As a fashion and costume designer, when Masterpiece approached me to write on fashion in the Nigerian film industry, I was thrilled to take up the challenge – particularly when I learnt that Kate Henshaw was also to be featured. Ms Henshaw has been in the business since the mid-90s, and her perfect figure, immaculate styling and appearance in films like When the Sun Sets and The House Of Truth have sent so many women rushing to boutiques to emulate her look.
I first learned how to source Nigerian clothes as assistant to the costume designer on The Secret Laughter of Women, starring a young Colin Firth. Nigerian friends came to my rescue, teaching me Nigerian style and even loaning me some of their own pieces. So in 2006, when I was approached by film director Steve Gukas to be costume designer for A Place In The Stars, a high-budget film shot in Nigeria, I seized the chance. It was my first experience of working in Nigeria, and I was so impressed by the dedication shown by cast and crew. Getting the wardrobe together was a feat of organisation: my lovely assistants and I designed some of the clothes, bought others and borrowed the rest. We managed to dress Segun Arinze, who played the villain, in a black kaftan with white embroidery by the late fashion designer Remi Lagos, famed across Africa for her kaftans and boubous. When I saw the film later, seeing items borrowed from close friends on screen made me laugh and took me straight back to those crazy, wonderful days on set.
When I was flying to the UK some years ago, a friend gave me DVDs of the Lekki Wives series to take to his family in London, along with a film starring Nigerian actress Rita Dominic. I confess I watched them before I handed them over, and I was riveted! I immediately rang the producer of Lekki Wives, Blessing Egbe, to ask if I could collaborate on the next series – and that’s why, in the final montage, you’ll see all the actresses wearing beautiful red evening dresses.
Over my years in the business, I’ve seen how Nigerians in general are very fashion-conscious: any opportunity to dress up, and they’ll seize it. The Amaa and Amvca awards – the ‘Nigerian Oscars’ – are a fashion parade and we were so excited to be asked to dress the hosts, Peace Anyim and Wangi Mba Uzoukwu. Their brief was ‘elegance’ and I believe we met it. Nigerian actors and actresses also turn out in full regalia for these events, with stylists and PAs working round the clock to make sure their clients look their best. We’ve been privileged to dress actresses such as Bimbo Akintola and Shaffy Bello to receive their awards. In fact, we were invited to join the team of the hit Dstv series Battleground because the producers knew we dressed ladies such as Hajia Abbah Folawiyo, Senator Ita Giwa, Mrs Opral Benson, Senator Daisy Danjuma, Hajia Bola Shagaya and others, who have made fashion history in Nigeria, and they wanted us to bring the same styling to Shaffy Bello, the matriarch in the series.
But Nigerian film fashion is not just about glamour: it’s also about society, reflecting the people it portrays. Mo Abudu’s Wedding Party series, for example, mirrored Nigerians’ love of elegance by giving us guests in traditional garb, showcasing the richness of Yoruba and Ibo culture. History and culture, on and off screen: clothes are not just clothes – as Shakespeare said, “the apparel oft proclaims the man” (or woman), and I’ve hugely enjoyed my role as ‘apparel maker’ for Nigerian films.