By Stephanie Iwuaba.
Fashion, from ages past, has been an aspect of culture that evokes the very spirit, nature and power of the people that own it. The Nigerian spirit and culture has always been a very vibrant, colorful, flamboyant and an irrepressible one. This fullness of life and diverse richness is hard to capture, tame and reintroduce into the current trends of the fashion world but some unique fashion icons has been able to do just that.
All over the world, the Nigerian culture is being borrowed because these kings and divas has been able to share our love for life, not smothering it with the western fashion, but introducing it as its own strong voice. Below are our top ten Nigerian fashion designers. I choose to call them conquerors!
This Nigerian diva is a believer of an age old colorful tradition which she translates into the many layers and complexities of her remarkable designs. Deola’s celebration of the African glamour and prints has gained her international fans like Oprah and Will Smith. She has also gained a lot of recognition for her work with awards such as the MNET/ Anglo Gold African designs 2000 awards.
And in her own words, she is a woman with many layers ‘much like the multilayered designs I craft.’ These layers consist of motherhood (mother to three wonderful children), degrees from the University of Miami, University of Lagos and Masters in Finance and Management. Her works speak for themselves. She has also been able to give back to her people through the program “Catwalk the World: Fashion for Food” which was initiated by the ‘United Nations World Food Program’. She continues to celebrate Nigeria.
A multi-award winning designer, Zizi Cardow has been able to sell to the international scene, our cultures and fabrics. Since she launched her label ‘Zizi’ in 2000, her list of awards is over flowing and keeps growing. Zizi’s designs have walked many a catwalks from Milan to Paris, Cape Town, USA and beyond carrying with it the true Nigerian vibrancy and flavor.
She has gained as clients and fans, a lot of Trendsetters and first ladies. Zizi was, in November last year, awarded a chieftaincy title to celebrate her as an ambassador of the society. She has given back so much to the world through so many mentorship programs and has also been rewarded for these involvements with awards like African Role Model Leadership Gold Award (2007), Pillar of National Development Gold Award (2007), Nigeria Enterprise Award for Excellence (2008) and Great Legend of Africa Gold Award (2008).
Folake Folarin Coker.
Folake Coker is the founder of the world famous brand Tiffany Amber. At an early age Folake was exposed to different cultures. Born in Lagos and schooled all over Europe (Switzerland, Scotland and England), she developed a curiosity for cultures which she later channeled into her love for fashion. She has been globally recognized because of the depths of her colorful creations and it’s the potency of these creations that has made her the only African designer to grace the Mercedes Fashion week in New York two years in a row. It is the reviews from international media agencies like CNN that has stamped the brand as, successfully, a true international brand.
She has given back to her roots through projects like ‘Made in Africa’ created by Vogue Italia in partnership with Yoox.com as a way of selling the African market to the world. Her designs are unique pieces for the everyday woman. A wife, a mother, a lawyer, a businesswoman and a designer, she is an African heroine!
With a name so big, the first lady of America, Michelle Obama, wears him; Duro Olowu has got to be the King of Nigerian fashion! He has truly taken everything that is the ancient Nigerian culture, spirit and turned that uniqueness into a classy, elegant fashion statement. His designs have been characterized as colorful, controversial combinations of African prints in a classic seventies tailoring. Absolutely gorgeous! These wonderful creations have gained him clients like, Michelle Obama, Uma Thurman, Linda Evangelista and the list goes on. Based in London and of a Nigerian-Jamaican heritage, this lawyer by profession has allowed his rich cultural exposure to be the stepping stone to his success. He has received lots of awards and has enjoyed a lot of recognition globally. His favorite quote of mine is: “My job is not dictating to women what they should wear; it is presenting them with beautiful options.”-Duro Olowu, The Independent (London).
Ohimai Atafo is an award winning Nigerian male designer and owns Mai Atafo Inspired clothing outfit. Due to his designs that aim to portray the Nigerian Man’s unique personality, he was accredited as the Hottest New Male Designer at the City People Fashion and Style Award last year. The buzz surrounding his name has continued to resound as he came out with amazing designs at the Arise Magazine Fashion Week 2012 in Nigeria. With his wedding line ‘Weddings by Mai’ and creation like Funke Akindele’s wedding gown, he has also stolen the hearts of his female fans as much as he had that of his male fans. Having being in the business of fashion for five years, Mai is creating giant waves and is definitely not slowing down.
He is one Nigerian designer who is a true picture of the dynamic diversity which is Nigeria. Starting his career as a model for many fashion houses like Dakova to Nikki Africanna and TV commercials like Macleans then becoming a model manager; Frank Oshodi has since ventured into areas like choreography and finally found his niche in makeup with his label, House of Bunor and Fashion designing. His name reached the household mark when he was selected by Silverbird to be the make-up artist and designer that finally led Agbani Darego to her reign as Miss World 2001. Since then the name Frank Oshodi has been associated with simple elegance and effortless beauty.
He has since spear headed events that brought Nigerian fashion to the forefront with programs like the West African Fashion Week 2008. He still remains a force to reckon with in the Nigerian fashion scene.
With twenty successful years in the fashion scene, Ade Bakare is a name too familiar to most London and Nigerian high society belles. Evening gowns so elegant, day gowns so exquisite and wedding gowns so lush it’s a picture that makes a heart bleed! Yes, Ade Bakare’s creations have that effect on every lady. With fabrics that flow and finishes that are nothing but perfection, Ade Bakare is one of the Nigerian designers that make Nigeria proud. He started his line in London, making clothes for boutiques in the UK and France. He finally opened salons in London and Nigeria which has since been tending to his high end clientele till date. He has also added a perfume line called Breeze and a jersey line called Ade Breeze to his many achievements.
He has won so many awards among which are awards from Brides (a Conde Naste publication) and The Paris academy. As his way of giving back to the fashion community, he has written a lot of fashion articles and currently writes his column ‘Camera Obscura’ for Le Vogue.
Most Nigerian women are familiar with the name Lisa Folawiyo, the creative mind behind ‘Jewel by Lisa’. Her niche is the transformation of the Ankara wax prints into a bejeweled treasure. Prints from the fabric is cut and delicately embellished for an added elegance to what can only be known as the Nigerian ‘national’ fabric. She has also ventured into the production of her own line of fabrics and accessories ranging from jewelries to purse and much more. Her diffusion line ‘J Label’ promotes the Nigerian culture and flare with the combination of Afro Pop and urban cool designs that is very amazing
A graduate of the University of Nigeria, Nnsuka and a self made designer, her natural flare for fashion and unique sense of style has led her to great heights. She has showcased internationally in the New York Fashion week 2010, Paris Fashion week 2010 etc. She has been reviewed internationally in Media houses Gotham, Style.com, Women wear Daily and more. Among her celebrity fans are Beyonce, Tasha Smith, Kelis and Eve.
This Ondo princess has become quite a sensation in New York. She said “I got interested in fashion because my grandmother was a designer, she designed Nigerian traditional clothes. That was my first introduction to fashion.” So with this inspiration from her roots, she came to New York, to take the fashion scene by storm. Inspired by the Obama campaign, she created the Obama print dress with the words ‘Olowa gba President Barrack Obama’ boldly printed on it. This brought her into the fashion lime light in the US. Her ability to mix prints and create clothes that speak so vividly of her origin is Lola’s niche.
Raised in Ondo and later schooled in London, Lola after working in many clothing stores in USA, relocated to Milan to fine tone her talents and has since been a name in Nigerian fashion. She is full of the African rhythm and inspired by the passion for African fashion!
Definitely a designer to watch out for, this young Lagosian has created pieces that can make an ordinary Nigerian man look like a multimillion dollar businessman. His very suave men clothing line ‘Soares Anthony’ is dedicated to creating a picture of sophistication and opulence. He is inspired by Nigerian fabrics with the tailoring of Japanese excellence. Not only are his styles unconventional, they are also very attractive in a masculine kind of way.
Soares Anthony, a bachelor’s degree holder, has been working earnestly and his efforts have paid off with awards. His pieces have been won by very affluent politicians and have been distributed to London, France and the USA. He also owns a fashion magazine called SG2 which celebrates Nigerian fashion. Soares has been giving back to the Nigerian fashion industry by running a program that helps teach young Nigerian designers what they need to make their work of competent international standards. It will be a delight to watch him grow to his heights.
There it is. Top ten Nigerian fashion designer who love and celebrate our culture through fashion!
About the Author
Stephanie Iwuaba is a fashion blogger and designer from Lagos, Nigeria currently living in San Diego, USA. She has always had a flare for fashion and is constantly addicted to learning new fashion tricks and trends. She has successfully started her clothing line ‘Goshtibles’ in the USA and is committed to helping others discover the secrets to constantly looking flawlessly fabulous. Stephanie is inspired by renowned fashion diva, Kimore Lee Simmons for her fashion trend setting and more importantly for her business prowess. You can follow Stephanie’s group Trendstarters’ Lounge on Facebook for different new and exciting fashion trends.