Fashion is something of a cultural Rosetta Stone: it has always served as a way to explore the culture and to help further understand it. We find ourselves parsing it to decipher and understand everything from the personal to the political to the social. Globally, we see an example of fashion as context-clue in the life and style of Princess Diana, whose outfits have been studied and analyzed for what they meant at the time, what they might have meant in retrospect, and what they mean for us today. On the global music scene, Missy Elliott’s audacious approach to fashion was a game-changer, Aaliyah’s looks are considered almost as iconic as her music, and and Rihanna’s style, on and off the red carpet, played a significant role in making her one of the biggest stars not just of this generation, but of all time.
In Nigeria, as afrobeats make a steady climb on the global charts, so too is the relevance and recognition of Nigerian fashion augmented alongside it. When Nigerian artist, and recent BET Best International Act Award-winner, Burna Boy stepped on the stage to perform at Coachella in 2019, stepped on the stage to perform at Coachella in 2019, it was undoubtedly a moment. However, what made it even more of a moment was that he did it wearing a woven matching trench coat and pants set designed by LVMH Prize finalist and Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize. This amalgamation of Nigerian fashion and Nigerian music on a global stage is easily one of Burna Boy’s most instantly recognizable looks, emblematic of a wider topic: how Nigerian music and its growing popularity is buoying the country’s fashion industry through collaboration.
Speaking to Industrie Africa, Daniel Obasi, a Nigerian stylist and photographer who has worked with several publications and celebrities such as Tiwa Savage and WulrD, explains the uptick in interest in Nigerian fashion, especially from Nigerian artists, saying, ‘‘There is an increased interest simply because the value of Nigerian fashion has risen globally.’’ He adds, “Now it makes more sense to wear a Nigerian designer than just a European brand to show the artist’s proximity to wealth. A lot of people aren’t entirely moved by how many big labels you wear but how many designers from your hometown you can support as well and supporting Nigerian fashion now is good for the image and economy in the long run.’’
Tiwa Savage in Lisa Folawiyo. Photo: via Billboard
Tiwa Savage in IAMISIGO. Photo: via Allure
Burna Boy in Kenneth Ize. Photo: via BellaNaijaStyle
This overlap between Nigerian music and local fashion comes in lockstep with a nationwide campaign asking Nigerians to buy from Nigerian vendors and companies to grow the country’s economy, embodied by the hashtag #buynairatogrowthenaira. One of the effects of this campaign is that it has caused young Nigerians, especially, to find pride as well as a sort of national identity in being identified in pieces by Nigerian designers.
In the past year, I have interviewed several established and rising Nigerian artists, most of whom are quick to share how much they believe in the Nigerian fashion and how much they support the local fashion industry and scene. Singers like Ric Hassani and Adekunle Gold have even gone as far as to brand their style “afrocentric”: both acts are associated with traditional fabrics like Ankara and Adire, modernized pieces partnered after traditional styles like a three-piece suit made out of Ankara and especially pieces by Nigerian designers.
Some of the biggest Nigerian stars such as Tiwa Savage, Wizkid, and Davido may however have more ‘urban’ off-duty styles in their day-to-day lives and sometimes even in their music videos, but when the time comes for editorial images especially when it comes to covers on some of the world’s biggest magazines and publications, they reach for Nigerian designers. Davido has been spotted in WafflesNcream for his TIME 100 Next photo, Tiwa Savage has worn Kenneth Ize for the New York Times and Lisa Folwaiyo for Billboard. Each instance of Nigerian music superstars donning the work of local fashion talent carries an energy of #NaijaToTheWorld and shows that the recording artists bear somewhat of a responsibility to push not just their sounds, which are native to Nigeria, to the world, but also to elucidate the larger culture—of which fashion is a huge part—globally.
Adekunle Gold in Ankara outfit. Photo: via @adekunlegold
Ric Hassani in PatrickSlim. Photo: via @patrickslim
Tiwa Savage in Kenneth Ize. Photo: via New York Times
It is, however, important to not view the relationship between Nigerian music and fashion as a sort of ‘favor’ bestowed upon the latter by the former. Rather, the connection is one of mutualism, with both industries depending on each other. ‘‘Fashion helps build image, relevance, aesthetics, and self-expression,’’ Obasi says. ‘‘Fashion, when well used, can create such an interesting and powerful point of view that is unique to each artist. Over time Nigerian artists have started paying more attention to how what they wear in a music video is perceived not just locally but within the global audience as well,” he continues, adding, “There is [also] more inclusion of Nigerian and African brands in music videos. In videos, the storytelling becomes a lot better [when] the fashion is well thought out. There are certain shock and wow moments in music videos today that [are]possible because of the little fashion details.’’
Fashion immortalizes moments in pop culture, it also helps artists create work that is identifiable as theirs. Just as we can mark the evolution of artists like Beyoncé and Rihanna by paying attention to their style and how it changed over the years, so can the same be said for a singer like Tiwa Savage. She has been working in the music industry for twenty-five years, however, her most iconic video is 49-99, released in 2019, a retro-styled music video with a bit of a nod of afro-futurism, depicting traditional Nigerian hairstyles and fashion. When we look at her music videos for songs like Wanted, released in 2014, and even Ma Lo, which featured Wizkid and was released in 2017, we can see that the taste level that was in full display in 49-99 hadn’t quite been developed and while both Wanted and Ma Lo went on to be successful hit songs, their accompanying music videos weren’t quite as remarkable and were largely forgotten. Similarly, singer WurlD is still associated with a blue butterfly due to a butterfly-like creation created by stylist Daniel Obasi in a music video. This is how fashion helps artists leave a mark.
As interest in Nigerian fashion from the Nigerian music industry rises, we have to wonder what this means for both industries. What can we expect from the future concerning Nigerian music and Nigerian fashion, as well as the intersection of the two? There is little way of truly knowing as Nigerian fashion is, in many ways, a powder keg of talent and potential that has yet to be truly explored. However, as Nigerian music climbs global music charts and dominates the airwaves, making splashes across front covers around the world, it isn’t hard to see Nigerian fashion going along for the ride, providing the scene with multiple and continuous opportunities to grow. ‘‘Nigerian music has so much global reach. A reach that will be so beneficial to the growth of the fashion industry as well,’’ Obasi shares. ‘‘There has to be more collaboration across the board. Globally it has always been a mutually beneficial partnership but unfortunately, that sort of partnership is yet to be fully explored here but when that happens, it’ll transform the industry.’’
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