There’s a problem plaguing nonconformist Nigerian menswear brands. It’s a problem of worn-out novelty, largely. Challenging mainstream masculinity through garment construction and silhouettes used to be an utterly interesting concept, signalling a seismic shift in the industry about a decade ago. One of such proponents is Adebayo Oke-Lawal’s Orange Culture, cornering the millennial market by adopting vivid prints and motifs that would later calcify as the brand’s aesthetic.
As the Coronavirus pandemic forces fashion brands to scale back on the number of collections, and the pivot towards digital presentations waxing ever stronger, Oke-Lawal takes us to Milan Digital Fashion Week for Orange Culture’s Spring/Summer 2021, which kicked off on Tuesday, July 14th. Titled, ‘The Faces in the Cloud’, the collection draws inspiration from the fringes of history through the gender-bending icon, Area Scatter in 70’s Igboland, memorialising their existence as a notable pioneer in destabilising gender conventions and what it means to be different.
The Orange Culture-verse is populated with influences and contexts often tethered to Oke-Lawal’s personal experiences, such as his seminal ‘School of Rejects’ for Spring/Summer 2017, seen through his own teenage ostracisation and refusal to assimilate into stereotypes, and parades quite anorexically thin male models in colourful diaphanous pieces (organza prints and chiffon tunics, belted jumpsuits further constricting silhouettes into leaner shapes and cotton shorts riding above the knees).
This new collection finds thematic resonance with those personalised narratives but uses gender anthropology to excavate the past for precursors and models, to embolden its manifesto. A ribbed jersey top with lateral cutouts is paired with denim, while a flouncy top is patterned with summery pastels. Models, male and female, are rendered in flaming orange pixie cut wigs and adorned with Anu Oyedele’s jewellery debut, Orange Culture’s new head of accessories design.
Releasing a collection inspired by a historical figure such as Area Scatter would require a more tactile and panoramic approach – that is an exhibition that fully saturates the senses, and unfortunately, this is where Orange Culture falls shorts. It settles for smaller conceptual executions with the celestial backdrop painted by artist Dricky Stickman and curation of photo looks that limit what otherwise could have been a fluid experience. In this bleak climate of the Coronavirus outbreak, the most interesting collections from fashion brands arguably have come through short films and videos, even though they fall into the same hazy trappings of perfume commercials.
At the time of writing this review, Orange Culture didn’t have any videos posted on its social media. One of the problems with Oke-Lawal is that he often gets tunnel-visioned, over-conceptualising his ideas so that they are more reliant on larger meaningful contexts to succeed. Sometimes, clothes don’t need to be anchored by symbolisms and political metaphors to be considered legitimate. And while Orange Culture merges its political mission statement with ravenous capitalism, always keenly aware of the world it inhabits, the brand is far too enamoured with its own mystique to realise its blind spots.