Maki Oh’s Autumn Winter 15\16 collection explores the idea of adopted identities as result of West Africa’s long history with cultural appropriation. It is an idea that has spun through all Maki Oh collections. Dutch Wax lends itself as the starting point of this research.
“As an advocate for all things truly African, Maki Oh uses true African textiles like Adire, Aso-oke, Akwa Ocha, Oja and more to continue to illustrate to the world (and Africans) that we have desirable, couture quality local textiles. Ankara fabric (Dutch Wax) does not have it’s origins in Africa. It is imported from Holland, India, Turkey, China and even England. But the world, and even some Africans think this fabric is African. Holland’s Vlisco’s current website proudly states “VLISCO HAS BEEN ROMANCING THE MEN AND WOMEN OF CENTRAL AND WEST AFRICA FOR ALMOST 170 YEARS AND HAS BEEN EMBRACED AS THE VERY FABRIC OF LIFE IN MANY SOCIETIES.”
This season, Maki Oh dissects the fascination and perception of these fabrics as African, along with other concepts that have been imported from other continents and have found home in West Africa. The idea of the African mermaid, Mami Wata is of particular interest, as it originated from a photograph of a Samoan snake charmer that appeared on the coasts of Nigeria in 1887. This image of a beautiful, long-haired woman holding a snake captured the imagination of West African indigenes who then projected meaning and symbolism onto the photograph, forming a powerful cultural myth around it. This is how simply and astonishingly the idea of Mami Wata was formed.
As FADER’s love affair with Nigerian label Maki Oh and it’s namesake founder Amaka Osakwe grows, so to does my own personal long distance admiration of the designer and her works continue to be nurtured.
In their latest feature on the designer and the significance of her Maki Oh as a Lagos-based and Nigerian-centered homegrown label, the FADER’s style editor at large Mobolaji Dawodu, who’s half-Nigerian, recollects his childhood in Lagos and connects his nostalgic remembrances of the role clothes, style and tailoring plays in Lagos life, to the ways in which the relevance and dynamics of these traditions are being interestingly resurrected by Maki Oh’s use of non-Western Nigerian cloths such as Adire that are both made in and originate in Nigeria (although similar indigo dying techniques are used throughout much of West Africa).
Maki draws from the traditional stuff, because that’s where it started, but she’s mixing it up.
In this regard, Maki Oh stands out from a sea of African designers who are using non-African textiles (i.e. Dutch Wax print) that have become synonymous with what we often refer to as ‘African fashion’, and often mistaken for being of African origin.
Maki’s work stands out because she uses fabrics in Africa that aren’t the norm. Nowadays, everybody is doing a lot of beautiful designs with African prints, or ankara—like the Turkish capital. But the fabrics that Maki uses are more obscure. When you see an African print, you look at it and you’re like, Oh that’s an African print, but what she uses, when you look at it, it’s not just about Africa. It’s a mesh of many influences. A lot of ankara fabrics are actually imported from Holland these days; the prints that Maki uses will be hand-painted and stitched in Nigeria, but they’ll be a play on those traditional designs and the stories they tell, like a dress that’s covered in eyes, or fish, or a very contemporary-looking abstract design.
Seeing this collection, there’s no questioning why she was invited to meet Michelle Obama as part of Obama’s most admired fashion designers.
The collection infuses traditional adire prints into soft fabrics in shapes that are familiar territory for Maki Oh – the boxy top, the midi, tapered shirts. Silk has always had a place in her collections but here she adds rich cottons and dense, spongy honeycomb mesh. (source)
Fashion Lookbook: Maki Oh Spring 2015 RTW Collection.
Watching the progress of Nigerian designer Amaka Osakwe’s clothing label Maki Oh, a play on her first and last names, has been one of the most rewarding experiences in African fashion and design.
Always keeping her feminine appeal and awareness intact, where last year’s Spring 2014 RTW collection was an exciting mish-mash of colours, cuts and silk sensuality, she returns this year with a range that sees a complete aesthetic departure from where she was a year ago.
Using a palette that includes a similar shade of indigo, inspired by Yoruba Adire textiles, that she made use of in her Fall/Winter 2014 RTW collection, Amaka’s Spring 2014 RTW line is a mixture of exquisite simplicity and classic simplicity. Not that any of this is new for Amaka. We’ve seen her take on similar silhouettes as far back as her Fall/Winter 2013 collection - one of her best to date.
Nigerian designer Maki Osakwe has been doing big things for a minute, and we’re not the only ones admiring (and coveting) her collections. She spoke to The Man Repeller about why she wants to hold on to Nigerian textile traditions and how she feels about designing clothes for women. Here are some highlights, click through for the full interview:
“Each Maki Oh piece has a hidden meaning. [T]his is taken from decades ago when traditional clothing in Nigeria was worn to pass messages. It’s a secret conversation sometimes within oneself, or other times between the wearer and the observer.”
“As each season goes by I gain more respect and fall even more in love with everything WOMAN. I love being a woman. Every Maki Oh collection has been inspired by women, from street-workers to nuns. If you love women, then I believe you can’t help but be a feminist too. Maki Oh collections all express feminist views in different doses.”
We [at Maki Oh] don’t care much for how society defines beauty. Every season, we try to create and find our own ‘beauty’ in subjects that don’t fit within society’s definition of it.“
Of all the names to turn up on the short list for the brand-new LVMH Prize, Maki Oh is perhaps the most surprising. Designer Maki Osakwe’s presence on the list is richly deserved, but as a designer based in Lagos, she remains outside the range of fashion industry groupthink. That makes her something other than a usual suspect for a Paris-based fashion competition, but it also helps account for the utter distinctiveness of her work. Osakwe always premises her collections on a story, and this one, she explained, came from her imagining a woman at her mirror, reciting the song lyrics, “Tell me I’m the only one, even if you choke.”
Further, Osakwe really upped her textile game this season, developing a traditional Nigerian aso-oke material with Lurex thread; pulling luxe gobs of fringe out of selvedge; and translating prints, such as her Yoruba translation of those song lyrics, into hand-appliquéd lettering. There’s a certain naïveté to Osakwe’s work and you sense the hand of the artisan, but the intelligence and aesthetic sophistication guiding her process is so keen, the pieces never come off as artsy-craftsy. Well done. - By Maya Singer