This month, Lagos Fashion and Design Week will make its return, a flagship platform that has incubated, nurtured, and exported Nigerian designers to rest of the world. As before, many designers from Nigeria and the continent will be hosted under its brand and will continue to be that way for a long time.
Imagine a Gozel Green spring/summer show in a roomy art gallery in Lagos, with ample, ambient lighting just enough to see the clothes each model is wearing. Hanging on the walls are the kind of art you won’t necessarily buy but have an immense appreciation for. The mood is right: there is music, and you know it was carefully selected for the show. Or imagine an Orange Culture presentation with a shoeless theme at a beach, fresh breeze rolling off the taunting waves of the water and your toes nestling in the sand.
This, though, has never happened and for understandable reasons. While we read glowing reviews – and sometimes cuttingly honest assessment – about brands like Dior and Chanel and their seasonal collections put out on runways, we don’t see the chosen settings or venues for their shows as anything particularly new. During Paris Fashion Week last month, Maria Grazia Chiuri gave another feminist treatment to Dior’s spring 2018 collection in the gardens of the Rodin Museum, and Anthony Vaccarello for Saint Laurent brought guests to the base of a lit-up, glittering Eiffel Tower. It wouldn’t have been funny if his collection had turned out to be a disaster: nighttime Paris can be magical, and Vaccarello utilized that element to his advantage. At large, the fashion industry in Nigeria still grapples with a couple of challenges but has managed, against all odds, to be self-funding. New designers are realizing that they will need more than talents to keep their brands afloat, and having individual fashion shows will be too much of a feat to successfully achieve.
To put together a fashion show requires the expenditure of time and energy. Even on a small scale, a lot of boxes have to be ticked. Above all, the financial heft of the average Nigerian designer is relatively low. They would have to pay for a decent venue, hire the services of models (some of them expensive depending on their work exposure and experience) and makeup artists, hair stylists, photographers, and a publicist. And when it comes to the venue itself, there is the runway and lighting and sound. All these have to managed and manned. And dressers have to be hired because the clothes, depending on the number, will not magically hop on the model’s bare back and align itself to their frame. But fashion shows can have their hitches, in whatever form. In her 2011 book New York Fashion Week: The Designers, The Models, The Fashions of the Bryant Park Era, Eila Mell interviewed celebrity stylist Phillip Bloch and asked him what’s like styling a fashion show. To which he responded: “You are taking something fashionable and making it commercial. It’s a great job if you have the stomach for it. The timing is very intense; it’s all happening in a few days. You are fighting over getting the right models. At the last minute everything that can go wrong will go wrong.”
Beyond the financial burden, individual fashion shows, if successful, can have a positive, centering effect on the designer. Last year, GTB Fashion Weekend made its debut, attracting over 30,000 guests over the 2-day period and featuring a series of master classes, runway shows, and a curated retail exhibition. GTB Fashion Weekend is GTB’s solitary initiative since it ceased to be headline sponsor of LFDW five years ago; it was a partnership that recognized the near-absence of platforms for Nigerian designers at the time, and bridged that space between Nigeria and the rest of the world. Its chosen city, Lagos, was a befitting geographical apparatus. But things have changed since then. Other micro-fashion shows have been established, and designers and fashion players now have a rich pool of options to choose from.
This month, Lagos Fashion and Design Week will make its return, a flagship platform that has incubated, nurtured, and exported Nigerian designers to rest of the world. As before, many designers from Nigeria and the continent will be hosted under its brand and will continue to be that way for a long time. As it is, designers aren’t self-sustaining enough to be weaned off from such platforms. Until then, organization of fashion shows should at least get better.