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From Harare to Lagos: Patterns of African sexual fluid are norms



Written Nosmot Gbadamosi, CNNLagos, Nigeria

There is not much in Orange Culture's clothing to be called a men's brand. In the studio label in upscale Lagos – a traditionally feminine detail – silk ornaments and fuchsia pink dress are tough.

"You have to be a man before you are old enough to realize that you are over-valued," says Adebayo Oke-Lawal, a Nigerian label designer.

The brand is part of a new generation of continent-based designers who reject obsolete concepts of gender in the context of identity, culture and race.

"I found out she was growing up, people were told they needed to be heavy, they needed to be seen as men.

"And it was so embedded in our culture, and I really wanted to question this interview," Oke-Lawal CNN said of the goal behind his name "rodent fluid".

"It was important for people to think outside of a certain type of African man, but they believed that men could be so many different things. We can be emotional, we can be vulnerable, and we can express ourselves, but we want without being considered less than African."

Oke-Lawal – 28-year-old native of Lagos, popular in the international fashion market since its launch in 2011.

"I found it growing up, people were informed that they needed to be heavy, they needed to be seen as men, and so embedded in our culture."

Adebayo Oke-Lawal, Orange Culture

His special mission has made his proposals a devoted global audience. He was the finalist of the LVMH Prize, becoming the first Nigerian brand to appear in London in 2016, and his collaboration with Nigerian musician David was instantly eliminated by London's Selfridges.

Not far from Oke-Lawal is another designer – Papa Oyeyemi. The 26-year-old Nigerian company is behind Maxivive's disturbing label.
Since he founded his label ten years ago at the age of 15, Oyeyemi divided the Nigerians. Maxivive's collection, which was exhibited at Lagos Fashion Week, won the Nigerian press despite international recognition.

One contribution to Instagram generated more than 600 responses. "I have so many hate reminders," Oyeyemi said.

But – "the youngsters are more progressive," he added. "Even if they do not speak about their language, they understand and appreciate it and they will not discriminate."

Flamboyant subculture

Androgy's label Maxivive has often parted Nigerians despite their international recognition.

Androgy's label Maxivive has often parted Nigerians despite their international recognition. Credit: courtesy Kosol Onwudinjor / Maxivive

The inspiration of the label comes from Paris's Burning – a documentary of the 90s, which looks at the spectacular, sub-culture of drag queens living in New York City.

Images from his Lagos Fashion Week presentation can be read as a metaphor for LGBT rights in Nigeria – where gay is illegal. It is the same law in 36 other countries in Africa.

But for Oyeyemi, this is a somewhat more varied conversation about disagreement: "It's about trying new things, let's go of the ideology of what to be," he explained.

"In the past, I had conversations about religion, sexuality, human development …

"Tomorrow I can decide to produce ladies' garments, but I still call it men's clothing and someone can wear it. I do not want to be limited in any way."

Papa Oyeyemi photographed in Ikeja district in Lagos, Nigeria.

Papa Oyeyemi photographed in Ikeja district in Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Nosmot Gbadamosi

"At the end of the day, sexual fluidity is not related to sexuality, it's more about people to be in touch with their male and female side," Oke-Lawal said.

It is a movement that is reflected in the bordered press Nigerian magazine Nasty Boy, with whom Maxivive and Orange Culture collaborate.

"It can not be the only kind of Nigerian man or woman, there must be room for further definitions that do not necessarily match that view," said editor Richard Akuson earlier in CNN.

"If people do not understand that this kind of person may exist, I need more for this kind of menswear."

Adebayo Oke-Lawal, Orange Culture

"Moving with the outside world"

Elsewhere, South African designer Lukhanyo Mdingi divides the sex constructs through male sewing for women and long flowing silk fabrics for men.

"When we began to create pieces that were the birth fluid, we were just moving with what we are witnessing in the outside world," Mdingi said in a telephone conversation.

"The fact is that I am in the company of incredible people who have found out what masculinity is about myself, and that allowed me to measure and determine what it means to me and how it evolved in my Cape Town area."

The 25-year-old view of the shift of the "cross-cultural" environment is the source of the overall look of his latest collection called Soulful II, which has been reflected in Japanese drawings.

Others approached gender-neutral adaptation for pragmatic reasons.

Fellow Cape Label AKJP, designed by Duet Keith Henning and Jody Paulsen, focuses on functional staples with several defining male and female silhouettes.
The idea of ​​the South African designation AKJP was to create ready-to-use pieces that combine liquid silhouettes with striking prints.

The idea of ​​the South African designation AKJP was to create ready-to-use pieces that combine liquid silhouettes with striking prints. Credit: Courtesy of Neil Roberts / AKJP

"Initially, it was an easy way to start making women's clothes," Paulson said in an e-mail. "Women's clothes came from the ideas we had previously established through our collections of men's clothing."

This approach makes sense, financially, said Zimbabwean designer Tanya Mushayi, based in Harare.

"They grew up together with the two brothers in whom I enjoyed some t-shirts and jackets and wore them, but they could not do the same thing with my stuff," said the 29-year-old. "The idea behind my unisex jacket was accessible to everyone.

"Zimbabwe is ideal for sex fashion because of the current financial climate we live in, with high unemployment, minimum disposable income and limited resources."

Rooted in heritage

In Lagos, luxury ladies' clothing, Gozel Green, uses androgynous fashion to gently deliver heritage news.

With a fashion designer mother and dramatic father, 31-year-old twins Sylvia Enekwe and Olivia Enekwe-Okoji began to reflect in 2012 their childhood growing up in Enugu, East Nigeria.

Presentation of Gozel Green at the Arise Fashion 2018 weekend in Lagos, Nigeria.

Presentation of Gozel Green at the Arise Fashion 2018 weekend in Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Nosmot Gbadamosi

"Our late father wrote many poems in life, so for every collection we create, we interpret his stories into our design aesthetics," said Enekwe-Okoji.

Their clothing is experimenting with feminine forms – it has gained international recognition, including the Italian Vogue "Other Green Talents 2018". Felabration saw that they designed a collection inspired by Afrobeat legend Feu Kuti that could be worn by both men and women.

But what local consumers are causing disagreement? Zimbabwe Mushayi admits that most of her customers come from the US.

"Reaction was good" for AKJP in South Africa.

Perhaps, in South Africa, 350,000 men and 2.6 million women claim that, according to a survey conducted by the Human Science Research Council, they dress and bury publicly unconformed.

But 67 percent of South Africans agree with this message: "It's disgusting to dress men as women and women dress up as men."

In Nigeria, acceptance is equally slow. A survey conducted in Nigeria in 2015 by the Voices 4 Change advocacy group noted that most Nigerians "believe men must be tough, intelligent, fearless and responsible."
The male model prepares to shoot at the Orange Culture studio in Lagos, Nigeria.

The male model prepares to shoot at the Orange Culture studio in Lagos, Nigeria. Credit: Nosmot Gbadamosi

"A lot of men's clothing at that time was very effective suits, it was very hypermetlina and we came up with that brand that was in the opposite direction," Oke-Lawal reminded of the launch of Orange Culture.

"So people simply did not accept it.

"I saw that if people do not understand that this kind of person may exist, I need more for this kind of men's clothing."

Attitudes are changing. "People are now thinking about what we are doing and why we are getting so much credit outside of Nigeria," said Oke-Lawal.

"It really helped us find a stronger voice in our site."


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