In Lagos, an emboldened generation of designers are toppling authority
William Rice and Kayito Nwokedi capture the city’s emerging vanguard as they reshape the landscape of Nigerian fashion
One morning, in the middle of March, William Rice and Kayito Nwokedi found themselves bodied by a swarm of police officers. The duo were setting up for a photoshoot in an abandoned office block in the centre of Lagos when gun-toting officials began to pour out of a neighbouring military barrack, forcing the photographer, stylist, and their creative team to camp out beneath bundles of clothing until the coast had cleared. “Locals have to work their daily lives around this kind of presence but it’s always overcome,” Rice says.
In Nigeria, calls to abolish the police began to swell in October 2020 when #EndSARS activists took a stand against the country’s most corrupt units, not long after #ACAB found its footing in the US and UK. This, teamed with a spate of #ChildNotBride protests and the reintroduction of anti-LGBTQ+ laws, continues to backdrop the lives of many young Nigerians, who are working in spite of (and despite) increasingly corrosive conditions. But, as Rice and Nwokedi hope to capture, “creative and cultural shifts happen when under attack” and Lagos is fast becoming a honeypot for up-and-coming design talent, among them LVMH Prize-nominated Kenneth Ize and Adebayo Oke-Lawal.
“Young creatives are so politically aware these days,” Nwokedi says. “It informs the way they design. We share a common love for optimism and resilience, via vibrant prints, colours, and silhouettes.” Between spirit-raising bath pouffe capes, feathered bodices, and coiling lampshade gowns, the capital’s emerging designers embody “some of the power and confidence that comes when your back is up against a wall.” Sifting through his own experience as a queer person, for Rice, this editorial was all about togetherness, epitomised by a monochromatic image of models Alex and Ufuoma in a carnal embrace. “I think I was creating a utopian fantasy of how wonderful it would be if we could all come together in our daily lives, no matter where we are, or what form our gender and sexual identities take.”
In the gallery above, Zizi Cardow, Ituen Basi, Ene Maya, and Jzo tease the tenets of traditional garb, flanked by Rick Dusi and Wilo Studio’s takes on tailoring and streetwear, while below, we explore the work of some of the other major names blooming beneath Rice and Nwokedi’s spotlight.
Born and bred in Lagos, Oyindamola Aleshinloye’s career began at her kitchen table, where she forged scraps of fabric into miniature dresses for her dolls. As an adult, the designer’s approach to fashion remains rooted in fantasy, creating maximalist party looks from enormous whorls of silk dupioni, gold lamé, and form-fitting needle felt, overblown at the shoulder and hacked provocatively at the thigh. Her most recent outing at Lagos fashion week saw Aleshinloye craft an entire collection from deadstock fabric, having implemented a no-waste policy in her production line. Despite making her runway debut just 2 months after launching KADIJU, Aleshinloye is already considered a protagonist in the city’s youthquake.
A graduate of the Istituto Marangoni in Paris, Abiola Olusola launched her eponymous label in 2017, merging clean-lined womenswear with an artisan’s touch. Throughout her collections, drop-waist silhouettes obscure the body’s contours, while flailing straps, nimble bows, and ruched portholes inject looks with a certain femme flounce. As a direct-to-consumer brand, Olusola isn’t interested in behemoth production runs, taking on a zero-inventory approach and preferring to work with local craftspeople. Like so many other emerging designers in the region, the designer’s practice is rooted in responsibility, demonstrating how sustainability need not come at the expense of style.
In 2017, Y’WANDELAG was established with the intention of preserving the traditional asooke weaving technique. Since then, designer Fatima Lagundoye has reimagined the fabric as a cornerstone of contemporary dress, proffering fluid and off-kilter basics, drawing inspiration from the seemingly unremarkable aspects of daily life: “It could be the corner of a building, the asymmetric tilt of a wall hanging.” Contributing a serpentine, heavily-fringed gown to Rice’s editorial, at Lagos Fashion Week Y’WANDELAG’s collection was made up of hand-woven dresses, stitched with vein-like ropes, while flapper-style tassels spouted from clunking, wooden peepholes.
Having collaborated with Orange Culture, Shekudo, and Odio Mimonet, Omonigho Studio has lent its handmade macramé to some of Nigeria’s leading fashionistas. A skimpy set of verdant vests, made in partnership with GDWN studio, features in Rice’s imagery – subverting the stuffy associations of traditional craftsmanship. Whether via cross body harnesses, utilitarian cardis, or fringed corsetry, Omonigho Studio imbues the technique with a certain sex appeal, crafted by a workshop of local artisans.
All earthen textures and lush, autumnal colour palettes, kkerelé is a Lagos-based design studio “interested in the ways mindful craft informs mindful living”. Its footwear is the sartorial equivalent of an Ubald Klug sofa – forged from bulbous cords and curvaceous silhouettes – redolent of sculptural, Japanese Geta sandals. Informed by the time-worn history of leather production in Africa, kkerelé’s creations are gender fluid, and play with the staid tropes of footwear design, boasting geometric heels, convoluted straps, and croissant-like uppers.