I walked through the gates of the Federal Palace Hotel in Victoria Island nervous. The prospect of covering my first fashion week in two years put me in a state. I was equal parts excited and distress. I sought to distract myself from my mental tyranny so I looked at the hotel properly and wondered if it had the right to call itself a palace. It's an interesting question to ask because as nice as it is, it cannot shake the fact that a building whose only qualities of note are ugliness and depreciation lies behind it.
I got there at 6:15, forty-five minutes after the event was meant to start. It didn't start till 8:30. I thought the wait cruel but that is something you grow used to when you live here. Time, the most precious of things treated like it costs nothing but very few left even when the cruelty of it assumed artistic genius.
It began with Belois couture. Their beginning was promising, a deep red dress that showed off the white model that wore it beautifully. The next one was alright too, a frilly boxy slip of thing, and after that it died and I was weary. It's the same feeling you have when you realise that your boo of two weeks is a non-starter. And then the brand showed a jumpsuit that had what looked like a vagina on its top half. It made me uncomfortable but I was glad because of it. The aim of these things I think is to feel something. If not for that jumpsuit I thought vulgar to the point obscenity, I would have forgotten about the collection altogether, and that is never a good thing. Too much work, and love, and life goes into creating these things for them to be struck from memory.
Wanger Ayu followed Belois, and that, could have done with an edit, or at the very least a second, third and fourth opinion. I say this for two reasons. The first is that in all my years in Lagos, I have not had the pleasure of meeting the woman she had in mind. A woman, who would wear the checkered print that's almost only restricted to house-girls and unfortunate students with confidence could only be a treasure. The second is that everything else was so full of detail, that they very nearly blurred out all that was good about them. She closed her show with a performance by Waje. The clothes sang on the talented performer in a way that they did not on the models.
The problem with Divine Endowments is that there is very little to say. I have seen everything the label showed far too many times for them to feature in what I like to think is an interesting discussion about fashion. I kept glancing at my watch as if the action would speed time up. I found myself thinking of how Mama and Papa Afam had just returned from China and how I probably wouldn't get to see them before they went to bed. You mustn't think that it was bad, because it wasn't. If you needed something to wear tomorrow that would raise no eyebrows,and lead to no double takes, then I doubt you could do better than the quiet conformity of Divine Endowments.
Titi Bello reminded me very much of Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct. It opened with a short dress that had a neckline that plunged to just above the navel; a sexy image the brand did not burn into my mind. In any case, I think the world has tired of vampires and the vampy for just a bit. In about 4 years it'll be all the rage again, but that's another thing about fashion; sometimes the greatest crime is being in the right place at the wrong time.
I was pleased to learn that Lagos Fashion and design week gave the designers of clothing full figured women and men a platform. The models walked with confidence, energy and confidence, with looks that seemed to say "we've beaten the system." As my friend Feyi Adesanya put it, "I'm happy for them. It is a shame that they're not represented in what Nigerians know as high fashion even when they are fashion's largest market." It is more than a shame, it is a travesty; one that many a designer will learn before too long. The model's body is a rare one, it is far better to think of a bigger sized customer than it is to fight for the thin. In the previous collections there were blouses so tight that I turned to Feyi and said, "That piece looks like torture." This section was good even though it did lag at times. There was a blouse by Maki Oba that I thought exceptional.
At the point when my resolve to cover Lagos fashion week was weakest, the models walked out in Style Temple. The brand took traditional shirt collar, blew up its proportions and turned it on its side, revealing clavicles and shoulders with the determined sex appeal and avoidance of tackiness that every good socialite exudes. In hind sight there were parts of it that weren't quite successful, the shirt skirt at the end was not as luxurious as it could have been, but it was the first collection that I thought interesting. The line between practicality and experimentation was walked finely.
When you're a fashion insider, it's surprising to see how many stories you become a part of. You support them even though you know it's tough, and you long for them to do well with everything in your being. This is how I feel about Rayo. She made a paradise for any straw hat lover, and showed the commercial pieces with the concept ones. But there was someone there who was more pleased about how good her collection was than I, her sister, Reni Somoye. She said, "I'm super proud of her. She's shown tremendous growth. I think she's finally overcome a boundary that every designer seems to face, the gap between what you think you have to make, and what you want to make. She's finally making what you want to make." I will own one or more of those straw hats, no matter how many installments it takes.
T.I Nathan was my best of the night. Believe it or not most of us have better things to do than look at clothes. If I wanted to do that, I'd stare at my wardrobe till my eyes bled. He made it an emotional experience for me. First there were pieces printed with what Lagos calls vices. There was a bomber jacket on a girl that said give me your money, and a white t-shirt that said, "Hey I need a job." The latter moved me beyond belief. Unemployment is a condition too abysmal to be so common. And there's the hypocrisy in the supposed shame of it, when the truth of things is that in this country, you could do everything right - get go to school, get good grades, finish National Youth Service and still end up unemployed. T.I ended it with his suits, which are always cut brilliantly. However, some of the crotches were a bit busy. As my mum always says, pack like you'd like to be addressed. I'm not sure that many would appreciate meeting anyone penis first.
Kinabuti stayed true to her customers and presented clothes that were mostly beyond my capacity to understand. Fur in Lagos? For who? For what? For where? For why? In spite of that there was a shirt or two that was nice and that I think is progress.
After this came Tokyo James. The brand conjured images of BDSM which isn't bad at all, but some of it was far too vulgar. I get that fashion designers must push the boundaries of style but a t shirt that says, "SHUT UP AND SUC IT" is a push too far in the wrong direction. To the brand's credit, their tailoring is impeccable.
Before the show began there was much excitement around Onalaja, a brand that's helmed by the young Konyinsola who is yet to complete her masters in fashion design somewhere in Italy. Her clothes looked expensive but sometimes they seemed to move with great difficulty. There were a lot of ideas here, and several risks were taken. This is always more commendable than not taking any risks at all. Some say they'd like to be buried in a metallic coat that she made. I think it's far too good for a shroud. There's great promise here.
The last collection that I saw was by Sisiano. His showing was without a doubt the best of the evening but was only merely good before a male model walked out in a pale pink dress. As he turned the corner I gasped. It was scandalous in the best way possible. You feel it in the air when someone articulates a contrary thought so completely that all must stop consider it. The piece itself seemed to say break the patriarchy, and with it, throw out every vile thing we've come to believe that men are. This one spoke to me of mental health which is a clear example of how perceived notions of masculinity can be fatal. It is believed to be the thing that stops men from seeking help. We're meant strong and independent, but in truth we're not. Our tears are just as transparent and our blood is just as red. However even this collection that made me think of all these things wasn't enough. I want to be astounded. I want to know what it is for clothes to make you weep. It came close to the profound, but there's still ground to be covered. At least Sisiano and a good few I saw last night are moving in the right direction.
I left after this for there is only so much of my time I can give. Staying till the end would have been more expensive than I could afford.