First published by T Magazine on 13 June 2016
For the 26-year-old Nigerian designer Adebayo Oke-Lawal, whose brand Orange Culture held a presentation in a showroom at London Collections Men this weekend, fashion is a very personal business. “We’re trying to communicate the idea of a new generation of African men,” he told T of the intentions behind his gender-fluid men’s wear line. “As a child growing up, I found I was very lost in trying to figure out who I was as a person. I wanted to create a brand that sort of represented that sphere of men: a man that’s vulnerable, a man that’s a bit soft, a man that’s emotional.”
The result, now in its 10th season, is a line that combines men’s wear silhouettes with traditionally feminine details: cowl-necks, bright colors, transparent fabrics. For spring/summer 2017, Oke-Lawal has focused on two prints: the first is “Faces of Rebellion,” inspired by the faces of his own Yoruba tribe and other tribes of Nigeria; the second is a series of illustrations of hands, peppered with familiar gestures like the crossed fingers and the peace sign. Orange Culture also sells jewelry, including hand-shaped pendants and earrings in bronze.
From a rail of garments, the designer pulls out a hybrid of a bomber jacket and a tunic in a translucent material. “We started making sheer pieces in Nigeria two seasons ago, and a lot of people really were like, ‘Oh you shouldn’t be making this — it’s feminine. It’s wrong,’” he recalls. “Now we’ve actually started getting orders for the sheer pieces. It’s become a staple for us.”
Oke-Lawal — who has a degree in banking, but no formal fashion training — taught himself to sew. He studied pattern-cutting on YouTube, and took internships with Nigerian designers. He designed his first collection in 2011 and was a finalist for the LVMH Prize in 2014. Today, the brand is sold online by Not Just A Label, and at the Church Boutique in Hollywood (Oke-Lawal is also in discussion with a New York retailer); Nigerian stockists include the stores Alara, Grey Velvet and Stranger Lagos.
The fashion scene in his home city is changing rapidly. “It’s only been five years since we first had a consistent fashion week,” he says. “The Lagos scene is becoming more vibrant, it is awakening. People are seeing it as a viable venture to get into, because now it has a voice, it has a face — a lot of faces, you know. The best thing about it is, because it’s so fresh, there’s an innocence about the industry; everybody’s just going along with it, and building it as they go.”