African designers light up catwalk

New York fashion week started with a bang yesterday. Determined to re-write Africa‘s story, five designers by way of Lagos and London lit up the New York catwalk in the Arise African Icons tent with chic women’s and menswear designs. If you thought African fashion was just the odd Accra printed skirt, you couldn’t be more wrong.

Popular established designers such as Ozwald Boateng, showed alongside new talent such as Maki Oh, who is already garnering stellar reviews from the New York fashion press. The runway show was all about glamour, with African prints reworked and updated for the spring season, stunning silk and lace womenswear designs and show stopping, floor-length cocktail dresses – proving what African designers have long been saying – they are more than just their prints, but when they do a print, boy, do they do it well.

The clothes weren’t the only attraction, either. The models transformed the runway, thanks to the spectrum of shades. Black and Asian models stomped down the catwalk in droves, celebrating the different hues of black skin, often under-represented at most other shows in the tents.
For those of you who didn’t get a front-row ticket to the Arise show, here are the African Icons spring 2013 designers you need to know.

1. Ozwald Boateng OBE
Long before menswear started to have its moment, Boateng was championing the fit of a good suit. From his Savile Row shop, the British designer of Ghanaian descent, made history as the first black tailor to have a shop on the Row. Over his 25-year career, he’s become the go-to designer for Hollywood and the man on the street who wants to look sharp. Yesterday, Boateng’s collection lit up the runway. It was saved until last and for good reason. His men’s suits, in an array of spring colours, from bright red to canary yellow –showed that the suit can looked playful – and there’s room for it beyond the boardroom. While the selection of double-breasted jackets and macs, which fitted the models perfectly, proved there’s more to the designer than just his trademark suits.

2. Maki Oh
Designer to watch in 2013 … Maki Oh. Photograph: Keith Bedford/Reuters with her first New York fashion week show, this 26-year-old Nigerian designer, who is based in Lagos, is already making waves. Featured in the Cut this week, and with a designer of the year gong already in her pocket, not to mention the odd celebrity fan (hello Solange Knowles) Maki Oh is definitely a face to watch for 2013. The designer, whose first career choice was to be a dancer, captivated the runway with designs celebrating the female form and sensuality – think high wasted, knee-length skirts cinched at the waist. Prints, tassels and textures from red velvet to silk were all about celebrating the Maki Oh woman, who Oh describes as “definitely a strong woman, aware of who she is and where she is coming from”.