By Angie Argabrite, Tuesday, April 24, 2012, at 9:01 am.
In March, 77 designers showed at ARISE Magazine Fashion Week in Lagos, Nigeria. In spite of some hiccups—the first two days were canceled because of electricity problems; local models complained about disproportionate pay—the event proved the power of African designs on the high-fashion catwalk. Already, Nigeria has carved itself out as a haven for moviemakers; nicknamed “Nollywood,” it claims a $500 million movie business, and now dozens of fashion designers are further cultivating the country’s creative community. The Lagos elite are working to position the city as a couture capital to rival London, Paris, Milan and New York City. Out of Africa, too, top designers from around the world are throwing the spotlight on the continent—with zebra prints, safari suits and bold batiks stitched into many a Spring/Summer 2012 collection. In Lagos, cool haute couture sets were juxtaposed with works by traditional African designers. Given the rising prominence of the continent’s fashion, it’s understandable that we’re hearing calls for designers—and the rest of us—to toss out “tired clichés” like “exotic,” “tribal” and “ethnic” when describing African-inspired collections. Striking South Sudanese model Alek Wek may have said it best: “African fashion isn’t just one thing, just like there are many different African beauties out there. It’s an aesthetic, it’s the music, the energy and colors.” Marketers take note: Start adjusting to Nigeria’s budding appetite for luxury and its ascendance to the world stage.