Clement Mudiaga Enajemo’s intriguing creations evoke awe, transforming tangible and mundane materials into ethereal and dreamlike experiences for both the wearer and the admirer. His world is a twist of art and commerce. Making powerful statements on the elite fashion scene, ‘Mudi’ as he is fondly called, has redefined beauty and style. Adedayo Adejobi, in an encounter, captures his craft and how he makes fashion a tool for cultural emancipation.
Since tastes vary across generations, it may be hard to decide who is the best among the best in the Nigerian fashion scene. But one name resonates speedily, Mudi- one of Nigeria’s most iconic, unique genius and successful names in fashion.
Over the past few years, Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial nerve centre of Nigeria, has emerged as an epicentre for fashion in Africa, and one of the busiest names to emerge from the scene, Clement Mudiaga Enajemo of Mudi Africa has played a major role in the country’s evolving industry.
From the prime of his life and humble beginning in a one-store Adebakin in Ikosi – Ketu outlet as dressmaker assistant to his world-class factory, showroom and Headquarters located on Mudi Lane in Anthony, Lagos, his works emphasise structure and purity of form. His other multiple upscale outlets across Abuja, Accra, Senegal, Nairobi, Ivory Coast, and South Africa; speak to Mudiaga’s testament to hard work, dignity of labour and street sense, and grace to grace story which reads like a Netflix storyboard. Revered as the pinnacle of luxury and craftsmanship, Mudi uses the most ingenious fabrics and rigorous tailoring techniques to painstakingly construct and envelope the manly form with the flourish of couture.
The rain was coming down heavily last week Thursday when Mudi pulled to his courtyard, in a black Tundra truck clad in white three-quarter-length trousers and a gait that could stop any woman in her tracks. On exchanging pleasantries at the car park, he ushered this reporter into the big grey edifice. He was charming from the moment we sat down. His easy laughter emitted confidence. And yet Mudi is pleased to live within his creative contraption. It may be the thing that makes him able to create eclectic work: at his core, he is equally unafraid of failure and success.
The entrance to the Mudi headquarters, a viewing delight, has all the charm of a fascinating diversion whilst also connecting the viewer to Mudi’s vision of personal transformation. An unmarked glass door gate welcomes you to a staircase, whose white plaster of Paris ceiling frames the all-white and lemon green, yet colourful walkway.
Standing at about five foot five inches usually gives little away to strangers, but having known and kept tabs on him over the years, he is always ready to open out of his enigma. Some designers are trend seekers, but Mudi is the trend, season after season, leaving others spinning at his heels as he unfolds his remarkable vision of what an African man can be.
Having enjoyed longevity with more than three decades in the business, he’s known to many as the pinnacle of luxury and craftsmanship in Nigeria. Mudi uses the most ingenious fabrics and rigorous tailoring techniques to painstakingly construct and envelope the manly form with the flourish of couture. True to type, the celebrity clothier has evolved over the years into a cultural icon of some sort with his works worn by the top echelon of society, cutting across all walks of life.
Having stayed long in business reinventing the wheel, it was on my mind to ask him the same question he had been asked repeatedly: “How do you do it?” For the designer, the secret may lie in how he connects to the spirit of all age brackets: he is a curious conservative mortal with a brilliant instinct for modern desire and a designer not afraid to reach into what makes people human, asking odd questions, then coming back with very elegant answers.
With a radical shift in fashion trends and the outcry to reclaim our lost African identity and heritage, Nigerians at home and abroad, and Africans, have come to appreciate, patronize and wear purely Nigerian brands. Ahead of his peers in the fashion space, Mudi no doubt originated and has been at the forefront of smart wearable art for corporate and social functions, using the same fashion as a tool for the cultural expression of the Nigerian social identity.
According to the culturally aware craftsman, ‘‘gone are the days we wore African fabrics during traditional ceremonies and/or cultural festivals only. Nigerians and the rest of Africa have become awake to, and reclaim our African identity. For over twenty years, I have and counting, I have through my designs, shown that wearing traditional attires patterns and prints can be fashionable among the old and young; for casual and corporate functions as well. If you look at our people, they have become so fashion aware and they stand out representing an emancipated social African identity so much so our European and Asian brothers have taken to our fashion, style and dress sense. I love Nigeria and Africa and so I design with Africa in mind’’
Asides from his love for exquisite fabrics, one thing Mudi would spend his hard-earned sweat on are vintage cars, paintings and tasteful interior accessories. As an extension of his love for fashion, he acquires vintage cars like the 1957 Mercedes Benz 290 series, and the 1955 Peugeot 404 series, five years older than Nigeria. The designer who founded his eponymous label in 1993 with a view to recontextualising Nigeria’s maximal aesthetic rich design heritage in a fresh new way is not shy about his love for them.
For a man who has over the years, proven himself adept not only at scale but also at sensuality, with a firm understanding of how to make the Nigerian man feel his best, these words bare the core of what you might call his inspiration, “I wanted to put forward a bolder mix, combining the excess Nigeria has to offer—from exquisite handwork to vibrant colours—with clean tailoring and a minimal aesthetic. I am always trying new materials, colour combinations, and altered approaches to age-old techniques. I enjoy putting a collection together mixing the traditional and contemporary, minimal and maximal. Each combination speaks differently,” Enajemo enthused.
For him, luxury must be comfortable, otherwise, it is not luxury. He’s one interesting and creative African designer with Nigerian roots who has conquered hearts, pockets and his place in the fashion world. No wonder he’s the darling of the celebrity world, thus yielding endorsements from top Nigerian and African politicians and businessmen who have endorsed his collection of clothes.
Mudi’s sensual, irreverent style continually challenges creativity, by embracing the freedom of masculine sexuality. His style is known to challenge standard views of fashion. Although he wasn’t born into an aristocratic family, his life has mirrored the mantra, ‘‘dignity in labour and days of little beginnings.”
Few designers can reference their own archives deftly and do so without it looking like they’ve run out of ideas. For the last two decades, Mudi’s institution dedicated to contemporary art and culture has continually questioned perceptions and challenged intentions through an evolution of projects.
This writer could not help but notice some of his most recent collection, particularly some vintage 1950’s jacquard fabrics, embroidered and bow embellishments on nipped-waist kaftans, knee-length shirts and masculine tops. For the Fashion Czar, ‘‘intuition is a strong masculine quality and I have managed to apply that instinct to my career. The idea of seeing everybody clad in the same outfit is not really my thing.”
Working on a 2023 avant-garde collection set to be unveiled later in the year, Mudi’s work is colourful, airy, and fun and he does not shy away from creativity in the service of self-expression.