May 26, 2016
When it comes to fashion in Africa, Lagos is a leading light. From high end to streetwear, markets to boutiques, this city can dress you up or down in traditional attire, avant-garde chic, classic men’s tailoring, sharp looking footwear or vintage and retro-style pieces from new or well-established designers. The biggest names in Lagos fashion include Lanre da Silva Ajayi, Deola Sagoe and Lisa Folawiyo with her luxury, customised prints.
The last couple of years have seen some newer players adding their work to the sartorial mix, with even more names in menswear cropping up as well. It’s worth spotlighting some of these creatives, since many of them are paving the way for even more of the city’s designers to further develop the internationalisation of African style and aesthetics. With established boutiques, each one of these is also a must-visit while you’re in Lagos – as there’s really nothing better than snagging authentic Nigerian fashion and accessories from the city of source.
For iconic 1940s-style couture with all the hallmarks of lace and traditional fabrics, Lanre da Silva Ajayi – who hit the scene in 2005 – is a bastion of well-heeled attire, from cocktail dresses to statement jewellery. Her outlet (fittingly located in Lanre da Silva Close in Ikoyi) houses her sumptuous collections, where the vintage thread is playfully showcased in show stopping skirts and mini and maxi dresses that are vivaciously hued and often offset with a bold take on vintage bonnets, pillboxes or half hats with theatrical but delicate netting.
Deola Sagoe is another powerhouse on the Lagos fashion, with a background that fuses a Miami meets Lagos sensibility. Her House of Deola brand and store is now an empire that has extended its floor space to a newer label, Clan, that’s run by her three daughters Teni, Aba and Tiwa. The difference is summed up by Teni’s statement that ‘Clan is to Deola Sagoe what Miu Miu is to Prada’. In other words a younger, family brand that leans towards a broader client base with a bit more of an edge – sporty, gothic and classic being the key styles here. That’s not to knock the umbrella label. Deola Sagoe’s design credentials go back to the late 1980s, and since then she’s notched up multiple awards, shown her collections on New York and South African catwalks and joined forces with the UN in an anti-hunger campaign.
Perhaps the ankara queen of fashion is Lisa Folawiyo. Her label (formerly known as Jewel by Lisa) is the go-to for local West African wax fabric that is customised, transformed, and styled up to create luxury tailored prints for women. Beading is key, with handcrafted pieces expertly produced with the input of Nigerian craftsmen. A red carpet favourite, Folawiyo’s clothes have been spotted internationally, worn by the likes of actresses Lucy Liu, Thandie Newton and Beyoncé’s stylish sibling, Solange, but they can also be found at her Ikoyi store that’s sits just off the famous Awolowo Road.
There are also a healthy number of savvy menswear and unisex designers in Lagos, a key one of these being Tunde Owolabi, whose gloriously funky, Ethnik sneakers come in hand woven rainbow colours for men and women. His is a story of heritage and sustainability since the aso-oke fabric he uses is a Yoruba staple that’s traditionally worn on formal or ceremonial occasions. The Ethnik brand – which extends to bags and soft furnishings – gives the traditional fabric a broader fashion appeal and also reflects the designer’s own creative background in painting and graphic design.
Orange Culture’s style manifesto includes the statement that it stands for ‘men that are edgy, quirky, bold’ and that they ‘travel the road less taken’. This makes sense for a Lagos-based brand that’s strong on beautifully sculpted knitwear amongst the cotton, silk and denim that’s featured in its collections. The brainchild of Adebayo Oke-Lawal, the clothes stray away from typical Nigerian masculinity with silhouettes that speak to both genders. Artistic, globally facing, colourful and stylish his creations are almost like casual but graceful collector’s pieces that are underpinned by an African sensibility. The brand can be found at Stranger Lagos, the Lekki-based concept store that’s a hub for clothing, coffee, and tea as well as a co-working space for makers based in the city.
Another relatively new name is JZO Fashion, a brand that first hit the Lagos fashion scene in 2014. Joseph O. Ike and Ola Akindeinde are the duo behind this contemporary menswear label that plays with traditional Africa themes. Seasonal collections have included the slick Harmattan, Babatunde and Alpha titles. Sometimes offering stylishly muted colours by some Nigerian standards, JZO is undeniably sharp and has its own Lagos store (open by appointment), which is well worth discovering.
Outside of the smart stores there are of course, the markets, with Balogun being one of the best known for Lagos fashion. A Lagos Island institution, fabrics are probably the best thing about it. Endless collections of lace and wax ankara are piled high and spread wide in various open or covered stalls in a central area, where tailors tout for business. If you do prefer to go the sartorial route of pinning down one of the many dressmakers in the area, it could be that – depending on the dexterity of your tailor or seamstress – you’ll soon develop a mini wardrobe’s worth of clothes, from suits, slacks, skirts and shirts to any kind of red carpet show-stopper at a comfortably cut price-rate.
Virgin Atlantic operates daily direct flights to Lagos from London Heathrow, bringing these hot Nigerian designers within easy reach.