Believe the hype and last weekend’s London African Fashion Week – it’s ninth – was a rounding success.
Held in West London’s cavernous Freemanson’s Hall – its new home since moving out of the massive halls of Kensington Olympia in 2017 – high profile guests include; Her Excellency Queen Diambi of DRC Congo, the First Lady of Ekiti State (Nigeria), Her Excellency Erelu Bisi Fayemi (Nigeria) and the First Lady of Kwara State (Nigeria), Her Excellency Olufolake Abdulrazaq; and Deputy Mayor for Social Integration and Community Engagement, Debbie Weekes-Bernard, from the London Mayor’s Office.
Headliner Vanessa Goounden’s “Africa Rising” collection was a feast of bold prints and pictorial abstractions that prides itself on combining 3D printing and revived traditional South African techniques that have led to descriptions of her work as “wearable art”. Gouden – a mining tycoon and former political administrator under Presidents Nelson Mandela and Thabo Mbeki – launched her luxury brand in the UK in 2011, followed by her flagship store in London’s Mayfair in 2015.
Another highlight was Soboye, the namesake brand of British-Nigerian designer Samson Soboye, who is also AFWL’s lead stylist for the fifth consecutive year.
British-Ghanaian Grace Owosu’s black leather and latex collection was a particular delight in the way she recaptured the leather chic of associations with the goth or sadomasochist. A fashion student at the University of Northampton (UK), Owusu won a scholarship in early March for her final year collection, the success of which led to its inclusion in this year’s Africa Fashion Week London.
Tulle – an MM London signature – appeared in just one dress in “Blood Sweat and Tears”, the debut men’s line from last year’s headliner Mary Martin, whose spotlight slot was dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the slave trade transatlantic. “She’s extra, she’s amazing. I love Mary Martin London,” said co-host Mercy Modupe Ajisafe of the stunning shift into menswear, which continues to showcase Martin’s elegance with luxurious colors and patterns.
Nigerian film director Kunle Afolayan (Phone Swap, The Figurine) debuted his brand “Ire Clothing”, which offered new interpretations on dashikis and “Kunle’s kembe” pants native to the Yoruba. “The fact that it’s being exposed to this community makes it a big deal for me,” said Afolayan of the year-old brand also being available for sale at the display stalls staffed by Afolayan and assistants.
For the first time this year, Africa Fashion Week London saw sister companies EPG Media and Bluxe as commercial partners who introduced new segments to the two-day event that includes business forums, a celebrity charity runway and the luxury boutique Blux with the aim of attracting a variety of audiences.
Located in London’s Covent Garden, Freemasons Hall’s central auditorium has two sections; the upper levels which were closed for the event, while the main floor – with a capacity of 900 seats – had a considerable turnout on the first day (Friday) and was fully booked during the walkways on the second day (Saturday).
“The moment you start working in Nigeria, your whole life is absurd,” said Italian Simone Cipriani, creator of the Ethical Fashion Initiative, a joint organization of the World Trade Center and the United Nations. He was speaking during a panel entitled “The Business of Fashion”, which brought up questions about sustainability and ownership in the continent’s fashion industry.
“Affirmative action is the key to diversity,” added Capriani in a long list of statements about African fashion being independent of international markets and fairness and equality in the industry.
One person – model Misty Bailey – had an unpleasant backstage experience that led to the expulsion of a male photographer who had asked to take nude pictures of her. This happened on the second day and just before she took the stage for the first show of the day. “If I didn’t speak up, nobody would. It’s my duty to say something,” said the Jamaican model (and singer) who described the unidentified man as “a trick”. A press officer for Africa Fashion Week London confirmed Bailey’s report. Furthermore, the unidentified man – who worked as an independent photographer on previous editions of the fashion show – had all footage from his camera deleted by security, after which he was banned from the venue. The experience spoiled what was a successful night for the star model,
Asked how much planning went into this year’s edition of the AFWL, Uyai Akpan, Head of Operations for EPG Media and Blux, commercial partners for this year’s edition, said: “Everything was centered around the customer experience and their authentic experience of Africa in London”.
Co-host Mercy Modupe Ajisafe was full of the highest praise; “it is the biggest African fashion event in Europe”. On both nights, Ajisafe spoke of the continent’s renewed interest in food, music and fashion. A first-time presenter of Africa Fashion Week London, the former model was convinced that the success of the featured designers helps to “eradicate unemployment” in the countries where the clothes are produced: “this is something I am super for, super grateful”