KENNTH IZE recreates instances of Nigerian craft to give a unique viewpoint on luxury textile and garment manufacture. We work directly with a range of artisan and design organizations around Nigeria, as well as supporting a small community of weavers.
Kenneth Ize (pronounced “ee-zay”), a Lagos-born designer, debuted his namesake label in Nigeria in 2013. He had just graduated from the University of Applied Arts in Vienna, where he studied design under Bernhard Willhelm, and it was a daring and “instant” decision. He recalls, “I just wanted it right then!” “As soon as I figured out my look, I knew I needed my own brand.” At Lagos Fashion Week, Ize put on an excellent S/S14 show, in which unisex garments made with traditional African techniques revealed a rich story of a diverse society [“mainly personal tales communicated via clothes”]. The reviews were overwhelmingly positive, although there was a two-year hiatus after that. During this time, Ize returned to the University of Applied Arts to complete his master’s degree under Hussein’s supervision.
The immensely greater African fashion industry had gone global in only those two short years between Ize’s collections.
That scene is now even more internationally relevant than it was three years ago. Ize is one of a slew of Nigerian designers at the vanguard of this African fashion boom, with a storefront in Paris for S/S19, a spot at Arise Fashion Week in Lagos, and stockists in Vienna, Switzerland, and Nigeria (where the label is positioned alongside Dries Van Noten and Céline). Ize talks about the emergence of African fashion and his role in it in this video.
When I make my own fabric, I like to think that’s when the magic happens! I offer [my customers] a three-day-to-make cloth; we have no idea what it will become when we begin, but we take our time to find out. I’ll knit three yarns together till we get it perfect, trying out new approaches with old techniques until we get it right, since it has to be personal as well as gorgeous. Because what we’re doing isn’t a mass-produced item, it has its own individuality. I believe the pieces will last for another 20 years and will still be desirable and wearable.
Kenneth Ize has had a fantastic year thus far. ‘I still can’t believe this is happening,’ he told me in February during an electrifying evening at Chez Flo, where he was the guest of honor. As he spoke, a succession of individuals slid their arms around his waist, shoulders, and body, congratulating him with embraces, squeezes, and air kisses. Congratulations are in order once more because he was just recognized at the Fashion Awards, which this year recognizes designers’ contributions in four categories: community, creativity, environment, and people. His support of local workmanship through his business in Ilorin, as well as his work with weavers, artisans, and design organizations across Nigeria.
Ize’s distinctive tailoring appeals to both men and women. His creations are primarily handcrafted utilizing a centuries-old process. He lies at the intersection of a few significant developments taking place right now: the growth of African fashion from the margins to the luxury market, an industry-wide awareness of fashion’s lack of diversity, the embrace of gender fluidity, and the never-ending discussion about sustainability. Ize’s story is a reflection of all of these things, as well as the future of luxury. He isn’t blind to reality. ‘I want my work to add value to what we already have [in Africa],’ she says. Over the phone from his Vienna studio, he explains, “My work begs the issue, “What is luxury and who defines it?”
‘I’d see black models on TV, but I’d never see black designers interviewed.’ So I assumed you wouldn’t be able to get work doing this.’ He enrolled at Vienna’s University of Applied Arts, where he studied under Hussein Chalayan and Bernhard Willhelm, two men noted for their inventive, experimental design approach. But it was an internship in New York with the label Edun, which was launched by Bono and Ali Hewson as a sustainable ready-to-wear line to promote trade with Africa, that prompted him to start his own label, with a Nigerian foundation.
This season at Paris Fashion Week, history was made when numerous African fashion designers showcased their collections and participated in key events in the City of Light. Consider the LVMH Prize winners Thebe Magugu of South Africa and Kenneth Ize of Nigeria. While both designers are forging their own paths, Kenneth has developed a cult following in the business for his vibrant aesthetic.
“Paris, to me, is a place where people congregate,” Kenneth tells Teen Vogue a few days after his February 24 debut show. “Paris is the fashion capital of the world. [Many]Nigerians are unable to travel outside the country, making it difficult to demonstrate what can be done outside our borders. Thus, it was about having a dialogue for me. I wanted to compel individuals to get into topics about which they may be thinking [but] have not yet spoken.”
Kenneth showcased a range of his distinctive colorful pieces in aso oke, a native Nigerian fabric comprised of handwoven squares, for his fall 2020 presentation. But that’s not all; Imaan Hammam opened and Naomi Campbell ended the performance. Not bad for a Paris debut. Ize had already been declared a finalist for the LVMH prize in September 2019, grabbing the fashion world’s interest.
Naomi’s involvement in Kenneth’s Paris presentation dates all the way back to last year in Lagos. The two supermodels walked the runway at Lagos Fashion Week, donning the designer’s signature items. When the time came for Kenneth to perform in Paris, he recalls Naomi being tremendously supportive. “I spotted her at a friend’s house and immediately thought, ‘Can I get you to perform the show?’ Since then, she has been incredibly supportive and has worked tirelessly to ensure that this concert was a success. She was ecstatic.”