in the U.S. She recently created The Lily Project, connecting young girls with inspirational mentors. Having darker skin is unfortunately uncomfortable for many women, and an issue which has been debated within the black community many times over; in a recent interview Philomena recounts one of her most memorable experiences with The Lilly Project.
“I received a question on my Tumblr about how I’ve learned to love my dark skin. I remember it clearly because the girl in question listed all the bleaching products she had tried and was reaching her wits end with desperation. She wanted to try out an injection or something before she saw my picture and decided to message me. It touched me because I remember not always being so confident in my size or my skin colour. I wanted to be lighter like all the celebrities and beautiful women I knew….”
Obviously more comfortable in her skin, Philomena continues to walk that walk, demonstrating that there is beauty in intelligence and what you have on the inside too. Sometimes what we think is a hindrance can turn out to be an asset.