Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Fashion week in Lagos: Putting African designers on the map

By Tim Hume, for CNN
updated 1:46 AM EDT, Wed March 21, 2012
Ozwald Boateng, a British designer of Ghanaian descent, takes to the runway in one of his distinctive creations. Boateng was presented the "Lifetime Achievement Award" at the event.
Ozwald Boateng, a British designer of Ghanaian descent, takes to the runway in one of his distinctive creations. Boateng was presented the "Lifetime Achievement Award" at the event.
Africa on the catwalk
Africa on the catwalk
Africa on the catwalk
Africa on the catwalk
Africa on the catwalk
Africa on the catwalk
Africa on the catwalk
Africa on the catwalk
Africa on the catwalk
Africa on the catwalk
Africa on the catwalk
  • Arise Magazine Fashion Week held in Lagos, Nigeria
  • It aims to showcase African fashion to the world -- but also has designers from further afield
  • Big names in attendance this year included designer Ozwald Boateng and model Alek Wek

Editor's note:

(CNN) -- If New York, London, Paris and Milan have been the traditional compass points of world fashion, Lagos has typically not even figured on the map.

But according to Penny McDonald, organizer of the Arise Magazine Fashion Week held in Nigeria's largest city last week, that is unlikely to be the case for much longer.

She said the event, which drew 77 designers and big names including supermodel Alek Wek, British couturier Ozwald Boateng and up-and-coming model Dudley O'Shaughnessy, had gone a long way to establishing Lagos as Africa's fashion capital, a city with international style credentials.

"It's raised the bar," said McDonald, international managing director for Arise, a title which describes itself as Africa's global style and culture magazine. "Everyone knows it's New York, London, Paris and Milan -- and we see this as the fifth destination now. We're hoping to make Lagos a fashion destination, part of the fashion season."

Read: Dedicated followers of fashion: Congo's designer dandies

Lagos women... they dress like no other. They love haute couture. They look the part, they get fashion
Penny McDonald, Arise Magazine Fashion Week organizer

Why Lagos? "It's the vibrancy, the colors. We feel it's Africa's capital," said McDonald. "Lagos women in particular, they dress like no other. They love haute couture. They look the part, they get fashion. Where else would you host such an event?"

While last year's inaugural event had a heavy Nigerian focus, this year's fashion week drew designers from across the continent and further afield.

The runways, housed in massive tents on the grounds of the Federal Palace Hotel, showcased designs from Kenya, Ivory Coast, Cameroon, South Africa, Ghana, Liberia and Somalia -- but also from Martinique, Jamaica, Thailand and India.

Eleven African-American designers attended, along with international media and buyers, demonstrating the growing power of the African fashion brand, said McDonald. "You wouldn't have got them coming from as far away as America if there wasn't a buzz around this event."

Watch: Traditional dress of Senegal

Fashion is a way to bring a message of positivity
Caterina Bortolussi of Nigerian-Italian label Kinabuti

Nigerian-based Italian designer Caterina Bortolussi exhibited her label Kinabuti at the event for the first time, using non-professional models scouted from Nigeria's streets. She said she relished the chance for her "ethical fashion" label, which she describes as a Nigerian-Italian brand, to share a platform with accomplished designers such as South Africa's Kluk CGDT -- jointly named alongside Nigeria's Maki Oh as "designer of the year" at the event. "It's an amazing opportunity to learn, to challenge yourself, to network," she said. "It's not easy to do things down here."

The most noticeable commonality among African designers was that they were "very proud of being African," she said. "Fashion is a way to bring a message of positivity. People usually look at Africa in a skeptical way, a place that needs to be helped. But fashion creates a vehicle to showcase Africa in a different way."

McDonald said that while many designers derived inspiration from the heritage of African textile traditions, no prevailing theme united the collections. This was a sign that African fashion had "come of age," she said. "No one designer produced the same look as another, which really showcases the vastness of the continent. People were surprised the collections were so varied."

The event had its share of setbacks, with the first two days canceled due to electricity shortages. But momentum was quickly recovered, with more than 1500 people trying to crowd into the tent on the last day. "The audiences were enthralled by it -- the silks, the golds, the sheer size of the event," said McDonald.

Away from the fashion, the presence of young British model Dudley O'Shaughnessy -- hot property following his appearance in a Rihanna music video, and named "male model of the year" at the event's awards -- caused the biggest stir. "The audiences went berserk, there's no other way of describing it," said McDonald. "That was the biggest buzz behind the scenes -- he couldn't even leave the hotel."

Part of complete coverage on
updated 5:57 AM EDT, Mon August 11, 2014
Known as the 'warm heart of Africa', Malawi has friendly locals, good weather, and a new-found safari industry (minus the crowds).
updated 1:26 PM EDT, Fri October 3, 2014
Nazis, bomb raids, and a mysterious man with a mustache. The search for the spinosaurus reads like a spy novel.
updated 10:23 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
Can a rat be a hero? It can if it saves lives. Meet the giant rats that sniff out landmines and TB
updated 7:10 AM EDT, Thu September 18, 2014
Can state-of-the art schools in rural Africa rescue the environment? One charity is betting on it.
updated 12:20 PM EDT, Fri September 12, 2014
To save the rhinos, one charity is moving them out of South Africa, where poaching is at an all time high.
updated 11:42 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
mediterranean monk seal
Many of Africa's animals are facing extinction. Is it too late for them? Our interactive looks at the many challenges to survival.
updated 12:35 PM EDT, Fri June 13, 2014
No one knows what causes "fairy circles" in Namibia's desert. A new study, however, may have solved the mystery.
updated 6:54 AM EDT, Thu April 3, 2014
A picture shows the Rwenzori mountain range on the border between Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo on March 8, 2014. At 5,109 metres (16,763 feet), Mount Stanley's jagged peak is the third highest mountain in Africa, topped only by Mount Kenya and Tanzania's iconic Kilimanjaro.
The 'African Alps' are melting, and it may be too late. Now may be your last chance to see the snow-capped Rwenzori Mountains.
updated 5:34 AM EDT, Fri April 18, 2014
The Hadza are one of the oldest people on Earth. Today, they battle for land, and continued survival.
updated 10:38 AM EDT, Tue August 5, 2014
One company thinks so. They're investing in insect farms in Ghana and Kenya. Could bugs build an industry and curb malnutrition?
updated 6:17 AM EST, Wed January 29, 2014
The ruined town of Great Zimbabwe is part of a kingdom that flourished almost 1,000 years ago, and a bridge to the past.
updated 6:20 AM EDT, Fri March 21, 2014
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
updated 5:27 AM EST, Thu March 6, 2014
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
updated 12:37 AM EDT, Tue June 3, 2014
Vintage helicopters, ziplines, private flying safaris offer new, spectacular views of wildlife and rugged terrain.
updated 6:16 AM EDT, Tue May 27, 2014
Makoko Floating School
A new wave of African architects are creating remarkable buildings in the continent, and beyond.
updated 10:15 AM EDT, Fri March 14, 2014
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.