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THE RISE – AND FAIL – OF THE NEW AFRICAN FASHION CRITIC

The Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCAs) this year was fantastic. From the red carpet entertainment to the award ceremony itself, the AMVCAs truly earned its title as the African Oscars. As expected, the rise of award shows in Nigeria – and in Africa – has led to a considerable rise in fashion critique and critics. How could she leave the house in that? Slippers on the red carpet? Didn’t he wear that designer last year? But, as with everything we emulate from the West, it comes with its challenges.

I genuinely fear the Nigerian fashion industry is losing its way – and worse, has no clue. I say this because a few days after the AMVCAs, I happened to be watching a programme I can only say was a mediocre attempt to recreate E! Entertainment’s Fashion Police. The team of judges was made up of four very different fashion critics, who came together to decide who ‘brought it’ to the fashion court at the award show, who simply got a pass, and whose fashion crimes were worth a sentencing. There was some unnecessary commentary, a slight air of artificiality, but nothing out of the ordinary until one of the critics expressed her horror at the fact that an actor wore a traditional Fulani “costume” to the ceremony. A Nigerian fashion critic, in Nigeria, in reference to a Nigerian. The rest of the panel’s reaction? Laughter.

I was beside myself in disbelief. Would a Scotsman have been accused of wearing a kilt to an award ceremony? Would a black South African be chastised for donning a traditional Zulu outfit to the Hip Hop Awards? What this singular statement – full of ignorance and devoid of insight – simply confirmed is the fundamental problem at the root of Nigerian culture: Complete opposition of and repulsion to anything that is originally ours.

As rich a culture as we have, it is constantly being undermined by the ideology that ‘foreign is better’ – foreign accents, foreign pop culture, and, yes, foreign fashion. As much as the Nigerian fashion industry appears to have evolved, perhaps this evolution is only skin-deep; perhaps our appreciation and new-found love for home-grown products is all in attempt to use the hashtag, #BuyNigerianToGrowTheNaira. Ultimately, it appears in 2017, we are still bound by colonial chains, no matter how loose-fitted.

But we wear ankara, agbadas and other traditional Nigerian clothing to events, and no one bats an eyelid, right? Take away the fact that it has been made mainstream, “cool” and an expression of African pride to do this, and we have nothing left. Throw in a Fulani head dress into the mix and we’re lost for words.

A note to the new age African fashion critic: Remaining true to the original Nigerian identity is really a bonus to you, not a minus. You are among the faces of the fashion industry, and as such, you have a responsibility to ensure our – traditional and Western-infused – fashion is shown off to the rest of the world with pride, rather than ridicule. Praising someone in a Tom Ford suit and mocking another in traditional Nigerian clothing – all in a bid to keep it “international” – does not make you sound educated; neither does it make you “hip”. What it really is, is a national disgrace.