Local cloth meets modernity at Lagos fashion show

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LAGOS, NIGERIA (AP) - With theater, traditional fabric studded with precious stones and decorated motorcycle helmets, Africa’s up-and-coming fashion designers put on a dazzling show in a three-day runway event that debuted Friday in an unconventional city.

Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial megacity, doesn’t have a fashion district packed with big-name stores, and its tropical climate doesn’t justify seasonal collections. That didn’t stop organizers of the Arise Magazine Fashion Week from showcasing 50 new and established African designers _ some of whom have won critical acclaim in Paris and New York _ who fielded clothes ranging from business suits to dresses woven from raffia and silk.

“Before now, we used to be part of a program that belonged to someone else,” said Perry McDonald, managing editor of Arise Magazine.

Nigeria’s burgeoning fashion industry warmly welcomed the event.

“The retail industry hasn’t blossomed in the way it should have here,” said Kabir Wadhwani, co-owner of Temple Muse, one of few designer boutiques in the city.

A city of contrasts, Lagos is home to a minority of wealthy elites, a growing middle class and an overwhelming majority of people just trying to get by. A culture of tailoring, however, means that West Africa’s most populous city sizzles with an individual sense of style. Lagosian men and women often have outfits made for special occasions using the vibrant, multicolored fabrics offered at local markets.

In recent years, some world-class designers have been exporting that fashion sense beyond the coastal city’s shores.

“This fashion week is an input into a fashion industry that needs to be taken more seriously,” Wadhwani said. “A lot of the designers have shown at international fashion weeks, but this will also give exposure to the abundance of local talent.”

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JEWEL BY LISA

Lisa Folawiyo is one such local designer whose designs have a strong following in Nigeria and abroad.

A top gun on the Nigerian fashion scene, Folawiyo is known for her experimentation on a woven cotton fabric known as ankara. She embellishes the traditional cloth with sequins, hand-beading and stones, resulting in designs that can look feminine, modern and chic at the same time.

She uses traditional European shapes _ high-necked tops, shorts and flirty dresses _ but with unexpected fabrics and patterns.

“She’s flying,” Wadhwani said. “She’s done superbly well.”

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