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High fashion beyond just clothes

By femi Olubosi

Bayo Adegbe, founder, Modela Couture, became a fashion hit when he won the best designer of the year at the Nigerian Fashion Show 2004. With his design style that is overtly high fashion, fanciful and largely feminine, Bayo has conveniently taken his place as the king of Haute Couture in Nigeria.

Bayo's journey into couture circles started long before he became a professional. For someone who had five younger sisters who modeled at one time or another, designing clothes has always been part of the program. He did go on to become a model and a modeling agent, and eventually started Modela Agency/Couture Fashion in 2001 with about sixty models.

Bayo's models, of course, took part in beauty pageants and he had to design their clothes. "I did a lot of sketching those days", he says, "but the need to sew came up because I had problems with tailors who couldn't interpret my designs accurately. So, I had to go to a fashion school to learn to cut and sew".

Formal fashion training for Bayo started at Nobel Afrique in 1996, where he learnt to cut and sew. Training didn't stop there. Bayo won an all expenses paid internship in Paris for three months, after coming first runner up in the African Designer of the Year Award in 2006. The Internship was with the renowned designer, Natalie Garzone.

Modela Couture featured at the last Nigeria Fashion Show, and as usual, the unusual collection stunned the crowd. Bayo describes the theme of that collection as "a warrior Prince and Princess, going round the world, conquering the world, winning treasures, and coming back home with a treasure box".

He explains further, "I try to open their quest box, or treasure box, so we can see what they have brought back; the accessories, the clothes they have; they've been able to go to the Tuareg land, the Ibo land, the Yoruba land, the Hausa land, the Zulu land.. they've visited everywhere, they conquered and they have won one treasure or another. All that you saw in a lot of the art tones I played around with. I had a lot of shiny things, like a lot of Gold, in my collection, which reflect in almost everything. I'm trying to work around a lot of stones, that's becoming very fashionable. I want to put that to make each of the dresses look like treasure. I'm trying to put a lot of treasure on each dress by accentuating their accessories in different colours."

Now that's some theme! You need to hear Bayo talk about his work. The passion can almost create clothes from thin air. The passion definitely reflects on the runway. The designs are simply breathtaking.

So how does he, generally, come up with his designs? "You know, people like me have lots of fantasies. Like, I wish a Prince could wear this. I wish a Nigerian girl could wear that to an event. I wish 'Ara' would wear this to an award evening. I wish a 'Mama Gee' would were this to an event. She's got this figure that is not the same here or the same there. What Can I play around with for her to be able to bring her out in the next event she's attending. I build around fantasies mostly, and also on African tales and fables.

If you come to me and say 'Oh, I want to go to a gala night in Nairobi', I can't sketch a design right away. I'll go through books on Nairobi and then come up with an idea that will probably be a blend of a Nairobi story and culture."

Now, if you think this kind of work is all easy peesy, you've got another think coming. There are challenges. According to Bayo, finance is still a major constraint. "You need a lot of money to make the kind of clothes I make". Then, of course, there's a lot of work involved. "It's always very tasking." He says, "You must have seen some of those clothes with fish scales. These things take a long time to put together. We take them from really small pieces and arrange them into those layers to make a whole skirt and bustier or a top that goes along it."

Despite all the work, Bayo enjoys what he's doing. "I feel at home making costumes for people. I feel very very at home. I don't like to make clothes and look at it as work. I want to look at it like I'm enjoying myself....

What gives me joy is just to see the person wearing what I made and that person calls me back to say "Modela, when I wore that dress it was a stunner as always, everybody complemented the dress, everybody loved the oufit! That makes my day."

At the Nigerian Makeover show, held last Saturday in Lagos, Bayo exhibited a creative side some of us didn't know existed when he wowed the audience not only with clothes, but also with makeup.

For those of us who always associated Modela with clothes and models, it was a revelation. I never new Modela did makeup. "Actually, I started as a model/modelling agent/makeup artist", he says. "We kind of started the business of makeup in Nigeria. It was not a business, really, when I started. I started doing makeup as compliment for most of my clients. When they use my models for a job they get that as a added advantage, sort of. Overtime some clients started requesting for makeup specifically and I bill them for it. That was how it that became a business."

He describes his style of makeup as avant-garde "It's the not the usual thing you see. This fashion business has gone to another level. It's not just about making dresses and somebody coming to do bridal makeup for high fashion clothes. We have a lot of younger makeup artists here today, and other ones who'll be seeing this on TV.... I believe that people need their minds to be be stretched, so they can know what a designer like me who does make-up as well expect from somebody who does makeup for me. If you are coming to do makeup for me, I don't expect you to come and do bridal makeup for my kind of clothes, because they are high fashion, they are Haute Couture..So I would expect you do do makeup at that level. So when I do makeup I try to show what I would want in my kind of clothes and the kind of makeup I want for it."

While all these would seem big to the average observer, Bayo thinks Modela is just getting started. "I wish we could just move ahead, get a bigger place to run a bigger business for Modela. What we are are doing now is just skeletal services. We're still trying to move. It's a teething stage for us, trying to build a label. We are just in infancy stage. We're trying to make it to be big."

If you haven't seen Modela live on the runway, look out for a show later this month. Bayo and his crew are working on sponsorship for a Modela show that is coming up on the 23rd of November. "Most of the clothes are ready." he says, "The major constraint now is money to pay models, a good hall on the Island. It's going to be the normal Modela thing; it's going to blow your mind!"