London’s The Shop at Bluebird celebrates vibrant African design
For six weeks, The Shop at Bluebird welcomes over 20 African brands, ranging from womenswear to accessories, interiors and lifestyle, in its Covent Garden flagship in London. Curated by the founder and executive director of Lagos Fashion Week, Omoyemi Akerele, ‘Between Us’ celebrates the diverse and dynamic aspects of African design through traditional techniques, local production and cultural standpoints.
‘Collaborations are instrumental to the work we do at Lagos Fashion Week and this event is the first of its kind that presents a range of designers that cuts across the continent and raises their profile beyond the city,’ says Akerele. ‘Pop-ups are an interesting way to introduce brands into a new market and we hope “Between Us" provides them with opportunities to grow and nurture partnerships.’ Here, we’ve pinpointed three of the pop-up’s designers who turn their country’s heritage into their own modern take on fashion.
Nigerian designer Lisa Folawiyo has been designing colourful and luxurious collections, which celebrate the local West African fabric Ankara since 2005. By embellishing the cloth and later developing her signature prints, she rethought the fabric with a hand-beaded technique that has been in Nigeria’s heritage for many generations. The designer has expanded this craft into an accessories line including custom handbags made by local female artisans. ‘It was very important to us from the very beginning to redefine the idea of luxury in our own terms and this meant using age old techniques that embraced the regional fabric and who we are as people,’ she says.
Not one to shy away from reaching an international audience, the designer quickly moved from showing at Lagos Fashion Week to New York and Paris as well as counting the likes of Nupita Nyong’o and Solange as her fans. Fusing stylish silhouettes with a unique history, Folawiyo expresses a bold and feminine vision of West African aesthetics that resonates globally.
Growing up in the small town of East London in South Africa, fashion was a career choice far off the beaten track for Lukhanyo Mdingi, but the burgeoning creative scene of Cape Town inspired the designer to start his label in 2015. Drawing together a mix of textiles from Kenya to Tanzania, and blending them with locally produced South African fabrics, each collection is a homage to the continent’s values and heritage. In the same way, the elegant gender fluid pieces designed exclusively for The Shop at Bluebird each carry a signature design entirely crafted in Africa and tell the story of the people that made it.
In January, Mdingi showed for the first time at New York Fashion Week Men’s – a breakthrough that is part of the label’s rapid but steady growth. ‘New York is a place with endless possibilities,’ the designer says. ‘But South Africa set the foundation for us and is an imperative part in understanding how we aim to move forward.’
Based between Nigeria and Ghana, Bubu Ogisi founded Iamisigo – derived from her surname turned backwards – to show that African garments are not only rich of different forms of craft and art but they also belong to the history of a whole region. Blending visually textured textiles with a minimal design aesthetic, her colour blocked dresses and tops adorned with handmade details inform the wearer about powerful creativity. ‘Our stories have to be told, everything, every detail can and must be sourced in Africa, and the world has to know this,’ says Ogisi.
For S/S19, the designer developed an unconventional crochet technique from yarns dyed in ancient Nigerian pits to create volumes and textures reminiscent of West African traditional performance garments. Inspired by masquerades, Ogisi invited artist Chioma Ebinama to create mask pieces using the same crochet technique, which resonate with local African practices free from Western influences. §