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Zandile Blay Headshot

Dispatch From Africa: Day 4 at ARISE Magazine Fashion Week

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It took almost a week, but the kinks had finally been ironed out. By day four of ARISE Magazine Fashion Week (AMFW) in Lagos, Nigeria, shows started relatively on time, seats filled up rapidly, and there was fierce competition between socialites and press for the front row. Audiences could now watch the collections drama free, but a closer look and they'd witness something else: AMFW's naked ambition to provide an experience on par with New York Fashion Week (NYFW).

From the paparazzi-studded entrance and catwalks filled with NYFW models like Georgie Badiel, Grace, and Alek Wek to the enormous tents (double the size of those at Lincoln Center) and sponsored after-parties by Belvedere Vodka -- they almost achieved it.

Then you sat in one of their white linen draped chairs and looked around. From the left to the right sat hundreds of Africans. NYFW -- this was not. There was also the scheduling. Unlike NYFW and it's European counterparts, ARISE Magazine Fashion Week kept its audience captive in daily shows that generally started at 6 p.m. and ended at 1 a.m. and featured up to 22 designers a day. Follow the audience's gaze to the catwalk and you'd see a succession of collections -- some mediocre, others average; but several, like Poisa, Maki Oh and Loza Maleombho -- which rivaled collections in any Western city.

Yet this final point was the strongest reminder, that despite surface similarities, AMFW was the furthest thing from NYFW. Far from being a well maintained, holy ground for established heavy weights, AMFW was a rustic playground for emerging talent. Here, designers indulged in an expense free presentation that provided them with an audience and access on a scale they may not have been able to afford.

By the end of the day, these highs and lows made it clear that ARISE had tried -- and at times failed -- to mimic a New York experience in African setting. But in the process, they had created something entirely unique that defied comparison and needed no outside validation. In the final analysis, I hoped audiences and producers of the show alike saw what I did: New York Fashion Week was the reference for this experience, but it wasn't the measuring stick.

Follow behind the scenes coverage of ARISE Magazine Fashion Week in Lagos, Nigeria on Blay's African Style & Culture site, Africa Style Daily.