If you are an ardent follower of Nigerian fashion, and Nigerian menswear in particular, then a cursory look at the new Mai Atafo collection will definitely put you in your feelings. For those not aware, the eponymous design label is one of the most ambitious in Nigeria, with three distinct lines, Mai Atafo inspired (a menswear line), Mai Atafo (a women’s wear Line) and Mai Atafo bridals. Helmed by a team of Savile Row trained tailors and a clientele list that features a grand number of Nigerian celebrities and business people, we’ve come to expect a kind of aesthetic from the label; safe, sometimes gimmicky but almost always predictable. Especially when it came to the label’s menswear.
While innovative design in the label’s women’s wear line helped distinguish it as a serious label interested in advancing design in Nigeria (honorable mentions would be the label’s Spring 15 collection that saw take on the Niger Delta’s traditional menswear and rework it for women and the label’s Spring 16 print collaboration with fetish artist Laolu Sebanjo), the label has marketed itself as the menswear label you went to for an ‘edgy’ twist on the classic. This ideal was interpreted as a conveyor belt of suits differentiated only by where they fall on the colour wheel or what ‘unexpected’ print that got its day on the runway. We came to expect excellent tailoring from the label, but little else. And with the sheer number of younger ‘bespoke’ menswear labels that poured into the industry, it became harder and harder to distinguish the label from the fray.
When it was announced Mai Atafo had been invited to show (a second time) at the South Africa Menswear Week Spring 17 showcase, we wondered if this was this push the label needed to up its game. Turns out it was. Not much changed at first glance, the clothes are still easy to the point of distraction, but there is one important difference. There are no more gimmicks. Mai Atafo this season draws entirely from the creative director’s personal wardrobe. Kaftans, shirts, bomber jackets, and trench suit cut like a wrap dress, each piece is simply designed to fit right into the everyday man’s wardrobe. We were delighted to see save for a handful of burnt yellow ensembles (old habits die hard) the palette was matte, the clothes ran the spectrum of what a modern metrosexual might require in their everyday life.
Accepting that their clothes (and price points) are only truly accessible to an older demographic with less leeway for experimentation allowed the label do their best work. It took half a decade but here we are.