It is especially important here in Nigeria to do some celebrating, particularly during this International Women’s Month, because our culture has the propensity to whitewash and overlook the contributions of women to different disciplines, especially in fashion. Nigerian fashion designers have been on the cutting edge of transforming the industry to the multi-billion naira industry it is today. There are dozens of innovators in the space, but for starters, we honour these four.
The whole of Lagos mourned in November 2012 when it was announced that Oluremi Osholake, the creative director behind Lagos-based women’s wear brand Remi Lagos, had passed on after a brave fight with ovarian cancer. She was one of the first designers to return to the country from the UK and build a bonafide label catering to a homegrown audience.
With a 28-year-old career in one of the toughest markets in the world and building a brand right out of Lagos that has become respected across the world, Deola Sagoe is indeed a fashion icon. She became one of the first Nigerian-based brands to show at New York Fashion Week and London Fashion Week paving the way for other younger designers. Phenomenal is her reinvention of the traditional Aso-oke for a 21st-century audience with the Komole Essentials that have become the ultimate status symbol for Nigerian weddings.
Ere Dappa isn’t named often when Nigerian design and luxury is mentioned. But the eponymous brand was one of the first Nigerian labels to embody both aesthetics perfectly and truly take the Ankara fabric to look beyond its beginnings to a luxurious end. She first popularised exaggerated embellishment and beading of Ankara looks as a way to incorporate design into pieces. Her influence is felt even today, from your roadside tailor to your premium Nigerian designer brands.
Asides the fact that few people in the world can tailor a dress quite like Ituen Basi, you have to respect her insights on Nigerian design and marketing the Nigerian spirit to a global audience. Basi, at the height of her powers, was just at home at the very first Le Petit Marche pop-ups in 2010 as she was on the runways of New York Fashion Week. Her revolutionary takes on Ankara still thrill till today, but her true tour de force was her Ekemini collection in collaboration with renowned Nigerian visual artist Victor Ehikhamenor. He created a number of custom paintings which Basi converted to prints and with her expert eye cut into dresses so full of bon-vivant, women across America wanted a piece. Basi was the first contemporary Nigerian designer to become a fashion staple in America, the collection becoming as common in New York as it was in Lagos.
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