Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Fashion week in Lagos: Putting African designers on the map

By Tim Hume, for CNN
March 21, 2012 -- Updated 0546 GMT (1346 HKT)
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: Read this report in Arabic

(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
March 14, 2014 -- Updated 1415 GMT (2215 HKT)
A huge spiral in the Sahara had Google Earth users baffled by what it could be. So what exactly is it?
March 6, 2014 -- Updated 1027 GMT (1827 HKT)
A photographer took to an ultra-light aircraft to capture Botswana's savannah from above. The results are amazing.
March 25, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
CNN's Zain Verjee took on Uganda's Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, in a bid to see its mountain gorillas.
March 21, 2014 -- Updated 1020 GMT (1820 HKT)
Morocco is famous for its historic cities and rugged landscape. But it's becoming known as a surfer's paradise.
March 3, 2014 -- Updated 1059 GMT (1859 HKT)
"The Samaritans" is a new Kenyan comedy that takes a mocking look at the world of inept African aid organizations.
February 28, 2014 -- Updated 1029 GMT (1829 HKT)
A Moroccan food blogger presents her interactive guide to the country's tastiest dishes.
February 13, 2014 -- Updated 1159 GMT (1959 HKT)
South African photographer Frank Marshall captured Botswana's heavy metal rockers as part of his Renegades series.
You might not associate Botswana with rock music, but in recent years its heavy metal scene has been making a name for itself.
January 29, 2014 -- Updated 1117 GMT (1917 HKT)
The ruined town of Great Zimbabwe is part of a kingdom that flourished almost 1,000 years ago, and a bridge to the past.
January 22, 2014 -- Updated 1139 GMT (1939 HKT)
A Cameroon supporter smiles during celebrations after Cameroon qualified for the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil after winning the second leg qualifying football match between Cameroon and Tunisia on November 17, 2013 in Yaounde.
Known for its diverse geography and culture, Cameroon could be on the dawn of becoming known for tourism.
January 21, 2014 -- Updated 1116 GMT (1916 HKT)
The world's only "Flying Eye Hospital" is a DC-10 jet that flies around the world carrying out sight-saving operations.
January 27, 2014 -- Updated 1125 GMT (1925 HKT)
Mount Etna, Europe's most active volcano, explodes spilling lava down the mountain sides and shooting ash into the sky October 30, 2002 near the town of Nicolosi, near Catania, Italy.
A Kenyan TV production set in the year 2063 imagines a world where European refugees are fleeing to Africa.
January 16, 2014 -- Updated 1011 GMT (1811 HKT)
Tour d'Afrique
The Tour d'Afrique is a four-month, 12,000 km cycle race across the length of Africa.
Each week Inside Africa highlights the true diversity of the continent as seen through the mediums of art, music, travel and literature.