Meet the trailblazing designers staking their claim on the international stage

From Atlanta to Accra, we stay fly. Bringing the breadth of our sartorial expression to the fore, a new crop of African designers is transforming how the world sees the continent. We partnered with Target to bring ESSENCE Fashion House to Nigeria’s bustling style capital during Lagos Fashion Week.

The series of panel discussions, workshops and runway shows featured Black creatives across the Diaspora. Inspired by all the melanin magic, we hit the vibrant streets of Victoria Island to showcase the visionaries who got next.

ATAFO

ON LEFT: ATAFO; SILK VEST, GINGHAM SHIRT AND SILK TROUSERS
TOSAN LAGOS; GINGHAM MULES
ON RIGHT: ATAFO; EMBROIDERED GINGHAM SHIRT AND SKIRT
TOSAN LAGOS; GINGHAM MULES

Nigerian-born Ohimai Atafo (or Mai as he’s commonly known) creates luxury garments with razor-sharp tailoring and unexpected details. His chic atelier in Lagos’s trendy Lekki region is frequented by local tastemakers and jet-setters. While bespoke suiting for men, stunning bridal couture and elegant eveningwear are hallmarks of his brand, the couturier has added ready-to-wear to his repertoire, rebranding his namesake label as simply Atafo.

The designer is intent on reaching a global audience while paying homage to his roots. His latest collection, HighSchool Nostalgia, pulls inspiration from gingham prints commonly used for Nigerian school uniforms. From playful skirts to multipanel shirt-ing, the colorful lineup offers deconstructed pieces in mixed patterns and classic silhouettes.

TOKYO JAMES

TOKYO JAMES; SHEER TRENCH COAT AND HARNESS BELT

A jack of all trades, British-Nigerian talent Tokyo James was a stylist and digital magazine publisher in London before returning to Lagos to launch his eponymous brand in 2015. Initially crafted “for modern men who want simplicity with an edge,” the line has since expanded into womenswear, offering sleek silhouettes with a futuristic twist.

In April, James was tapped by Budweiser to share his inspirational story for The King’s Stitch, a campaign celebrating Nigerian creatives. In addition to running an acclaimed fashion label, the multihyphenate serves as creative director of Access Bank’s online TV platform Accelerate TV and editor-in-chief of the quarterly fashion and lifestyle magazine Made.

ORANGE CULTURE

ORANGE CULTURE; SHEER BLOUSE AND INTERLOCKED SKIRT
ORANGE CULTURE X CRYSTAL BIRCH; CHANDELIER HAT; PUMPS, STYLIST’S OWN

A 2015 finalist for Louis Vuitton and Moët Hennessy’s inaugural LVMH Prize, Adebayo Oke-Lawal’s Orange Culture is one of the hottest young brands on the scene. It’s the first Nigerian label to be sold at prestigious UK retailer Selfridges, and Oke-Lawal has garnered praise for his androgynous menswear and womenswear that fuse traditional prints with streetwear silhouettes.

Manufactured in Lagos using ethically sourced material, Orange Culture employs local fabric makers and pro-vides training for local artisans. When he’s not designing, the talented visionary and former fashion editor for WOW! magazine mentors youth through his initiative, Painting Your Dreams, which supports up-and-coming creatives through engagement with art.

AWA MEITÉ

AWA MEITÉ; HANDWOVEN DRESS, HEAD WRAP AND BRAIDED-LEATHER NECKLACE

Sustainable fashion pioneer Awa Meité produces handmade, limited-edition pieces in her native Mali. Promoting local artisanship and traditional weaving techniques, her standout designs feature unique materials and vibrant patterns.

Her brand philosophy, “Fashion and creativity for a cause,” embodies her mission to empower African communities while bringing about a new narrative for designers from the continent. “In order to support our local economies, we must consume what is produced locally,” she explains. “As Africans, we can reinvent ourselves, heal and create wealth. We can also reach the rest of the world and create pride in Black communities across the Diaspora.”

Pepper Row

ON LEFT: PEPPER ROW; HANDWOVEN CUTOUT TUNIC, SHOES, STYLIST’S OWN
ON RIGHT: PEPPER ROW; HANDWOVEN STRIPED DRESS WITH SHEER DETAIL, SHOES, STYLIST’S OWN

Named Pepper for its spicy designs and Row for its collective of followers, Omafume Niemogha’s whimsical brand is for fashion risk-takers who don’t take themselves too seriously. Debuting on the runway last Decem-ber, her label fuses various textures, hues and shapes in its contemporary designs.

Tapped by Lagos Fashion Week’s FayrouzxGreen Access Platform for its commitment to environmentally friendly manufacturing techniques, Niemogha’s latest collection, Afrofuturism, imagines a utopian world free from non–African influence. With the sustainable lineup, she hopes to promote conscious consumption and supports artisanal communities. She also partnered with Vlisco Netherlands for a 2019 capsule collection.

CHRISTIE BROWN & JERMAINE BLEU

ON LEFT: CHRISTIE BROWN; HAND-EMBROIDERED WAX-PRINT BLAZER AND FRILL NECKLACE SLIP. ECLECTIC CHIQUE MOREMI EARRINGS.
ON RIGHT: JERMAINE BLEU; CUTOUT DRESS IN HANDMADE AKOFENA PRINT WITH LACE DETAIL. NECK-LACE, STYLIST’S OWN.

Ghanaian labels Christie Brown and Jermaine Bleu reimagine traditional African prints in modern silhouettes. Christie Brown founder Aisha Ayensu named her brand after her grandmother, a seamstress who planted early seeds for Ayensu’s love of design.

The 2009 Arise Fashion Week Emerging Designer of the Year winner specializes in culturally informed contemporary womenswear. Jason Jermaine Asiedu launched his brand, Jermaine Bleu, in 2015 with a unique vision for youthful ready-to-wear produced in his hometown. He says his bold designs “tell stories through modern-day Africa, informed by the culture.”

SISIANO

SISIANO HAND-DYED JACKET, BRALETTE, AND PANTS. EARRINGS AND SHOES, STYLIST’S OWN. 

STYLIST, MARIELLE BOBO; MAKEUP, UCHE ENYOKWA; FASHION ASSISTANTS, EKOW BARNES AND OGUNLESI OLAKUNLE
PRODUCTION, STYLE HOUSE FILES

FOR MORE INFORMATION ON ESSENCE FASHION HOUSE, 
VISIT ESSENCE.COM/FASHION /FASHION-HOUSE

Nigerian-Italian designer and creative director Paolo Sisiano founded his Lagos-based brand in 2013. A classically trained dancer, Sisiano was inspired by the effortless elegance of his stylish mom. Seeing a void in the market for smart pieces for the cosmopolitan woman, he set out to bring his romantic, free-flowing aesthetic to the fashion landscape.

For Spring/Summer 2020 Sisiano premiered a colorful lineup of hand-dyed designs in billowing silhouettes. The fantastical mash-up of layered pastels was a definite standout. As for the mark he hopes to leave on the industry? “I don’t want to just make clothes,” he says. “I want the consumer to be a collector.”

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