Africa Rising: The Top 10 Designers To Watch From Arise Fashion Week in Lagos, Nigeria

For a split second I almost thought I was at New York Fashion Week. Backstage, top models like Georgie Badiel, Alek Wek and Oluchi Onweagba were getting beautified, while at front of house an army of street style photographers stalked the front row for candids of celebs and it-girls. Outside, copies of an all-African daily (suspiciously similar to The Daily Front Row) were being handed out to thousands of paying guests while the oversized tents, similar to those at Lincoln Center, were prepped for the influx. Yet as time went on, it became increasingly clear that this was definitely not New York. This was Arise Magazine Fashion Week in Lagos, Nigeria--and for all the similarities--it's a whole different ball game.
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For a split second I almost thought I was at New York Fashion Week. Backstage, top models like Georgie Badiel, Alek Wek and Oluchi Onweagba were getting beautified, while at front of house an army of street style photographers stalked the front row for candids of celebs and it-girls. Outside, copies of an all-African daily (suspiciously similar to The Daily Front Row) were being handed out to thousands of paying guests while the oversized tents, similar to those at Lincoln Center, were prepped for the influx. Yet as time went on, it became increasingly clear that this was definitely not New York. This was Arise Magazine Fashion Week in Lagos, Nigeria--and for all the similarities--it's a whole different ball game.
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For a split second I almost thought I was at

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Loza Maleombho

Provenance: Cote D'Ivoire via New York.

Who: Loza Maleombho.

What: Structured separates crafted from batik prints, Kente cloth and wax fabrics.

Why: Maleombho had us hooked at the first look: a bustling a-line skirt paired with a structured vest with curved hemline and a stylish turban. This signature look was echoed throughout the collection which culminated in a harem-pant blazer and suit. In a sea of overtly feminine and overtly masculine collections - Maleombho's collection struck the perfect balance.

Where: Log on to

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Christie Brown

Provenance: Ghana

Who: Aisha Obuobi

What: Feminine, flirty separates that range from floor grazing tiered skirts to cropped tanks. The one unifying factor? Straps, pockets and other accents crafted from traditional African fabrics.

Why: It's designer Aisha Obuobi's deft use of batik and Kente in her otherwise modern collection that first caught our eye. Her pieces, an effortless fusion of tradition and trends epitomize this generation of African designers. Since 2008, Obuobi has been championing her brand of African chic via her label, Christie Brown, and snagged well earned awards, including Arise Magazine's Emerging Designer of the Year Award in 2009.

Where: Christie Brown is sold on Myasho.com and several stockists in West Africa. Log on to

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Gloria Wavamunno

Provenance: Uganda

Who: Gloria Wavamunno

What: Powerful silhouettes - think bold shouldered cropped blazers and loose trousers with cinched waists - crafted from African waxed textile prints. Her latest collection, Sun/Rain is her most risqué yet featuring sheer skirts and vests, styled with just duct tape on the boobs.

Why: This British raised designer of Ugandan heritage no doubt got her influences from designers like Ozwald Boateng, whom she interned for after graduating from American Intercontinental University of London. Since then she's debuted four buzz-worthy collections including my personal favorite A-Freak-A, which debuted in the 2009/2010 season.

Where: Wavamunno's line is currently stocked in Uganda at Boutique, Plot 22, Jinja Road, Kampala, Uganda. You can also log on to Ltdo.com to purchase her pieces. Log on to

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Maki Oh

Provenance: Nigeria

Who: Amaka Osakwe

What: Luxe silks, velours and silk jerseys crafted into skirts, blouses and dresses that skim the knee and cinch at the waist.

Why: From the adire motifs of the Yoruba tribe and the music of classical pianist Ludovico Einaudi's to Henri Matisse, Osakwe's inspirations for her three year old line are epic. But how she translates them into her collections is electrifying. Sultry and sophisticated is the hallmark of this young designer and she does it well. We're looking forward to seeing more from her.

Where: Maryam Nassir Zadeh, 123 Norfolk Street, New York, New York. 212-673-6405. Log on to

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Buki Akib

Provenance: Nigeria

Who: Buki Akib

What: Unapologetically fashion forward menswear that answers the question: what would traditional African menswear look like in the Armageddon?

Why: To say Akib's collection stands out is an understatement. The Central St. Martins graduate infuses her menswear with an angst and virility that explodes into a cacophony of fur patchwork coats, high waist patchwork pants and sheer oxford shorts. In her latest collection, named after famed Nigerian singer/activist Fela Kuti, Akib treats her customers to more wearable versions of her debut line that nevertheless maintain the designer's vibrant vision.

Where: Log on to

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Tsemaye Binitie

Provenance: Nigeria via London

Who: Tsemaye Binitie

What: Sophisticated separates crafted from luxe fabrics for the posh party girl.

Why: To say Tsemaye Binitie is a natural cannot begin to say it all. At 6'1, the handsome Nigerian born, London bred designer has a charismatic charm that attracts models and clients alike. He's honored both by creating a collection that deftly mixes lush gowns and separates with fashion-forward streetwear touches like a lambskin backpack or fur baseball cap. His spot-on collection has earned him a cult following in London and Nigeria - as well as a few Arise Magazine Emerging Designer awards to boot!

Where: Log on to

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Clan

Provenance: Nigeria

Who: Teni, Aba and Tiwa Sagoe

What: A broad selection of separates, from sultry, structured blazers to fun, flirty crop tops crafted from waxed print fabrics.

Why: The answers to 'Why, Clan' are too many to list. But let's stick with the most substantial: this trio of sisters hail from Nigerian fashion royalty. Their mother, Deola Sagoe, is one of the most celebrated and successful designers on the continent - and it shows. Clan's Spring/Summer 2012 collection was more sophisticated and sultry than we expected to see from teenagers. While the strong, boxy shoulders paired with tight knee-length skirts felt a little reductive, it was still a statement of their talent. We look forward to seeing more from this sister act.

Where: Log on to

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William Okpo

Provenance: Nigeria via New York

Who: Darlene and Lizzy Okpo.

What: Sophisticated, structured separates in a range of earth tones.

Why: Once you meet them in person, it's just as easy to be captivated by the Okpo sisters as it is to be captivated by their clothes. It's easy to see why: both collection and designers have an elegance, grace and strength that's far from ordinary. The interplay between the masculine and feminine - a hallmark in each piece - is an homage to their parents, whose personal style is a noted inspiration for the duo. We look forward to seeing more from these sisters, who are only in their second year as designers.

Where: William Okpo is sold at Opening Ceremony, Cloak & Dagger and End of Century. Log on to

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Telfar

Provenance: Liberia via New York

Who: Telfar Clemens

What: Androgynous (master) pieces. From hooded sweaters to low slung jeans, the seductive quality of Telfar's collection is so simple and understated - it can easily be missed or misconstrued. Take a closer look, though, and you can fully appreciate the sublime perfection of a hoodie that transforms into a cropped sweatshirt and denim which changes lengths and fabrication.

Why: The interest in African fashion might be new, but this New York born, Liberia bred designer has been working at his craft in New York City for nearly a decade. It was almost surreal to see his aesthetic on full display in Liberia, but it was crucial in showing the full spectrum of African fashion design aesthetic.

Where: Telfar's collection is sold at several boutiques across New York City and worldwide. Log on to

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Kezia Frederick

Provenance: St. Lucia via Britain

Who: Kezia Frederick

What: Button down shirts, skirts and shorts crafted in Frederick's custom, colorful, vibrant graphic prints.

Why: Many referenced Africa in their AMFW collections, but simply said: Frederick did it best. The irony, of course, is that she is West Indian and not West African. Nevertheless, her color saturated collection was a visual pallette cleanser and a nice break from the Batik prints and waxed fabrics we saw on the runway. Even more delightful was her styling which referenced head wraps and waist clothes worn by market women. The recent Central St. Martins grad humbly says she 'hopes' to start her own collection this year - but her level of talent and caliber of work demands it.

Where: Log on to www.keziaderick.com to check out this young talent.