The global fashion industry wields an immense amount of power. Beyond setting the season’s tones and determining what every 13-year-old teenage girl really wants to wear, it possesses the ability to build up and to tear down; to tell a story or re-tell it how it chooses; to reinforce a narrative or to push against it.
This week, photographs from fashion house, Stella McCartney’s latest #StellaBy collaboration with Nigerian-Jamaican photographer, Nadine Ijewere surfaced. In this new series, Nadine travels to Nigeria to shoot the brand’s latest women’s and men’s collection, all the while telling a compelling ‘authentically Nigerian’ story.
As you would expect when international brands attempt to tell The African Story, this authenticity somehow translates to thatched roofs, red earth and skinny cows grazing in the background as carefully hand-selected models posed in original Stella McCartney pieces. But the original idea behind Ijewere’s shoot was to “shake things up a bit.”
“I wanted to keep the raw, earthy element that is present in a lot of my work and at the same time I wanted to shoot this project where I have family heritage, using people with my background,” the London College of Fashion graduate said in an interview. “As the project is called #StellaBy I really wanted to add more of my identity to the imagery. I wanted to give a feeling of diversity and not sticking to the rules – being different.”
What would truly have shaken things up would be a Nigerian model sprawled on the double-page spread of an international magazine, photographed against the backdrop of the breathtaking Northern sights of Kajuru Castle in Kaduna. What the fashion world truly doesn’t need is another black model posing in clothes the price of a mortgage, in just another shanty town in the Motherland. What would be a real game-changer is if black, African artists, creatives, storytellers didn’t think ‘keeping it real’ meant playing right into the hands of those from whom we are trying to regain control – those who believe they are in the best position to tell our stories.
“My work is all about celebration of diversity and different interpretations of beauty. I think it’s a wonderful thing and I want to capture that,” Ijewere says. But the issue the fashion industry really needs to tackle is why ‘diversity’ doesn’t quite have the same meaning for the object behind the lens in the developed world and the one on the Dark Continent. And while we’re at it, why the interpretation of beauty in Africa seems to continuously require the help of bamboo houses.