It’s no doubt the world is currently experiencing ‘Black Panther’ fever. As the stars of the movie took to the ‘purple carpet’ for the world premiere on January 29, Nigerian actress – Sope Aluko – was spotted donning a Deola Sagoe creation. The orange and green lace ensemble that cascaded to the floor was her pick to fit the ‘Black Royalty’ theme of the night. A fitting reminder of a design house that has always been at the forefront of African luxury. Having been a part of the fashion industry for over two decades, we look at some of the key aspects and moves the brand has made as a luxury brand known on the continent and internationally.
Extraordinariness, Rarity and Symbolism
To be a style leader, a luxury brand has to have a strong mind and identity of its own. It’s Deola’s unique signature style, as well as, bravery to challenge the rules, that has garnered her high profile followers locally and abroad. The famous “Komole” is just one of her creations that set this house apart and there are two elements that encouraged its conception. Firstly, she craved a unique version and fashioning of lace that she could utilise in her designs. Secondly, she wanted a fabric that would take into account the African woman’s physique and accentuate it accordingly. Her solution was to distinctively merge contemporary and traditional style to create lace, made in Nigeria, using one of our indigenous fabrics; Aso OkeIt took 12 years to perfect the technique enough to achieve the structural and tangible aspects of the material she uses today. This is largely because Aso Oke isn’t the easiest fabric to work with because of its hard texture. Yet, Deola set out to merge it with silk and chiffon to make a sophisticated and elegant lace. Second challenge would be that it’s not always readily available in the market. To get this fabric that has been in production since the 11th century as it’s completely up to the mercy of the weavers.
Setting your hearts on a particular hue may leave you disappointed as you can only work with the colours the weavers have made. In an article with The Luxe Digest, Deola highlights that, “One of the main issues we have to deal with is the fact that Aso Oke production is unregulated. The weavers work on their own accord and can be somewhat unreliable.” Additionally, because the weavers work outdoors, their work is slowed down in the rainy season. Add to this the unsteady infrastructure and power supply in Nigeria, and you can understand why the price-points for a Dela creation can be in the millions. But it’s not only the challenges they have to overcome that dictate the price, but also the high quality finishes that are ascribed to every piece. Even the pieces clients choose from the collections will have unique elements incorporated for the individual customer.
The symbolism factor comes in the brands ability to make a connection with the consumer through their lifestyle and values. They’ve achieved this by turning to culture and embracing it in their designs. In Nigeria, weddings not only happen frequently, but there is also a culture of fine dress that must be upheld. Jeans are definitely and endangered species here. In an interview with New African Woman Magazine, she highlighted that ‘Originally Aso Oke fabric was reserved for weddings and very special occasions – our cultural ‘haute couture’ fabric.’ Thus the use of Aso Oke creates the connection her clients need while the quality and execution give it the luxury flare that compliments the new level of artistry that the Nigerian Wedding scene has achieved.
It’s a generations-affair
You could argue that she got her real first work experience in the fashion industry from her mother’s tailoring house. After all, she went to the University of Miami to study Business Administration and later to the University of Lagos for her Master’s Degree in Finance and Management. Thus in 1989 she helped to run Odua Creations before branching into her own label. One that would focus on creating Haute Couture and Bespoke fashion design; with the later addition of Bridal ware. Then in 2011, her daughters – Teni, Aba and Tiwa Sagoe – launched CLAN under the House of Deola to provide a ready-to-wear fashion aspect to the fashion empire. Whereas Deola is the special occasion section of the business, the CLAN makes more of work wear for a different customer base. The labels differentiation price points is an example of the brand stretching we mentioned earlier in this series.
Certainly, we didn’t need any further proof that this design house is all about luxury, having checked off all the boxes in the hallmarks we highlighted in an earlier post (Which you can read here). Nevertheless, it was further validation of the design houses luxury status when it became a member of The Luxury Network Nigeria. Add to her awards and accolades, as well as, fierce-loyal customer base it further solidifies her reputation for excellence in production and design. Nonetheless what makes this brand truly remarkable is the fact that they’ve stuck to their vision of promoting cultural heritage, not only saving traditional techniques but giving them purpose in the 21st century. The House of Deola’s commitment to fashion innovation and making each woman feel confident and luxurious makes this a dynasty to watch and learn from.