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“She is more the observer, smiling in a quiet place on the edge of the room,” her friend Papa Omotayo told me. “Sometimes I just want to be away from human beings.” She is wary of large social situations, and small ones.
Her favored pastimes—photography, watching anime—are solitary. Even her clients sometimes complain about the difficulty of reaching her.
Osakwe is obsessed with the female form and seduction, subversive interests for a Nigerian woman. “I took anatomy classes, and I would always find more inspiration in female anatomy.
I never really cared for dangling phalluses.” Her clothes wrestle with ideas of desire, sexual pleasure, and female autonomy; they are sensual and provocative, with cutouts, high slits, and sheer fabrics.
On the mainland, where slums built atop landfills run into middle-class housing estates, a young hair stylist is putting on makeup and taming her mane of extensions, getting ready to meet her older boyfriend for drinks.
On the island in the city’s center, where wealth and political power are concentrated, a twentysomething ad executive in a clingy dress is going with her friends to a club; if she doesn’t find a man she likes, she’ll text a friend, who is rich and good-looking, though not ready to settle down.
“I don’t think any woman has, and every woman makes a choice at a cost to something.”One breezy afternoon, in the courtyard of Osakwe’s studio, an artisan was bent over a table, applying hot wax to white silk with a small brush.
“I’m living this also, and it’s still something I haven’t got the exact formula for,” Osakwe said.
They are still expected to convey the appearance of doing most of those things.
So they see the men they want, and then wake up the next morning, dress carefully, and make it to church for the last service; it is still, after all, a great place to meet men.
But, in the past seven years, Osakwe has become West Africa’s most celebrated designer, with work exhibited in the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology, in New York; the Vitra Design Museum, in Germany; and the Brighton Museum & Art Gallery, in England.
“She has a very clear voice,” Yegwa Ukpo, a cultural critic and co-founder of a Lagos fashion store called Stranger, said. There’s a friction, and there’s a crackling electricity that doesn’t feel safe.