Analysis: LFDW is still crucial for Nigerian fashion, but that white settee says a lot

by Edwin Okolo

The most talked about thing at the Heineken Lagos Fashion and Design Week this year was a white settee. It was only one of several inanimate objects that graced the LFDW runway this year. There were string quartets and pianos, floral arrangements and wooden benches straight out of a classroom. But unlike the others brought as props to enrich presentations, this white settee was hoisted unceremoniously onto the actual runway, disrupting the shows so that a handful of socialites who deliberately refused to come into the presentation space when the shows began could say they sat ‘front row’.

This singular act of posturing and nepotism will define the 5th edition of the Lagos Fashion and Design Week for me and many others in the audience. Not the great presentations by Bridget Awosika, Maxivive, Titi Belo, Washington Roberts, Re Lagos, Sisiano and Gozel Green or the interesting conversations initiated by Yegwa Ukpo, one of this year’s ambassadors or Marjon Corales, senior fashion writer from Vogue US who flew 16 hours to come see the shows. A white settee and socialites who couldn’t see the glaring irony of making the show they supposedly came to see about them instead of the designer’s hard work.

Its quite unfortunate because this year the LFDW team took many quantum leaps forward in their approach to presenting the best of Nigerian fashion. Latasha Ngwube of the alternative fashion publication, About That Curvy Life, shook things up on Day 1 of showcases, creating a collective in partnership with Intel Nigeria that allowed five plus size brands a much coveted chance to showcase their collections to the a global audience through LFDW’s reach. Makioba, Tosfa, Assian, Aisha Abu-Bakr and MaBello Clothier all put plus size men and women on a runway that was formerly the exclusive haunt of rail thin models.

The Lagos Fashion and Design Week incubator programme was also revamped, about time too. Many of the benefits that made the showcase attractive to emerging designers had slowly been stripped away over the years, till all the Fashion Focus programme became was a raffle to win showcase slots at the year’s event. But this year the emphasis was shifted from the LFDW runway to a year long mentorship opportunities with international brands like Edun. That kind of experience is invaluable in a country where the majority of young designers are self taught. Also the emerging designers being taken out of the showcase roster means they aren’t prematurely thrust into the system and are adequately prepared for its pressures when they do decide to join.

But not every idea the Lagos Fashion and Design Week pitched this year panned out so well. The LFDW x Retail initiative, which shows up each year dressed slightly different, has never quite paid off for the designers who participate. Even less so this year where LFDW acted on the ‘See now, buy now’ and Insta-fashion crazes online retail and social media have promulgated. Young designers presenting their new collections at this year’s presentations were encouraged to mass produce and retail at the venue so attendees could ‘shop the runway’.

The only problem was, buying high fashion is an immersive, time consuming experience. With every thing else happening on the showcase grounds, traffic endemic to Lagos and the sheer number of vendors available to patronize; there was simply no time or incentive to check out the retail space. It is cruel to ask self financed designers in a recession to invest in a capsule retail initiative and not guarantee them at least foot traffic. There wasn’t even proper signage denoting the location of the Retail space. That kind of negligence is cruelty.

Thankfully our designers are resilient and continue to better themselves and their brands in spite of all the constraints they face. Papa Oyeyemi’s Maxivive officially debuted Bodun, a second diffusion line that caters to a decidedly younger audience with a stellar presentation that introduced a new generation of models. Orange Culture also wowed with his Rebel’s collection that lauded deviant youth culture. But the true stars of this year were Gozel Green with a superb return to form with their new collection.

Bridget Awosika who has consistently held a standard of craftsmanship other labels only dream about, and Washington Roberts bring architectural structure to our oft print driven runway. Re Lagos finally settled into its new incarnation with a youthful minimalist collection, Rayo and Titi Belo consolidating their house styles and Sisiano cementing his place as Nigeria’s king of the drape. They made the hours guest spent waiting for the shows to start worth it.

There is much that needs to change about the LFDW showcases. But nothing is more urgent than this; the clothes are point of the showcase, and the people who create them. The Lagos Fashion and Design Week runway tent is a sacred space and should be treated as such.

If the LFDW continues to make concessions for people who clearly show by their actions and deliberate lateness that they hold no regard for the designers who they supposedly come to support, eventually these designers will go where they are treated with equitable respect no matter who their friends are.

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