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The reimagined Nigerian fashion event was an homage to the continent’s youthful stars of design.

By Lindsay Samson

Dec 18, 2020

Though the past few years have seen designers from the continent becoming increasingly present on the world stage, barriers of access remain something of an issue for many emerging fashion brands. "We have a lot of talent, enthusiasm, excitement and drive,” states Thebe Ikalafeng, Founder of Africa Brand Leadership Academy, “but unfortunately, we don't see enough resources, patience and patronage that will support the growth of African talents out there.” What’s become clear is that nurturing spaces and platforms—including initiatives like Vogue Talents’ Scouting for Africa prize, an honor that placed designers like Rich Mnisi and Laduma Ngxokolo on the radars of international audiences—as well as the championing by industry power players, are vital for catapulting African talent beyond borders.

Enter this year’s edition of Arise Fashion Week. With the aim of spotlighting 30 emerging and established designers from Africa and the diaspora through its 30 under 30 competition, the socially distanced event was lent a dose of star power by the involvement of supermodel Naomi Campbell. Acknowledging the weight of her endorsement, the icon not only performed hosting duties, she also walked in a couple of shows. Meanwhile, another one of the fashion world’s most influential figures, Condé Nast’s Dame Anna Wintour, connected with the event virtually, singing the praises of both the contest and its boundary-breaking participants.

A celebration of African storytelling, social and environmentally conscious artistry, and superb craftsmanship, this year’s event saw a new generation of diverse talent take to the spotlight with confidence, each of their collections characterized by a similar sense of self-assurance. Read on to find out more about the event’s winning collections, and standout looks, and discover the young designers to know.

Backstage at Arise Fashion Week. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

Backstage at Arise Fashion Week. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

Backstage at Arise Fashion Week. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

THE BIG WINNERS


Kenneth Ize piles on the accolades

Maintaining his 2020 winning streak (this year he debuted at Paris Fashion Week, made the finals of the International Woolmark Prize, and announced a collaboration with the iconic Karl Lagerfeld brand), Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize took home the event’s Grand Prize of US$100,000. Never one to shy away from color, he presented a collection that once more highlighted his signature fabric, Aso Oke. And despite the riotous hues of his garments—and the vibrant stripes, clashing textures, and bold color blocking that dominated the collection—an air of minimalism achieved through simple silhouettes, clean lines, and practical shapes remains the hallmark of his work. 

Kenneth Ize SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

Kenneth Ize SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

Kenneth Ize SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

MMUSO MAXWELL’S MINIMALIST MOVES

Claiming second prize, South Africa’s Mmuso Maxwell showed a collection that reflected its designers enduring inclination toward simplicity, minimalism, and practicality. Despite these constants in the brand’s work, they achieved new levels of intrigue with their use of color, which included natural yet striking tones of forest green, sandy taupe, and sapphire blue. Designers Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko’s pieces spoke to a rejection of trends; instead theirs was a collection of classic yet contemporary garments that speak to the modern woman. Sharply cut suits and asymmetrical skirts were carried down the runway to the smooth grooves of Wizkid, Naomi Campbell’s iconic strut showing off a chocolate brown, double-breasted suit that embodied the brand’s affinity for unusual tailoring.

Mmuso Maxwell SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

Mmuso Maxwell SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

Mmuso Maxwell SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

RÉ LAGOS' FEARLESS FLAIR

With their confidently cut creations, wholehearted embrace of color, and hypnotic take on geometric prints, ready-to-wear brand Ré Lagos nabbed third prize in the 30 Under 30 competition. Presenting an eclectic collection, creative director Orire Omatsola’s sophisticated take on mens- and womenswear incorporated feminine silhouettes, subtle fringing, and mandarin style collars. But it was the label’s vividly hued (shades of dandelion yellow, fiery orange, lime green, and coral pink were abundant) oversized coats, flared trousers, and patchwork, sleeveless jackets that were most notable.

Ré Lagos SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

Ré Lagos backstage SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

Ré Lagos SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

standout looks

TZAR Studios’ Ian Audifferen sent multiple standout looks down the runway, including an irreverent take on the shirtdress that playfully experimented with drapery. Rendered in a sandy shade, its silk form moves fluidly with each motion, appearing to almost dance upon the model’s body. But it was a geometric-printed, poncho-style tunic that emerged as the collection’s highlight; carried down the runway by the legendary Campbell, the poncho and trouser combo convey a breezy aesthetic that is at once polished and relaxed.

Kicking their showing off on a high note, Kenyan label Kiko Romeo's first look was a powder blue exercise in unbridled femininity, a delicious cotton confection that consisted of a halter neck minidress and corresponding jacket. Featuring partially cut-out sleeves that extend beyond the wrist, the unexpected but highly wearable creation is a standout example of the Kenyan brand’s passion for merging expert tailoring with a luxe, avant-garde aesthetic.

Then there was Lagos Space Programme’s almost futuristic presentation, which saw models traipsing along the runway in compellingly muted ensembles made up of bold, oversized knits and deftly cut trousers and tunics, all styled by art director and stylist Kelechi Odu. Designed by Adeju Thompson, his collection was informed by the idea of queerness and elements of Yoruba culture, with one garment in particular stealing the show: a unisex skirt rendered from Adire, a local, indigo resist-dyed textile that’s been used for centuries. And though the piece boasts a casual, unfinished quality, a palpable poise shines through.

Fruché’s thoroughly assured presentation on the other hand presented a selection of garments for whom polish was the name of the game. Designer Frank Aghuno’s collection was a picture of soft femininity, each piece revealing a deep consideration for the diversity of the female form and an adherence to his own wholly unique vision. Elegant takes on day dresses and skirts peppered the range, but it was a playfully constructed sheer evening gown that ultimately stole the show. Cut from a sheer chiffon, the imaginative and graceful piece embodies the Fruché ethos of challenging sartorial expectations of Nigerian women.

Lagos Space Programme SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

Kiko Romeo SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

Fruché SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

ones to watch

elfreda dali

A multidisciplinary artist, Elfreda Dali’s eponymous label—which she launched just last year—merges elements of glamor with casual versatility. Mesh fabrics and jewel embellishment featured as prominent elements of her presentation, while fishtail skirts, and other unusual silhouettes also made themselves known. Dali’s was a collection that played with patterns and voluminous forms to mesmerizing effect. The designer’s own illustrations served as inspiration for some of the prints spotted throughout the range, while unflinchingly bold takes on shapes and silhouettes displayed an intrepid flouting of current trends in favor of spirited innovation.


PEPPER ROW

Pepper Row is a Nigerian label that highlights the need for conscious consumption. The youthful and colorful fashion brand skirts convention with its garments inspired by elements of interior design and produced by indigenous artisans. Founded in 2018 by Omafume Niemogha, the sustainability-focused brand uses methods of upcycling to support their zero-waste policy. For their Arise showing, they exhibited a range of eccentric styles that featured matching sets emblazoned with striking illustrations, raffia woven skirts, and ruffled dresses with voluminous sleeves. Bold and experimental, touches of glitter were woven throughout the range, while rich, bubblegum shades and tiered fringing lent it a touch of cheerful whimsy.


tjwho

Designer Taju Ibrahim of TJWHO showed a collection that walked the line between soft and hard with pieces that oscillated between sculptural and billowing. Sharp, tailored garments were cut from fabrics in muted shades including white, navy, and black, while pajama-inspired plaid and checkered sets emerged as imaginative additions to an otherwise largely subtle collection that let its modern spin on formality do all the talking. Cool, comfortable, and unfussy, it’s a highly accessible collection; with its timeless aesthetic and classic shapes, Ibrahim’s understated, elevated staples are the sort one could wear forever.

Elfreda Dali SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week

Pepper row SS'21. Photo: @trevor_stuurman

TJWHO SS'21. Courtesy of Arise Fashion Week