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AFRICAN SPLENDOUR IN LONDON.

Summary: Africa Fashion Week London 2016 came and concluded with its renown African pomp and grandeur, showcasing 40 designers from across Africa and its diaspora and over 50 exhibitors, delighting thousands of fashionistas and shoppers, as well as high profile dignitaries including Oludolapo Osinbajo (speaking at AFWL below), wife of the vice president of Nigeria, Yemi Osinbajo.

Words by Towa Banda

The AFWL brand triumphed against the odds this year, and remains the unmatched crowd-puller for Europe's biggest African fashion showcase.

The BBC World's Focus on Africa screened a pre-event catwalk show live to its three million-plus viewers the day before, setting a backdrop to what was to come in the main shows. Mrs Osinbajo was not only the guest of honour, but she was also at the show to support Step Up, her charitable ini- tiative which trains women and men with various skills required to start up a small business. The initiative took to the AFWL runway with Step Up African print bags produced in conjunction with designer Lady Biba. Also in the house were officials from supporting partners ONE LAGOS, The Bank of Industry (Nigeria), The Nigerian Export Promotion Council, The Sun Nigeria and New African Woman. This year, over 6,000 lovers of African fashion and fashion inspired by Africa descended on London Olym- pia for the increasingly popular show, which is in its sixth year, the third at the famous West London venue. That's not to say there were no issues, and AFWL CEO and founder Ronke Ademiluyi is the first to admit the show could have been better.

"Our main challenge this year was the Olympia venue staff. Despite the fact that this was our third year at Olympia, they were very difficult to work with and made seamless execution of this year's shows very hard to do, but we did. We had to," she says. "We look after so many designers and exhibitors. They come to our platform because of what we can offer, so we had a duty of care to make sure they have the best experience. This year, though, was certainly a challenge."

More than 1,000 people were left stunned when the grand finale by headline designer, Tanzania's respected Mustafa Hassanali, was halted as venue staff abruptly cut the power off five minutes into the highly anticipat- ed show.

Despite the goings-on behind the scenes, African Fashion Week London 2016 revellers were in for the usual hefty dose of African splendour.

Ademiluyi (inset) adds: "We had a diversity of design- ers from Africa and the African diaspora, their collections were amazing as our design- ers keep upping their game every year. We had Soboye as our head stylist and our production team this year came in all the way from South Africa, which makes AFWL a true Africa Fashion Week."

Back-to-back, both established and upcoming designers wowed the jubilant crowd. From the opening show by Didi Creations, which lit up the runway in vibrant mustard yellow, red and blue Kaf- tans, right up to Hassanali's final show with his Mirage collection -- an explosion of sequins meets chiffon that stood true to the medical doctor-turned designer's sig- nature inventive evening gowns -- AFWL did what it does best: excite London, and Europe at large, with what Africa offers.

The AFWL audience were espe- cially delighted to see menswear take to the stage as a major force this year. Caesar Couture channelled his innovative streetwear collection on Congo's Sapeurs, while Niposkin, Sly Monay and London's Soboye also upped the men's fashion game.

And in a first for the AFWL catwalk, Modest Wear was a feature of Saturday's show. Bold textiles and exquisite embroidery starred in an innovative collection by Co-Identity Col- lection, which also included pieces that target- ed Muslim women.

"Overall it was a great show, despite the challenges we had with the venue; feedback from designers, exhibitors and the gener- al public has been good, but we know there is room for improvement in the way we protect our staff, guests, designers and exhibitors from nega- tive outside influences," concludes Ademiluyi.

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Publication:New African Woman
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Nov 30, 2016
Words:693
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