THE BLOG

Dispatch From Africa: Day 1 at ARISE Magazine Fashion Week

03/08/2012 04:06 pm ET | Updated Oct 11, 2012

This was personal.

After years of reporting on fashion shows everywhere from the Caribbean to Brazil to New York to London -- I was thrilled to finally cover a show in a location that is closest to my heart: my native Africa.

The continent, now enjoying rapid growth in the development of its designers, is home to ARISE Magazine Fashion Week (AMFW) which takes place in Lagos, Nigeria. For the second annual undertaking of this show I, along with hundreds of people, traveled to this vibrant city -- ripe with beautiful people, oil wells and the greatest disparity between wealth and poverty. My goal? To meet and report on the seventy-seven designers who were scheduled to debut their collections at AMFW. These included a global list of designers from the U.S. to the U.K. such as emerging designers like LaQuan Smith of New York, established young talents like Telfar Clemens of Sierra Leone and legends like Ozwald Boateng of London.

To be transparent, my joy was as such that day one saw me waiting happily for a show that ran four hours late -- and counting. As a New York-trained journalist who is used to a 30-minute delay at the most -- this was startling. But this isn't New York and as ARISE announced to guests -- there were infrastructural reasons unique to African countries that necessitated the wait. In this instance it was a lagging generator, which led to consecutive blackouts at the Federal Palace hotel where the event took place. Yet, before infrastructure came to fore, there was also the issue of the tents being constructed as guests poured in. And the whispers of local models leading a strike about not being paid on par with international models. Underlying it all was the subtext echoed offline and online that Africans cannot in fact pull a show of this size and standard off.

In the end -- they couldn't. By 9 p.m -- over five hours since the scheduled 4 p.m debut of the show -- ARISE sent attendees home citing 'Technical Difficulties.' As I, along with hundreds of disappointed guests returned home, I obsessively unpacked the contents of the day. Yet, try as I could, only questions emerged from this exercise. How could over a dozen designers be canceled? Why did the event feel so disorganized? Why did the founder of ARISE, Nduka Obaigbena, ever undertake such a project? Was the continent even ready for such a huge show? Could a country that could barely provide consistent energy sufficiently lead development in Africa's fashion industry? Is ARISE truly the brand that can guide in that development?

As these and more questions tumbled out of my head and into dialogue with colleagues here in Lagos, and on Twitter with those abroad -- only one answer emerged:

ARISE had done their best. And tomorrow is another day -- and another opportunity to turn this into a triumph.

To waive away the spectacular failure of spectacular show felt too forgiving. But there was truth in my conclusion. As I went to sleep, I found comfort in my disappointment and peace with my permissiveness.

After all, this isn't just another fashion show. This was personal.


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