The collective’s collaboration with Olu Odukoya and Ibrahim Kamara for 1 Granary’s VOID


Would you pat a conman on the back for pulling off the perfect trick? Olu Odukoya, the outré visual voice behind campaigns spanning Balenciaga and Saint Laurent, and the biannual Modern Matter magazine, certainly would. As he tells Nataal, the art of the successful scam demonstrates an “investment of effort and intelligence in the act of convincing an audience,” an exhibition of refined creativity deserving of rapturous applause.

Odukoya doesn’t mean just any old scammers. He’s talking about 419 Collective, a London-based trio of brands that take their name from the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud. But the number also stands as a byword for those that breach it, the notorious figures of contemporary Nigerian lore. Unlike in the political West, where the word ‘scam’ is typically met with a haughty frown, Odukoya maintains that “for Nigerians, someone associated with the number ‘419’ isn’t really seen in a negative light... A ‘419’ guy doesn’t get where they do by committing robbery, but rather by using their creativity, their wits.”

“A ‘419’ guy doesn’t get where they do by committing robbery, but rather by using their creativity, their wits”

Applying the scammer’s ethos of cunning, creativity, and craftiness to the space of fashion design, the three men who make up the collective, Olubiyi Thomas, Monad London by Daniel Olatunji and Foday Dumbaya of Labrum London , work to dispel stereotype-hazed visions of Africa’s fashion heritage, highlighting the diversity and quality of African fabrics beyond postcard-perfect wax prints. “If you’re from a certain part of the world, there’s already an automatic perception of you,” explains Thomas, “and I think it’s my job to present unexpected work.”

Last weekend, as part of London Fashion Week Men’s, the collective participated in 1 Granary’s VOID, a new platform that connects six emerging designers to six established creative directors, culminating in the production of an exhibition and unique print publication by each team. For the initiative, 419 Collective collaborated with Odukoya and stylist Ibrahim Kamara to produce an image series and video that explore the concept of perfect forgery at the heart of ‘419’. Interestingly, to do so, clothing from the designers’ collections were totally absent. Explaining his approach, Odukoya speaks of how he drew inspiration from the campaigns of numerous large fashion houses, in which “it comes down to the ethos, rather than the actual fabric they use or the silhouettes of their garments. The VOID project [therefore] became less about promoting the collective’s garments, more about depicting the ideas that underpin it.”

So the collective produced a womenswear look, no mean feat for designers that typically specialise in menswear, and who, moreover, had never actually designed together before. And as with any scam worth its salt, there was, of course, a catch. The garments produced were ‘fraudulent’ pieces produced for the sake of a shoot, for the sake of producing an impression. They are never to be sold. “It was a way of using their skills as designers to imitate, or defraud, the idea of what a ‘sincere’ fashion collection should be,” says Odukoya. “This look doesn’t exist as a part of any collection, but rather as a piece of art produced collaboratively under the ethos of a ‘419’. It shows that it takes a hell of a lot of effort to be a con artist.”


Effort it may certainly take, but was it one for which the collective’s designers were immediately keen? “It’s been an eye-opener,” is Dumbaya’s response on being asked about the collaboration. “It’s certainly been interesting, because they come with totally different perspectives to how we approach our work, and how we want to present ideas.” But this abundance of perspectives is something for which all three express profound gratitude, with Thomas continuing that the guidance of a creative director offered “a different universe of ideas, which is scary, but so exciting.”

That’s not to say that the collective fully capitulated to their VOID-appointed creative director and team: an aspect on which 419 insisted, for example, was the shoot’s exclusively white casting. Not wishing to kowtow to the expectation that a diasporic collective would only ever want to cast black models, the collective swerved the hollow industry trend of casting models to lay claim to diversity credentials. The images from their shoot, with a Lamborghini in the background and printed on glossy paper, then become a sort of meta-commentary, a perfectly doctored vision of the grit and glamour typical of the magazine pages that have traditionally excluded black bodies.

Where 419 Collective’s project made itself most adamantly felt was in its installation at the opening of VOID, held on the ground floor of the British Fashion Council’s showspace at Truman Brewery, comprising a wall of mosaiced fabrics and reproductions of Kano’s Kofar Mata dye pits, each filled with indigo.“It was the first thing that we proposed to 1 Granary, and we were still adamant about it,” says Olatunji. But beyond its striking visual impact, it was its testament to the collective’s ethical core that made it so crucial, tying them directly to “the current conversation surrounding Africa and African craftsmanship, not just to our individual brands,” as Thomas explains: “It’s a question of representing people that have been really talented and gifted for a very long time. We mustn’t forget that!”

Buy a copy of the VOID publication here

Photography & art direction Olu Michael Odukoya
Styling Ibrahim Kamara
Production Pesa Productions 
Hair Virginia Moreira
Make-up Daniel Sallstrom
Casting Madeleine Østlie  
Set Design Max Randall
Models Sofia Steinberg, Kellyanne
Editing Gloss VFX
Styling assistance Ola Ebiti
Make-up assistance Charlie Murray
Production assistance Yazzmin Anderson-Moore
Hair assistance Annie Rademacher
Special thanks Gloss Fx, Hackney Studios, Royal Rentals

Words Mahoro Seward

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Published on 09/01/2019