A journalist walked up to me recently and asked if I had noticed how Nigerian male designers were boldly throwing taboo to the wind.
Taboo? Hmm… I mean they are definitely reaching places never threaded before and are thinking outside the box but I’m not sure I will describe that as “throwing taboos to the wind,” I replied. “Nah!” he said wide eyes, “I mean the gay taboo.”
Fashion has long been perceived as the domain of gay men.. True to that cliche, most of the people I interviewed often presumed that a male designer is gay until he announces himself otherwise.
Let’s examine this together for a second. Last season, leading label, Orange Culture did the (almost) unthinkable presenting it’s critically acclaimed A\W 16 collection which was candid, and unapologetically self-expressive.
But what do you think when you see these editorial pictures?
Dayo Ademola, a 300 Level student at the University of Lagos believes these fashion expression have altered our culture – it’s not just fashion, it’s a statement. And for many people whose ideas of gender identity are rigid – it can a threat to convention.
Orange Culture somewhats supports this when it described itself as a “movement” more than a clothing line, for a creative class of men who are “self-aware , expressive, explorative, art-loving nomad[s].”
The models are making a statement, blurring the lines of intimacy typically allowed in the Nigerian masculine identity space. Just… being. In a significantly different way.
Cue the casual, intimate holding of hands below – slightly, unobtrusively, deliberately.
Or you could call all that an exaggeration.
Today’s bright young menswear designers in Nigeria, male stylists and style influencers continue to blaze the trail using their collections and work as a space to openly explore identities and have gone on to be featured in international magazines from Vogue to Vanity Fair completely devoid of subversive subtext.
And if we decided to look at the collections with traditional eyes, if one squinted one’s eyes and looked sideways at each season’s lookbook editorial collection, you could spot the open secret staring right back- from men holding each other affectionately, men adorned with dainty flowers on their head, to men wearing skirts…
Yeah, someone’s deliberately pushing the boundaries – of identity, at the very least.
There is the brand, Tokyo James which has more publicly tested social mores in Nigeria – for example releasing an AW16 theme exploring the meaning of ‘freedom’ was featured in Fader Magazine where the writer describes Tokyo James as having a penchant for marrying unusual textiles and daring silhouettes. Tokyo James brand claims it is for modern men who want simplicity with an edge. The brand owes its core competence to the designer’s philosophy – creating and living your individuality.
Individuality is the point on which it all rests. Perhaps that’s the ultimate agenda – the right for everyone to be, who they are, how they are, paying no need to the lines placed by other people. Who says this is only to be worn by men and that is only to be worn by women?
Individuality is a very interesting word when exploring sexuality and the gay agenda. Fashion historian, Valerie Steele once noted that…
After the 18th century, cross-dressing “mollies” and effeminate “macaronis” from meager circumstances began to gather in secret societies, private clubs and dark corners — causing a stir by blurring gender lines. Dandified style started to become egalitarian — far too democratic for the power brokers’ taste. Capitalism’s rising industrialists rejected colour and frippery, leaving it associated with homosexuality.
The 20th century introduced the era of hyper-masculinity and swagger, which emerged in the years after the 1969 uprising at New York’s Stonewall Inn. The working-class, tough-guy costuming — cut-off denim, work boots, leather chaps — signalled the start of the modern gay rights movement.The 21st century brought gay men who were crafting traditional styles yet assembling them with more glamour and greater sex appeal. And, wearing them with more confidence. “I don’t think that it is very helpful that fashion plays with gender, but they do so as a trend without recognising that the way people dress and express themselves is not a trend, but their lived experience,” Steele said.
Then, there are those who call freak-out on everything – both those who will push the boundaries and those who are suspicious of a so-called conspiratorial gay agenda.
Like the (legend, no less) designer, Giorgio Armani seems to think we are getting a bit ahead of ourselves and everyone needs to just chill out.
The Telegraph reported him saying; “a man has to be a man”.
The outspoken 80-year-old who has never denied that he is gay added: “A homosexual man is a man 100%. He does not need to dress homosexual. When homosexuality is exhibited to the extreme – to say, ‘Ah, you know I’m homosexual,’ – that has nothing to do with me (the designer). A man has to be a man.”
To conclude, designer Becca McCharen in an interview with The Huffington Post believes regardless; “It’s up to designers to design for different bodies, to cast different bodies in their runway shows and their ad campaigns; it’s a domino effect starting with the designer. I hope to see more designers doing the same. It’s exciting to be at the beginning of trends and knowing we have had the power to change both styles and minds.”
These are conversations Nigeria hasn’t begun to have – or maybe hasn’t begun to have on the pages of magazines and newspapers.
Don’t be silly of course. There is no over-aching ‘gay agenda’. But, the clothes we see on the runways and on the blogs are already kick-starting an important cultural conversation – about identity, about masculinity and what the future most certainly holds.
What do you think?
Drop your comments below…