Models backstage at the ARISE Fashion Week 2018. Photo: Akinwunmi Ibrahim

Vanessa Obioha went behind the scenes of the most beautiful runway in Africa, Arise Fashion Week which held during the Easter weekend in Lagos, and captured the flurry of activities that took place before the runway shows

Stepping into the backstage of a big fashion show can be very dizzying for a first-timer. Models everywhere, walking, sitting, standing, posing for the camera, or indulging journalists in a quick interview; stylists running around, snapping a thing or two here and there, checking that the models are well preened for the runway, designers making last minutes fittings, dragging suitcases and hangers, often times faced with the task of choosing the right models to wear them. The scenery is chaotic, similar to the newspaper newsroom madness. But like critics call it, it is an organised chaos, a unique mix of beauty and hustle.

The recently held Arise Fashion Week was no different. The backstage-one of the halls on the third floor of the Lagos Continental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos-was frenzied as models run around, stylists calling for their attention while makeup artistes debated on what looks will work best on the runway. In all this pandemonium, photographers clicked on their lens tirelessly, capturing all the behind-the-scenes moment before the shows began. The flurry of activities was a show itself.

At the centre of the room are lined up dressing tables for the hair stylists. Here, Destiny, the owner of DVReloaded salon worked tirelessly with his eight- man team. His core mission is to conceptualise different hairstyles for the runway for both the male and female models. It is not his first time on the Arise Fashion Week. The last time he was there, he was an apprentice. For the fifth edition, he came with his own apprentices. They have been there since the first day of the fashion show which kicked off with a meet and greet session with the headline act Naomi Campbell.

“Yesterday, i came in by 7am and didn’t live till 1 am. I have been here since 9am because today is the first runway show,” he told this reporter as he took a little respite from work. Very fair in complexion with an uncombed afro hairstyle, Destiny’s face showed signs of stress. Small circles were beginning to appear under his eyes. Even while resting, his eyes did not leave the models whose hairs were getting a fix. On one side were the barbers, shaving and spiking up hairs depending on the style given. On the other side were the hair stylists, weaving, rolling, smoothening hair. Hairs were just everywhere.

“There are some shows that the female models will have to wear wigs. But the Good Hair brand which supplied the wigs only have centre parting and doesn’t give room for much creativity. What we are doing is to make a simple style that can be transformed to more than five styles.” We weren’t done talking when his attention was needed again. He excused himself. Some of the models milled around his workers, begging to have their hair fixed but there were just too few of them to attend to the over 100 models.

At one corner of the hall were the make-up artistes from House of Tara. Like the hair stylists, they have to work around the clock to achieving the required runway looks. Often times, designers come around too to have their faA conspicuous person backstage was Elohor Aisien who is the owner of the Beth Modelling Agency. Like a very caring mother, she was always looking out for her models, asking if they had eaten, rehearsed, had their fittings or any other need they came up with. In her very calm demeanour she attended to all their needs though there were few times where she flared up at them. She was also deeply involved on what goes on in the runway as well.
The dressing room had similar rush but not as intense as the makeup room. Over here, the models tried on the dresses for the runway while the designers made the necessary adjustment. The rush is however intensive as the runway show kicks off. The models had little time to change their dress, make-up, grab a bite or two before the next show starts.

Interestingly, the whole action was centred on the models who were a very fascinating mix. Scouted from both local and international modelling agencies, they came in different shapes and sizes. There were the tall, white-skinned international female models from the London-based modelling agency, Storm who hardly mingled with others; the Beth Models, MyBooker Model Management and the dynamic plus size models specially selected for Latasha Ngwube’s About That Curvy Life collection. Of course, there are also independent models and the super models Naomi Campbell who headlined the show and International-based Nigerian model.

For these models, the dreams are different. There are the young and bright-eyed models who came for the international exposure. For instance, 19 year-old Jeffery Lever who was inspired to pursue a modelling career by his older sister. Over six feet tall and very skinny, Jeffery’s dream is to travel to Paris and Milan for bigger fashion shows. The Arise Fashion Week is the biggest platform so far for him and arguably is his launch pad to international stardom.

“I have been to other fashion shows but not as big as the Arise Fashion Week. So when the opportunity came, I knew I had to be here. It is the biggest show of great repute and I believe from here, I can eventually walk on the runways of Paris and Milan. It’s great being here. There are new and old faces. I’m very happy.” For the first day, he walked for Kimono Kollection on the runway.

With few fashion shows in Nigeria, surviving on modeling jobs alone, particularly fashion shows can be very challenging. This is why 23 year-old Oluwadami Noah is sampling his fashion designing skills. About six feet three inches tall with very toned build, he drew the attraction of many with his metallic embellished jean jacket. If this was a deliberate ploy, it worked for him. Few people stopped to pay compliments to his jacket. Noah expectedly seized the opportunity to tell them that there were a lot more from where the design came from. His sketchbook he said is in his hotel room but unfortunately, his roommate is with the key and was nowhere to be found. Currently signed to no agency, Noah hoped to attract an international agency that will sign him up. He counted himself lucky to have been asked by the Storm modeling agent to send his pictures.

“This is why I love fashion shows with international acclaim like this. They offer you exposure and it is a good networking ground.”
Apart from that, the pay was very good and came in very handy for the model who has been having few pecuniary challenges recently. Living with his aged mother in Agege part of Lagos, Noah nearly missed the model casting of Arise Fashion Week if not for a caring friend who notified him on the eve of the audition. It was a chance not to be missed.

“I lost my phone so I couldn’t go online. When my friend called me that night and told me about Arise Fashion Week casting coming up the next day, there was no time to think about the late notification. I just had to improvise one way or the other. Look at me here.” The young model walked for Mai Atafo, Kimono Kollection and a few other designers.

Quite a few of the models were not new on the Arise Fashion Show. They were privileged to be back on the runway. 28 year-old Adedamola Fashola was one of such models. He had been on major runway shows in Nigeria and had literally seen it all. He was particularly excited that AFW is back because it means more jobs for them. In his spare time, he works with an event planning company. He also belongs to a dance group and like Noah is trying his hands on designing. On this particular meeting, he donned a grey t-shirt creatively ripped on the breast and bottom sides under a black jacket. Unlike the younger ones, Fashola and a few of his friends kept to themselves. They hardly pranced about and were always on the top of their games.

Ordinarily, the plus size models looked odd in the mix. Did they care? To an extent, yes! Take for instance, Ifunanya, an advert model. She was aware of the eyes that trailed her big hips each time she walked pass. Nevertheless she was happy to be presented such an opportunity to show that her size can also look nice on the runway. Ignoring the curious stares, she and her other plus size models took selfies. They were absolutely having the time of their life.

Uzo, a chef and one of the plus size models looked stressed as she waited in line to have her hair done. She was new to the fashion world.

“It’s my first time on the runway. I like the approach About the Curvy Life has taken. I’m not particularly tall or big. I think what they are trying to do is to show that the African women are diverse and can look nice on the runway.”

As the four-day show approached its end, the rush slowed. Destiny didn’t have to come in as early anymore. He quietly strolled in mid-afternoon to complete his work. An air of mixed feelings engulfed the atmosphere. Contacts were exchanged; last minute pitches (and prayers too) were made, while some hoped to walk the runway for top designers.

On one hand, they were excited that they will be returning to their normal lives, on the other hand, they were nostalgic about the moments they had, particularly meeting the headline model, Naomi Campbell and New York based Nigerian model, Oluchi Orlandi.

“It’s been an amazing journey for me,” gushed 19 year-old Michael Chima. “Last night I had the opportunity to walk the runway with Naomi Campbell for Ozwald Boateng. The female model in front of me was dazed and nearly broke down when she saw the top model. But Naomi noticed how overwhelmed she was and hugged her. The designers too were very expressive with their pieces. Some of them were so nice like Tinnie Tempah who gave us the shoes we wore. I will generally miss the ambiance.”
18 year-old Beth model, Glory Egwede however expressed happiness.

“I’m so happy the show is coming to an end. It’s been very exhilarating with the rehearsals, fittings, photo sessions. Yes I’m excited about today but in a way not too excited because of the great moments I have.”