Dior made quite the splash this Fall with its exciting and controversial SS ‘17 t-shirt bearing the quote “We Should All Be Feminists”.
These are of course the words of Chimamanda Adichie, written graphically on the controversial 700$ t-shirt. But it’s certainly not the first time that high luxury fashion has been inspired/influenced by African feminists. Despite the long history of revolutionary feminists such as Funmilayo Ransome-Kuti and female kings throughout the continent, Africans and feminism are often viewed at odds with each other. Many still associate African women with images of servitude and obedience (a perception it should be noted was heavily colored by colonialism). Nevertheless, contemporaries such as Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and the creator and founder of Maki Oh, Amaka Osakwe, are working to change that.
Designer Amake Osakwe has had heavy impact on runways since with her collection Maki Oh began showing its fun and thoughtful take on Adiré. Along with highlighting the wealth of beauty to be found within a traditionally feminine craft from Yorubaland, season after season Maki Oh has produced collections that complicate and illuminate the feminine. With each collection Osakwe puts forth a dynamic and complex woman. Through thoughtful research and careful taste she complicates stereotypes about womanhood, the feminine, and feminists.
In her 2015 spring/summer collection ‘Virgin’, we are served with a wealth of philosophical design that most wouldn’t expect from a retail high luxury brand. The looks are punctuated with sculptural bows that merge a more conventional symbol of femininity with hard edges. The designer includes contrasting draping and pleating, mixed throughout with cacophonic adire’ prints.
One of the two custom adire’ prints included in this collection evoke the crown of thorns, and is kept company by other religious references in the collection that speak to the cultural history of the construction of feminine stereotypes, ideals, and archetypes. These works are layered in transparent textiles and draping that veil and unveil. Maki Oh does what seems unlikely and impossible with a thoughtful combination of narrative and visual storytelling through the use of historical symbols and through an in-depth understanding of the meaning that can be embedded into textiles. She merges the intellectual with the social, the critical and the visceral, the tactile and the philosophical to create beautiful designs that far surpass traditional notions of what is possible to create through fashion.
In taking on such a brave task Maki Oh’s Virgin collection charges against any notion that fashion and feminism can’t co-exist, showing how they might actually thrive alongside each other. It’s no wonder some of the strongest and inspiring women of our time can be seen wearing Oh including former First Lady Michelle Obama, Lupita Nyongo, and Solange Knowles Do not be surprised if while digging through farewell Memes for Michelle Obama you catch a glimpse of one of these in-duplicable works of design.
Maki Oh recently premiered its Fall 2017 collection at New York Fashion Week which follows the story of a woman as she journeys through Lagos to see a lover. Find more here.
Images Courtesy of Vogue.
By Murktarat Yussuff