Arise O’ Fashionistas
That the Arise Fashion Week stage was called “the most beautiful runway in Africa”was a bold, possibly contentious statement.
What makes it more ‘beautiful’ than that the fashion showcases, presentations that happen across the continent throughout the year(s)? And was this statement not even limiting, critics may have wondered, playing into the Western narrative of Africa as a country? What makes a runway beautiful to begin with, anyway?
If beauty in this context is to be approximated to diversity, to honesty, to putting on a show, then Arise earned its own audacious tag.
The fashion extravaganza – as any other word would be insufficient to describe it – did all the things it said it would.
It brought to the fore a collection of designers who are the now, the next and the future, showing designs that were at once conventional with new twists or radical with old and familiar additions.
On the Arise stage we saw Ozwald Boateng, the award-winning, go-to designer for a classic man’s look with edgy, sharp tailoring. There is no doubt that Boateng can cut a suit and every man, who wants to look like a leading man, will go to him.
On the same stage, not long after Boateng, we saw Maxivive, a younger designer, perhaps for the more adventurous man. Maxivive who often defies description and convention, showed clothes that are likely not for now, not classic, but for the future. A future where the lines between menswear and womenswear are blurred, where androgyny is the norm rather than the exception. We applauded them both. We also saw Lanre Da Silva Ajayi (LDA) popularly known for her Victorian era inspired, stately dresses that appeal to an older, conservative woman. LDA surprised us all, shifting from that aesthetic, embracing a more risqué one but still in tones, colours and fabric that suggest maturity: gold. We saw sheer, thighs, a hint of butt but yet we saw royalty.
Where the older LDA was refreshingly pushing the envelope, the younger male, Weiz Dhurm Franklyn sealed it with a tightly curated show covered in ruffles, velvet, exaggerated appliques. We may have expected a collection executed through the male gaze and gratuitous nudity. We were pleasantly – again - surprised.
On the Arise stage too, we also saw exceptional, world class talent and diversity. If you remain doubtful, look to the collections of Nigerian Bridget Awosika, Funke Adepoju, Odio Mimonet, South African Kluk CGDT, Rich Mnisi, Orapele Modutle or Ivorien Loza Maleombho, Tanzanian, Mustafa Hassanali, to mention a few. Their collections were rich in story and execution. They would be at home on anybody or storefront anywhere in the world – including all the supposed fashion capitals. One of the more interesting collections of these was perhaps that of Chulaap, from South Africa. Worn by celebrities such as Casper Nyovest, Mr Eazi, it is a unisex brand, run by Chu Suwannapha, a male, Capetown-based designer of Thai descent. An explosive melange of prints, his collection was a clear homage to South African culture. He did not use white or Asian models. In one Instagram post he said, “Your heritage (South Africa’s presumably) is my inspiration.” How’s that for diversity? And then there were the stars. The Arise runway was not done yet. Clearly, if you are going to put on an unforgettable show, you need showstoppers.
First, the world’s preeminent supermodel Naomi Campbell cat walked. Before this she had held the city spellbound, spurning hundreds of photographs, videos wherever she appeared. One moment, she was seen in Ikoyi with billionaire oil mogul, Femi Otedola, next she was hugging the talented dance crew of kids Dream Catchers in Ikorodu. On stage, she was just as mesmerising.
Joining her on the runway were Nigeria’s very own Oluchi Orlandi, Ojy Okpe both ageless, equally fierce. Only Oluchi after all, could walk in a Quintera George dress that was endless stories of structural ruffles that might have overwhelmed a less experienced model.
Not left out was global fashion industry’s latest darling, the fresh faced Imaan Hammam. Hammam who is of African-Arabic descent, is only 21 years old but has been on the cover of American Vogue three times. She was also namechecked by the legendary editor of the publication, Anna Wintour in one of her editor’s letters.
There was also Victor Ndigwe, a male Nigerian model who is showing up in important fashion campaigns and runways globally from Belstaff to Balmain. One must also mention Uju, perhaps the most prominent and faithful face on Nigerian runways and who has had the best walk in the game for years. The stars didn’t only shine on the runway, though. On the event carpet, backstage, and in front row, we saw Mobolaji Dawodu, Style Editor, GQ; NigerianBritish musician and designer, Tinie Tempah; Richard Mofe-Damijo, eternal Nollywood leading man (who also walked the runway); Mo Abudu, television mogul; Toyin Saraki, wife of the Senate President of Nigeria, healthcare philanthropist and one of the most powerful
What was also noteworthy about the Arise runway was a clear, courageous call to return to the roots. Yes, mesh the Western with the indigenous. But go even further, dare to deal with the indigenous exclusively.
women in Nigeria.
There was also Ruth Osime, Executive Editor, THISDAY Style magazine and Co-Creative Director of Arise Fashion Week. Before the call for lights, camera and action, and after the lights had dimmed and the shows had come to a close, she was an ever present force. She was like the Buddhist deity, Pratisara with four faces and eight hands, overseeing everything, everywhere at the same time. She made sure every crease was made to disappear, that every designer was Arise ready and worthy, that the show went on, hiccup be damned. Many people are quick to call her Nigeria’s Anna Wintour. No, she is Nigeria’s Ruth Osime who needs no comparison or requires any validation.
What was also noteworthy about the Arise runway was a clear, courageous call to return to the roots. Yes, mesh the Western with the indigenous. But go even further, dare to deal with the indigenous exclusively. Two designers echoed this call the best.
In the Sunny Rose and Re collection, we saw the incredible possibilities of the aso-oke fabric. In decadent shawls, skirts, colours, fringe detailing, wide-legged pants both designers showed us a woman and a look that transcends time and place. She is something borrowed, something old, and something new all at once.
The creations and the models were like the runway they walked, beautiful.