Style Observer

CFW2019 It's A Wrap! - Hello, Africa

Sunday, June 23, 2019

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SO attended Sunday's CFW 2019 ostensibly to see the collection of Mai Atafo, the one-time Guinness brand manager, who is today referenced sotto voce in fashion circles as the Boateng of Lagos. It was worth the trek. Actually, there was more than we had hoped for: a triumvirate of excellence in Atafo, Ituen Basi and Tokyo James. Their heightened sense of design raised no eyebrows from us at SO , aware since 2012 that Africa, as reported by Suzy Menkes in the Fashion & Style section of The New York Times , was in the news “not for the sad and familiar reasons of conflict and suffering... but was entering the fashion arena with the quality of its handwork, artistic creativity and its potential for economic growth bringing Africa literally in vogue”. Hers was not the only voice; the then editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia , Franca Sozzani [now deceased], presented in the May L'Uomo Vogue an all-Africa edition of the magazine with images of beauty and grace far removed from violence and poverty. “All the pictures are made in a glamorous way; there is nothing sad, trashy or poor,” she said. “People may say that Vogue does not want to talk about sickness and poverty, but if we can give an uplifting image, it is helping people who would not have considered Africa at all.”

Nollywood actress Omotola Jalade Ekeinde was yet another voice out of Africa. Her dream at that time was to have Hollywood knocking on Africa's doors. It was no pipe dream, when one considered that 1,093 films were produced in Nigeria each year compared with 555 in the USA, this according to a 2011 UNESCO survey.

Fast-forward seven years and Ghanaian-born Edward Kobina Enninful makes history as British Vogue's first male, first black editor. He has already signalled his intent re: the continent, with his contributing editor Naomi Campbell championing it as fashion's next destination.

It's against this background that we spotlight Nigeria's standard bearers: Atafo, Basi and James.

Atafo, the bespoke tailor who loomed large in formal caftans all weekend long, seduced us with his collection, an homage to haute Africa of chiselled suitings. For the suits Mai took the unconventional approach and used a metallic version of taffeta and where he used jacquard (the ivory suits) he wove metallic thread within them.

The lapel collar for the tuxedo came in velvet and the tuxedo itself was wool that resembled denim to complement the denim in the collection for a more cohesive presentation. For the woman he nipped the waist, ignored the bustline and oh Mai, Mai, afforded us the option of wearing suits 52 weeks of the year.

The finale came in a mini confetti collection of gowns so voluminous, so impeccably fitted and in such glorious colours that all we could do was give thanks that he turned his back on Guinness!

British/Nigerian Tokyo James introduced athleisure complete with leather belts that became suspenders, cuffs, and man bags carried and/or placed across the body. There were, too, structured stripes to underscore the softer side and perhaps the gender fluidity of today's fashion.

BBC fave Ituen Basi brought CFW 2019 to a glorious end with a whimsical, fun collection [she insisted that her models smile and have fun] that evoked the cultural roots of the Motherland. Whereas James and Atafo stepped out of the predictable, Basi placed her roots front and centre but with a fresh interpretation that would find favour not only with Nigeria's next gen but with a world hungry for new and different. Ankara fabric has never looked better.

The strength of the Nigerians aside, CFW after a one-year break showed improvement with shows on both nights starting promptly and running tightly. The rainforest was novel; not sure that the rows of plastic chairs would pass muster with NEPA, however. CFW must spotlight the region's best along with brutal editing. Biggy needs to go back to his roots and, if needs be, review tapes of his collection worn by the sultry Carla Campbell for inspiration. Dancehall is alive and well.

The stunning Alicia Burke provided a temporary stay of execution for Uzuri International who are in need of stitches upon stitches of intervention.

The experience, cut and styling of Meiling and Pegus will ensure longevity. Robert Young for The Cloth was a refreshing dose of crisp Caribbean air with every piece of his collection ready for export.

Nigerian High Commissioner to Jamaica Janet Omoleegho Olisa wants to see our designers attend Lagos and/or Arise fashionweek. SO wants that too, and more. How about floors in Alara Lagos of the best of the Caribbean? How about our best models on the runway? For this to happen egos must be placed firmly in check!

We're throwing shade at both Kingsley Cooper of Pulse International and Deiwght Peters of Saint International... our nation deserves so much more. Not to mention a longer runway!

Photos: Garfield Robinson, Norman Thomas, and Jason Tulloch


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