Global Mode: Suzy Menkes and Nigerian Fashion Week 2013

If you are up on your Fashion Week schedule, you surely didn’t miss MTN Lagos Fashion and Design Week in Nigeria at the end of October. The most populous nation in Africa and seventh most populous country in the world, Nigeria is noted for its enthusiastic middle class and wealthy elite, each with an interest in fashion and shopping. It seems a logical progression to establish a proprietary Fashion Week in addition to shows by Nigerian designers in the West, such as Tiffany Amber showing at London, Paris, and New York Fashion Weeks, or the upcoming “Africa Showcase” at Baltimore Fashion Week. Ituen Basi received especial praise for her S/S 2013 collection, shown not only at LFDW, but also Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg, South Africa (held the same week in October). Based on this success, Basi has apparently been guaranteed a spot at MBFW in New York.

Models wearing designs by Ituen Basi during the Spring/Summer 2013 Lagos Fashion and Design Week, October 2012. Photo: Benedicte Kurzen for the International Herald Tribune.

Organized by Omoyemi Akerele, the Spring/Summer LFDW shows by 77 designers were covered in real time with resounding applause by pan-African and Nigerian fashion media such as Ladybrille, African Fashion International, and HauTeFashionAfrica. Suzy Menkes of the New York Times got around to covering the Nigerian shows yesterday, perhaps inspired by her participation in the International Herald Tribune Conference on Luxury, subtitled “The Promise of Africa, the Power of the Mediterranean.”

“Suzy Menkes and Jessica Michault in conversation with Alexandre Herchcovitch, Pedro Lourenço, Carlos Miele and Cecilia Deane.” From the IHT Luxury Conference, November 15, 2012. Awfully few non-European faces featured in the pictures posted the IHT website, which also quotes Menkes: “Diversity is the essence of the IHT Luxury Conference.” Photo: uncredited, International Herald Tribune.

The NYT has published a spate of fashion articles featuring “the promise of Africa” in the past two days, including interviews with New-York based Nigerian designer Duru Olowu, an article on the modern iteration of Dutch-made wax-printed African cotton fabrics, the use of exotic skins by Capetown’s Cape Cobra, and Menkes’ take on the IHT conference subtitle. She suggests that we should think of African fashion potential as we do Italian fashion prowess: each country boasts incredible “skill of human hands.” Most African needleworkers employed by couture or fashion houses work for Western companies such as Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood, but Menkes sees the star of African fashion rising, and suggests that designers from African countries could employ these skilled women domestically: “European know-how” can be “harnessed to traditional hand-work,” producing “genuinely global luxury.”

“Women in a Nairobi workroom, where projects are done for designers from Stella McCartney to Vivienne Westwood. Organizers say crochet work is a good specialty because it does not require much in the way of supplies or natural resources.” Photo: Chloé Mukai/ITC/United Fashion.

Had you heard of Lagos Fashion and Design Week before reading about it in the New York Times, or here? (I hadn’t.) Do you think African Fashion Weeks and designers need Western press to gain success? Do African designers and handworkers need to learn from European tradition? Selfridges, which ranks Nigerian shoppers fifth in sales volume at their stores, has been watching the Nigerian fashion scene evolve, and will offer some of the “best fashion from Nigeria” in their London stores soon. Is this an independent step forward for Nigeria, which was a British colony until 1960, or Western chains capitalizing on exoticism? Does the inclusion and acceptance of African fashion in Western circles produce “genuinely global luxury?” What does global mean here? Should African designers vie for spots in London and New York Fashion Weeks, or are separate events like African London Fashion Week more appropriate and empowering?

Please leave your comments and ideas below!


Lead photo caption: Models in Spring/Summer 2013 designs by Lanre DaSilva Ajayi, October 27, 2012. Photo: AP Photo/Sunday Alamba.

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1 Comment

  • Brenna November 27, 2012 08.13 pm

    I didn’t know about the Lagos fashion week, but I will keep an eye on it in future from now on.

    You raise some very difficult but pertinent questions. It worries me that it might be the West continuing to exploit the craftsmanship — and cheap labour — found in Africa, and yet the existence of a middle or elite class in Nigeria itself is encouraging. I think there is still a long way to go, but that the fact Lagos Fashion and Design Week is getting attention from Suzy Menkes and others is a good sign.


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