In a time when Nigerian fashion is starting to settle into an aesthetic (adire, crop tops, wide leg pants and heavy prints) only a few labels have remained chameleonic, even to themselves. Bubu Ogisi’s IAMISIGO is one of those labels and her spring 16 collection is yet another hairpin twist in the wild ride the brand has taken us on in the last five years. Her fall ’15 collection, East of West was arguably her best, featuring handmade knits and exaggerated layering, and was the first time the creative director sought outside help to bring an idea to life.
The new collection Sankofa refers to the designer’s decision to revisit her university years in Ghana for muses and alternately draws inspiration from the history of Ghana and its ancestry of women warriors. In the press release put out by the label, it says.
“Our SS16 collection is spread across the idea of hunting being a “sport” as most of the Ghanaian warriors were usually hunters like the great Ghanaian female hunting warrior Queen Yaa Asantewaa – the Queen who led men to fight the British in 1900 – a woman of pride who proved that Africans. including African woman were – and are still not – weaklings.”
Here is the problem with lofty mission statements; it is already hard enough as a designer to best yourself. It’s even harder when you create a lofty scaffolding of rhetoric your work is supposed to fill. Build too high and you run the risk of setting yourself up to underwhelm. And this collection is across the board underwhelming, maybe even pedestrian if we shed all the high concept photography and androgynous models.
The entire collection is built around Nwentoma more popularly known as Kente, a woven Ghanaian cloth that bears strong similarities to Aso-Oke. The Nwetoma fabric used to be worn exclusively by Ghanaian nobility and is treasured for its name as much as for it’s colour and composition. This seems an interesting premise on which to build a collection, the cloth itself is visually arresting and there is a strong history behind its manufacturing and palette choices. But that is as far as it goes in the exploration of Nwentoma. It is merely an interesting gimmick to explain away the lack of complexity in design.
Instead, the collection boasts a number of sportswear inspired pieces done in airtex mesh and peppered with cowries, in case it wasn’t obvious that the collection was inspired by Modern Hunters. There is none of the subtlety that made the label’s Spring 2015 collection Taboo a critical hit, and none of the abstraction that defined its Fall 2015 collection.
Sankofa is riddled with inconsistencies, a direct consequence of the brand trying to sell us too many things at the same time. It tries to dabble in androgyny but doesn’t quite commit. It opens with the grand gesture of Nwentoma and then sneaks in insipid western inspired sportswear pieces, just in case. But there is one shining exception. Ogisi partners with Tunde Owolabi of Ethnik studios to create accessories for the collection and the result, PVC + Nwentoma sandals and slides are a marvel to behold. Then there are the cowrie chokers and ‘Bandahene’ Mask pendants offered in brass, Acid washed brass and aluminium that are visually interesting and even better wearable.
To paraphrase multi-media artist Wura-Natasha Ogunji, the problem with a grandiose artist statement is that we might get caught up in the rhetoric and forget to do the work. Sankofa would have benefited from a little more elbow grease and a lot more research.