Amaka Osakwe’s Maki Oh has always rooted its collections, however cosmopolitan in Nigerian cosmology. For six years, Osakwe consistently expanded what was possible with what others considered ‘dated’ Nigerian techniques and popularized Adire, the dyeing technique that is now synonymous with Nigerian fashion. However, this brought many to the conclusion that Osakwe had somehow been stultified in ways, that she had become complacent
She has dispelled this misconception with her Spring 16 collection, a post modernist contemplation of the place of ennui in an artist’s work that saw her embrace cutting edge Asian design techniques. She marries lush lurex panels with glossy silk adire prints.
Answering the question of whether her fount of innovation was dried out and the burden of proof lifted off her shoulders, Osakwe pauses for a second from divining the stars and sets her sights on deconstructing what it means to be a woman in present day Nigeria.
‘Ehn’ is the theme of the collection this season. Much like in Japanese culture where body language, context in which a word is used and phonetic intonation can alter the meaning of a word, Ehn in this collection serves as an excellent metaphor for the many paradoxical multiplicities Nigerian women are forced to embody, all the while remaining ‘feminine’ and ‘non threatening’.
Collaborating with luxury Nigerian accessories label, Zashadu to create special bags for the collection, Osakwe puts out a comprehensive statement. The entire collection is rife with visual markers of this inner struggle to validate self while performing acts of femininity that invalidate this self.
Layered black and white sequins form rudimentary ‘eyes’ on dresses and blouses and pants, suggesting the constant scrutiny that women are subjected to; some are small and numerous others large and threatening, but all are present. Layers of tulle skirting, exaggerated ruffles, and pearl lined pyjama suits all speak to the subversion of the unrealistic demands expected of Nigerian women. Epaulettes are beribboned and pleated, the most demure of adire print dresses are mottled with camouflage motifs, sheer fabric cuts into silhouettes that are almost anti-sensual suggest a veiled rebellion.
That a woman can be many, many things, and still remain herself.