Nigeria’s rising star has shot an exclusive story for Nataal featuring her SS16 collection

Amaka Osakwe always stitches deep meanings into her sensual, intelligent womenswear. But for SS16 she’s excelled herself by taking us on an existential journey through French philosophy, Yoruba legend, Spanish cinema and Greek mythology only to come to the conclusion life’s a bitch and then you die. “The collection explores the ideas of finding purpose through actions of futility,” Osakwe explains. “The Maki Oh woman is reflective this season, giving rise to questions about life and how in it, we find both nothingness and meaning.” 

The designer drew on Pedro Almodovar’s moribund film Talk To Her as well as Albert Camus’ essay on Sisyphus, the king who was condemned to forever push a bolder up a mountain just to watch it roll down again. “Camus muses that Sisyphus must find happiness in this pointless endeavour. He expresses that life is built on the hope for tomorrow, yet tomorrow brings us closer to death.” Osakwe was also reminded of Arodan, a Yoruba term used for the way adults get children out of the house by sending them to look for non-existent objects at neighbours’ homes. “Children go from house to house and naturally return home empty handed.” Lastly, she was inspired by Karuwai, courtesans from Northern Nigeria who are tied to no man. “These woman are highly coveted, and perform a cycle of freely moving in and out of marriage as career moves.”

"The Maki Oh woman is reflective this season, giving rise to questions about life and how in it,
we find both nothingness and meaning"

It may all sound rather bleak but the results are totally scrumptious. Wide crossover trousers, boxy tops, curvaceous wrap dresses and multi-split maxi skirts come in a luxuriously revealing mix of lurex knits, Broderie Anglais and Chantilly and Guipure laces in shades of bronze, orange, fuchsia, black and blood red. Meanwhile her signature indigo-dyed silk adire this time features two motifs, a continuous wave symbolising the ebb and flow of survival and a scattered scrawl suggesting chaos and intrusion. Ase oke fringing, loose-stitch Fulani embroideries and feathers add an air of freedom. This season also marks a new direction in silhouette. “Austere yet easy breezy”, her shapes are looser and more grown up. While the wearer may well have surrendered to the fruitlessness of existence, she’s sure as hell going to look hot to the finish line.

A born and bred Lagosian, Osakwe studied in the UK before returning to the city to launch the brand for AW10. Making an instant impact thanks to her dedication to evolving African textiles and traditional tailoring, she’s gone on to achieve international acclaim. She’s secured US stockists and shown at NYFW, been a finalist for the 2014 LVMH Prize and exhibited in museums such as FIT and Vitra. She’s been profiled everywhere from Vogue to Man Repeller and just won Womenswear Designer of the Year at Lagos Fashion & Design Week 2015. She has an enviable celebrity clientele too including Solange, Lupita Nyong'o and none other than Michelle Obama, who also invited her the White House. “A lot of what I’ve done has been a first for any Africa-based designer, so it feels great to be paving a new trail for the industry and for Africa. It’s daunting too because I don’t have a blueprint to follow so it’s important to not get overwhelmed or complacent and to keep pushing the brand forward.”

Nataal is excited to be collaborating with the designer for this exclusive fashion shoot featuring key pieces from SS16. Shot in Lagos by the designer herself, it stars new face Nora in various states of restrained surrender. “Nora is my muse this season. I love everything about her, her youthful exuberance and her overall chi,” says Osakwe. “There is something calming about how she interacted with these garments that are inspired by how absurd life is. She brings some weird version of hope to it all.”

Photography Amaka Osakwe
Model Nora Omeire at Beth Model Management
Words Helen Jennings

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