Today this post isn’t going to be like the normal “how I wore this” or “how I styled that” or “how I thrifted this”. I can’t possibly be the only interesting event going on in the fashion
I love Chimamanda Ngozi-Adichie so much. I want to express my thoughts wildly like her in writing and in fashion. She has a thing for Nigerian fashion and hence has been patronising a lot of Nigerian brands.
See her slaying in the Nigerian brand (The Ladymaker) amongst many other clothes she rocks to the red carpet. When interviewed about her fashion and style she said a lot! Where you expecting any controversial statements? Well, she always speaks “Igbo proverbs” and always leaves an epistle…Did you even know she won best dressed in school?
I’d leave you to her epistle, please read!
My mother always dressed us well. Me in little girl dresses cinched at the waist, my brothers in suits and well-ironed shirts. To go out, she said, we had to di ka mmadu, which translates literally to look like a person. We spoke both Igbo and English at home, but she always said this in Igbo, the more poetic language, as though to validate with metaphor her belief in dressing well. There were frequent market visits to buy yards of fabric, trips to the tailor to be measured. But store-bought clothes — we called them ready-made — were the highlights, preferred partly because the sewing had no imperfections, and partly because tailors were cheap and ubiquitous, and so the less common became the more desirable. If my professor father traveled to Europe for a conference, I looked forward to dresses from abroad, and I loved them more fiercely for being foreign. My much-older sisters, Ijeoma and Uche, were stylish figures, one in medical school and the other studying pharmacy, and I spent my teenage years wearing their hand-me-downs. I remember a silver-coloured skirt suit from the conservative Ijeoma, with an elegantly adult peplum. I wore it to church at 15. And from the more inventive Uche, a fitted dress in cream jersey, two sashes draped in front, from shoulder to hip, crossing at the middle. And black harem trousers, with ruching that gathered at my calves, so strange that my classmates giggled when I wore them to a friend’s birthday party. I loved those clothes, incongruous though they might have been. In them, I felt free of self-consciousness, comfortable enough to laugh along to the well-meaning puzzlement of my peers.
When I studied medicine for a year at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka I was voted Best Dressed Girl. A classmate said: “Congratulations, even though you wear some things that I don’t understand.” I laughed. Perhaps he meant the green crochet top and black bell-bottom trousers I had found in my mother’s old trunk from the 1960s. I was drawn to clothes that were slightly unusual, quietly quirky, as long as they never sank to the level of costume. If I had a style mantra it was to wear what I liked. Yet when I moved to the US to attend college, I began to wear clothes I disliked. My fiction was getting published, I was keen to be taken seriously, and I had noticed the backward treatment of women in western culture: women interested in clothes or make-up were labeled frivolous, their intelligence became suspect, and they risked being easily dismissed in intellectual circles. So I wore what I imagined would make me look worthy of seriousness. It took years, and success, before I began again to wear the clothes I truly wanted to wear. I gloried in buying ready-made clothing at American discount stores, and later when I could afford to, in department stores. I discovered online shopping. I browsed and ordered and returned.
Looking at Nigerian designs online became my favourite time-waster. Here was bliss: clothes cut to account for breasts, an ethos of clothing as pleasure rather than status, the casual presence of sleeves. I took screenshots of what I liked. My cousin Ogechukwu placed the orders. They were delivered to my Lagos home. If I happened to be in the US, they would be sent to me there. Some of the clothes I fell for as soon as I put them on. Others did not live up to their promise. There was an abundance of poor-quality zippers that needed changing. I discovered, above all else, that price is not an accurate gauge of quality and that there is far more talent than opportunity and infrastructure, a fact perhaps true of most industries in Nigeria. So far, my favourite brands are Fia Factory and Grey, the former beautifully offbeat, the latter timeless with deft touches of originality, both careful about fabric and finish. To a Diorfashion show in Paris, I wore a dress by Ladunni Lambo, a young designer who might well become a star because of her rare mix of consciousness and introspection. Her deconstructed dresses made from stiff aso-oke feel like exquisite armours. I thought I disliked sequins until I found a top by Wanger Ayu, with self-assured furry green sleeves and a silver-sequinned bodice. I wore it, with patterned trousers by Grey, to the New York Times’ “Times Talks” conversation series, and felt vainly pleased with the surprise of people who did not think the clothes were Nigerian.
But my best-loved purchase is a white dress from the improbably named label She’s Deluxe, owned by a young woman in Abuja. A modern long-sleeved cotton shift with a sly cut-out at the shoulder, which I wore to the American Academy of Arts and Letters induction in New York. I recently ordered another dress from her. “Pay a deposit so I can go to the market and buy the fabric,” she told my cousin, which I found an endearing example of Nigerian striving. I decided to call it my Project Wear Nigerian and planned to have photos put up on my Facebook page, the only social media I have. But my 20-year-old twin nieces Chisom and Amaka, full of that terrifying millennial savoir-faire, laughed. “Aunty you should have an Instagram page,” Amaka said. “We’ll handle it for you.” They were unhappy with the first photos I took. Not bright or clear enough, they said. Their eyes are conditioned to the ersatz poses and stylised photos of social media, where people dress specifically to be photographed in well-lit spaces. Book events are not usually photo-friendly, too dark, too indifferent to optics. And it doesn’t help that I loathe being photographed. A camera before me results automatically in my being knotted with awkwardness: finger-twiddling, breath-holding, mouth-twisted, body off-kilter. Now, six months later, my nieces have made peace with the photos not being Instagram-perfect. “At least they’re real,” they said, as scant consolation. We have a routine: I have pictures taken at my events and I send them to my best friend Uju, my cousin Ogechukwu and my nieces. They make the selection, as I am known to have terrible taste in my own photos, and the photo is put up, with the brands’ Instagram handles. I have practical hopes for my project, that it shows Nigerian fashion as it is, not a museum of “traditional African” clothes but a vibrant and diverse industry, and that it brings recognition to the brands. But it is also a personal and political statement. At a time of political uncertainty, when I find myself questioning the future of the two countries I call home — Nigeria and the US — this project is an act of benign nationalism, a paean to peaceful self-sufficiency, a gesture towards what is still possible; it is my uncomplicated act for complicated times.
credit:kamdora, my fashion nationalism
How wouldn’t you love Chimamanda! I bet if she takes any chance at being a designer, she would nail it and be successful at it!
Do you think she is stylish after all? Well, let’s hear it in the comment section!