There are reasons why Maki Oh is beloved in the Nigerian and Global Fashion Industry. Last year she was shortlisted for the LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize, her presence, described as “well deserved” by Style.com. Her Spring 2015 collection for example, was described by Style “as the stuff of dreams,” with clothes that feel “elegant” and “wholly wearable.” Her previous collections have an utter distinctiveness to them,Michele Obama loves her and many, including us here at ISR (see here), have praised her for her intelligence and aesthetic sophistication.
But for Fall 15/16, we are bit critical and not only us, even Style.com that “this collection lacked the straightforward appeal of Osakwe’s previous outing.” No doubt Maki Oh has presented yet another collection that tells a story, this time of Mami Wata. I get it and I appreciate her need to be cerebral with every collection she presents, but, honestly, I think she went a little bit far with this one, to the point where I can’t help but question her intent with style from an African or Nigerian perspective.
Here are the reason why this is important. I write about style from an African perspective from my own unique African experience and out of a desire and commitment to the future of African Style. I write because I want to fill the void on writing on style from an African perspective, something that I firmly believe Maki Oh personifies despite her latest outing. So I get it that Maki Oh was trying to tell a story with this new collection. I understand her desire to advocate for all things truly African, particularly our fabrics, in fact, her standout pieces where the ones below that spoke to the every essence of style from an African perspective.
But as an African woman who knows first hand the story of Mami Wata, as an African woman longing for the day when Africa will firmly join the global fashion industry, it pains me to say this, but Maki Oh’s Fall 15/16 was lackluster, difficult to understand, and certainly not about Mami Wata. It lacked direction and didn’t even come close to speaking of the essence of MamiWata, not in form or in the movement of her clothes. There were a mixture of so many elements so much so that it was difficult to conceptualize even the Maki Oh woman. I longed for clothes that would be remarkably free in use of texture and shape given her story on Mami Wata, but it was lost in execution-like the jumpsuit that looked to complicated across the chest or the furry hideous socks or green puffs that made it difficult to love her designs. Then the very fact that style.com even mentioned that the collection “looked familiar” in my opinion, diminished it’s total appeal.
Not all were misses. Maki Oh showed her skillful use of materials and constructions, carefully manipulating fabrics that were glamorous to behold with splashes of blue and green in reference to her storyline. Some may even say that her collections strong element were in the simplicity of the materials used-a lean beige dress with one of those sculptured ruffles running along one sleeve, her signature tailored skirts and dresses in Adiree prints that were simply beautiful.
Clearly, Maki Oh knows who she is targeting with her clothes and we do not all have to agree with the vision she wants us to believe for this collection. But the biggest problem is the fact that not one African Fashion Site, critically questioned her vision. This is why I believe that for Africa to join the global fashion industry (see Business of Fashion question here), we need writers. We have designers like Maki Oh doing their best, albeit lost in execution this season. But the greatest danger, are the folks who simply write what the designers tell them to write, without questioning their thought process or inspiring them where necessary. I will always be interested in the process of making clothes and the final outcome. But there will always be a grave danger of oversimplification when no one writes critically or takes our African consumers into consideration especially as we know these stories first hand, be it of Mami Wata or anything else. So as you go back to the drawing board, Maki Oh, do me a favor and never forget your community, some of us are rooting for you to succeed because you have what it takes.