Nigerian design label Maxivive, an alumnus of the Lagos Fashion and Design Week Fashion Focus programme was one of the big reveals of the South Africa Menswear Week Fall 16 showcase. Showing a collection that was functional as it was aesthetically pleasing set the designer apart from his peers, and made African menswear sit up and pay attention. It was a career defining moment, one we worried he wouldn’t be able to match or surpass. Our fears apparently, were well founded.
The designer just debuted his Harmattan/Dry 17 collection at the SA Mens Spring 17 showcase, a collection called ‘Yegwa in Venezuela’.
In the press build up to the showcase Papa Oyeyemi, the designer behind Maxivive spoke at length about the new collection was inspired by Islam, Yegwa Ukpo, a fashion curator based in Lagos, and the country Venezuela. The Maxivive man this season has recently migrated to the country (which is predominantly catholic and communist) as a lifelong dream and is interacting with the city as a Muslim adherent and a follower of fashion. This was followed by several contradictory images of young models lasciviously posed in various states of nudity, the kind of image that Islam, Yegwa or Venezuela would never want to be associated with. The ill-thought photo editorials already had us wary of the collection, but we held out a sliver of hope, that just maybe, the clothes themselves would more than make up for it.
The easiest way for a designer to set themselves up for failure is to set the bar too high for themselves for a collection. And the bar for Maxivive’s HD17 collection was stratospheric. Islam has a distinct aesthetic, as does Yegwa Ukpo. There are also the different and distinct dress styles of indigenous and contemporary Venezuela, none of which is expressed literally or indirectly in the collection that Oyeyemi shows.
It almost feels like Papa Oyeyemi chose to name this collection for Yegwa Ukpo as an excuse to try his hand at copying Yohji Yamamoto’s distinct aesthetic and approach to technique and construction. A gamble that fails colossally.
While Ukpo might wear a lot of black and volume, his aesthetic goes beyond that, it encompasses an approach to fashion that is adventurous while being unfussy. Ukpo is a mascot for the appreciation of minimalism and how minimalist fashion isn’t an excuse to under-design, but rather to work with such technical proficiency that the wearer is never encumbered or dismayed by clothing, however complex the concept being expressed.
What we get instead, are unflattering iridescent synthetic organza track suits, ill-fitting amoebic blazers and sheer sportswear for Harmattan that has nothing to do with Islam or Venezuela. Save for a handful of pieces, mostly oversize sweat shirts, nothing is flattering in this collection, or wearable.
Perhaps Oyeyemi should have stayed away from the lofty press statements and stuck to what he knows.
Simon Deiner/ SDR Photo