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From Harare to Lagos: Africa's native fluid designs violate norms



Written by Back to Gbadomos, CNNLagos, Nigeria

There is not much in Orange Culture clothes to identify as a brand for men's clothing. In studio labels at the Lagos supermarket – traditionally feminine details – silk clothes and fuchsia pink clothes feature a lot.

"You are required to be a man before you are old enough to realize that being a person is overstated," said Adebayo Oke-Loale, the Nigerian designer behind the label.

The brand is part of a new generation of designers based on the continent that reject outdated ideas about gender in the context of identity, culture and race.

"They found growth, they were told that they should be heavy. They should be such that they should be seen as men.

"And it was so embedded in our culture and I really wanted to challenge that conversation," Oke-Loale told CNN for the purpose behind his gender-label.

"It was important for people to think outside of a certain type of African person, but believing that men can be so different things. We can be emotional, we can be vulnerable and we can express ourselves, but we want without being seen as something less than Africa ".

Oke-Lawal, a 28-year-old Lagos relative, spoke softly, was the market's favorite men's men after he published his label in 2011.

"I found the growth, people were told that they should be tough, they should be those that should be seen as men, and that was so embedded in our culture."

Adebayo Oke-Lawal, Orange Culture

His special mission statement has earned his designs a dedicated global audience. He was the finalist of the LVMH Award, became the first Nigerian brand to appear at the London collective men in 2016, and his collaboration with the Nigerian musician David was immediately used by the London-based Samoil.

Not far from the Oke Loaal studio is another designer – Papa Oemi. The 26-year-old Nigerian is behind the label "Maximov" on masks for masking.
After establishing his label ten years ago at the age of 15, Ojeemi divided the Nigerians. The Maxivive collection, depicted at the Fashion Week in Lagos, received mixed reviews from the Nigerian press despite international recognition.

An Instagram posting generates over 600 responses. "I have had so many comments about hatred," said Ojeemi.

But – "young people are more progressive," he added. "Even if they do not speak their language, they understand and appreciate it and will not discriminate against it."

Warm subculture

The Androgynian label Maximov often divided the Nigerians despite its international recognition.

The Androgynian label Maximov often divided the Nigerians despite its international recognition. Credit: courtesy of Onwudinjor / Maxim

The label's inspiration stems from "Paris is Burning" – a documentary from the 1990s, looking for the extreme stylistic subculture of queens living in New York.

Images from his Fashion Week in Lagos can be read as a metaphor for discussing LGBT rights in Nigeria – where gay is illegal. It's the same law in 36 other countries in Africa.

But for Oeye, it's a more subtle conversation about non-conformity: "It's trying new things. Moving away from the ideology of this is what should be," he explained.

"In the past, I had conversations about religion, sexuality, human development …

"Tomorrow I can decide to make a line for women's clothing, but I still call it masculine clothes and everyone can carry it. I do not want to be restricted in any way."

Pope Eeyimei photographed in the Ikea area, in Lagos, Nigeria.

Pope Eeyimei photographed in the Ikea area, in Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Nosot Gbadamosi

"At the end of the day, gender-based fluidity is not related to sexuality. It's more than just letting people get in touch with their masculine and feminine side," Oke-Loaal said.

It is a movement that is reflected in the Nigerian magazine "Nasty boy", which supported Masivwei and orange culture.

"There can not be a single type of Nigerian man or woman, there must be room for other definitions that do not have to answer that opinion," said editor Richard Acuons before CNN earlier.

"If people do not understand that this kind of person can exist, then I need to push more for this kind of masculine clothes."

Adebayo Oke-Lawal, Orange Culture

"Moving with the outside world"

Elsewhere, South African designer Luchango Medi separates gender structures through male adjustments for women and long silk fabrics of men.

"When we started to produce pieces that were born fluid, we were just moving with what we are witnessing in the outside world," Mdingi said in a telephone interview.

"The reality is that I have been in the company of incredible human beings who have identified what is masculinity for themselves, and this has allowed me to measure and identify what this means to me and how it evolved in my space in Cape Town."

The views of 25-year-olds to change the "cross-cultural" environment are entered in the overall look of his latest collection titled "Soulful II," which relies on a Japanese triumph.

Others have adopted gender-neutral adjustments for more pragmatic reasons.

The Cape Town College of AKJP, designer duet Keith Henning and Jody Paulsen, focus on functional items with several defining male and female silhouettes.
The idea behind the South African label AKPP was to create ready-to-wear pieces that combined silhouettes with thin prints.

The idea behind the South African label AKPP was to create ready-to-wear pieces that combined silhouettes with thin prints. Credit: Gift Neil Roberts / AKPP

"At first it was an easy way to start making women's clothes," Paulson said by e-mail. "Women's clothing came from ideas that we previously established through our collections of masculine clothes."

This approach makes sense financially, the Zimbabwe designer, Harry Tanya Mushai, said.

"I grew up with two brothers I took some of my T-shirts and jackets and I wore them, but they could not do the same with my things," said the 29-year-old. "The idea behind my unisex jackets was accessibility for everyone.

"Zimbabwe is perfect for fashion for gender due to the current financial climate in which we have high unemployment, minimum disposable income and limited resources."

Rooted in inheritance

In Lagos, the line for luxury women's clothing, Gosel Green uses the androgynous way of subtly transmitting messages of inheritance.

With the mother of the fashion designer and father of the playwright, the 31-year-old twin sister Silvia Enekwe and Olivia Enekwe-Okoji started the label in 2012 to reflect their childhood growing up in Enugu in eastern Nigeria.

Presentation of Gozelle Green on Arise Fashion Week 2018 in Lagos, Nigeria.

Presentation of Gozelle Green on Arise Fashion Week 2018 in Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Nosot Gbadamosi

"Our late father wrote many songs in his life, so that for each collection we create, we interpret his stories in our aesthetics of design," Enekve-Okoji said.

Their clothes are experimenting with forms of femininity – receiving international recognition, including the Italian Vogue The Next Green Talents 2018. Felabration saw how to design a collection inspired by the legend AfroBit Fela Cuti that can wear either men or women.

But what do local consumers do with mismatch? Zimbabwe Mushai acknowledges that most of her clients are from the United States.

"The reaction is good" for the AKJP of South Africa.

Perhaps because in South Africa, 350,000 men and 2.6 million women say they dress and act after gender disagreement, according to a survey conducted by the Human Sciences Research Council.

But 67 percent of South Africans, according to the same report, agree with this statement: "It's disgusting when men dress like women and women dress like men."

In Nigeria acceptance is equally slow. The 2015 Survey conducted in Nigeria by the Advocacy Group Voices 4 Change noted that the majority of Nigerians "believe that men should be solid, intelligent, fearless and responsible."
The male model is getting ready for photography in the Orange Culture studio in Lagos, Nigeria.

The male model is getting ready for photography in the Orange Culture studio in Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Nosot Gbadamosi

"Many brands of masculine clothing that were going on at that time were very rationalized suits, it was very hypermagic and we came up with this brand that was in the opposite direction," Oke-Loyal recalled for launching Orange Culture.

"So people just were not taken from him.

"I've seen that if people do not understand that this kind of person can exist, then I need to push more for this kind of masculine clothes."

The views are changing. "Now people are taking the time to understand what we are doing and why we get so many loans outside of Nigeria," said Oke Loaal.

"It really helped us to find a stronger voice in our place."


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