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Fashion At The Threshold Of Art

21 Apr 2013

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Amaka Osakwe - creative designer of Maki Oh

Karen Eloke Young looks for the art in the contemporary fashion trends with the Nigerian designer Maki Oh’s latest collection as case study

Over the years, the question “is fashion art?” has provoked extensive debate among art and fashion buffs. But with the fast-paced evolution of fashion, it is now pertinent that the question be framed in a different way.

Rather than ask if fashion is indeed art the question should be: “when does fashion become art?” After all, both fashion and art are built on the premise of the translation of a single idea into creative form. They are creative mediums that both share a similar visual language and process-oriented advancement.

Fashion is one of the most powerful art forms there is; it is movement, design and architecture all in one. It shows the world who we are and what we represent, it is a visual mirror of our inner selves. We construct our identity with our choice of clothing and accessories and this subconsciously signals our belonging or not. This expression of identity through dress makes it a ready subject for artistic practices and interpretation and both artists and designers have considered notions of the body and identity as articulated through fashion. Although ideas expressed in terms of fashion are accessible to audiences in a way that contemporary art often is not, it is important to note another shared aspect between art and fashion, which is that they both create an artificial image of the human form; they represent an extension of the self.

One does not have to be a fashion scholar or understand the complex and divergent theories of how fashion works to decipher the language of clothing and the human form. We do it unconsciously every day and it is this quality that makes fashion as art such a powerful statement.

Modern fashion has gradually metamorphosed into what modern art has become, a catalyst for dialogue and an exchange of ideas. As with art, the cultural relevance of fashion as an expression of creativity and a mirror of the habits and tastes of the fashionable mind needs no proof. The lines between fashion and art becomes blurred when we look at collections of great designers like Channel, Alexander McQueen, Jean Paul Gaultier, Karl Lagerfield and in more recent times Nigerian fashion designer Amaka Osakwe, the creative director of the Maki Oh brand.

The in-depth comparison of fashion runs laterally with the comparison of art and raises similar objections, but when it comes to fashion designers, in order to be taken seriously it is more necessary for them to differentiate themselves as creating “high” or “low” fashion or “masterpieces”. The more quixotic or aesthetic-defying a piece of clothing is, the more artistic it becomes and this is the distinguishing power that the fast rising Maki Oh brand possesses. This Lagos-based designer creates her pieces using solely home-grown African textiles, her clothing line is as much a celebration of African art and tradition as it is of fashion. All her collections introduce a twist to the aesthetics of fashion that is not seen every day. They expand the horizons of the viewer and force them to look at fashion from a totally different angle.

She describes her fashion creativity uniquely: “My design ethos is to challenge prevailing notions of beauty and art. It aspires to initiate a continuous recognition and appreciation for self and individuality through fashion. Aroused by a strong sense of identity and African culture, Maki Oh creates alluring conversational pieces that fuse traditional techniques with detailed construction.”

Even though today’s Nigerian fashion industry plays by the same rules, Maki Oh stands out from the pack in more ways than one. More so with the presentation of her newest 2013 fall/winter collection, which is inspired by the art of hair-threading. This collection uses the African traditional “Adire” material to create finely crafted pieces in blue, lilac and white tones. One thing that really catches the eye about Maki Oh’s 2013 fall/winter collection is the subtle whisper of African heritage and art that each piece is infused with. Snapshot glimpses of reality is visible as the model wearing the pieces stands frozen in time in pictures that blur the distinction between traditional painting and modern photography. A subtle hint of rebellion against the formal conventions of Nigerian fashion is also detectable.

Maki Oh’s pieces stretch beyond just physical beauty and wearability to a textured and layered three-dimensional aesthetic that strongly embodies the philosophy of preservation and complex simplicity. Her intent seems to be to present her work as that of an artist whose medium is fashion.

This collection conveys a specific conceptual premise using asymmetrical hems, clean lines and pristine colours, in terms of fashion; the ideas expressed by this collection is accessible to its audience in a way that contemporary art often is not. It allows us to experience fashion through visionary eyes and holds the power to renew our view of Nigerian fashion.

Tags: Life and Style, Arts and Review, Featured

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