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Why Don’t We Ever Hear About Nigerian Fashion Week?

PSFK talks to the co-producer of Fashion Week Internationale, a VICE series, about communicating the controversial and often unreported issues...

Christina Mauro
Christina Mauro on October 2, 2012.

VICE‘s Fashion Week Internationale enters its second season showcasing eclectic fashion and cultural scenes from the unreported fashion weeks around the world. Season two takes VICE to Jamaica, Israel, South Korea, Brazil, Russia and more to uncover the controversial fashion scenes from all corners of the globe. Part 1 of Caribbean Fashion Week is live now and can be viewed here. PSFK got the chance to catch up with Charlet Duboc, VICE correspondent and co-producer of Fashion Week Internationale, to get her thoughts on the project and its direction moving forward.

Introduce us to the project and tell us a little about the thought behind it. What are you hoping to communicate?

Two years ago I heard Islamabad in Pakistan was having its first ever fashion week and so we went there to report on it. When we got there we found hundreds of glamorous models twirling around a runway in a hotel bomb shelter. It really piqued my interest in unreported on fashion weeks and so we set off to report on as many of them as was humanly possible. Soon after I went to the first ever Cambodian Fashion Week and we’ve also been to Nigeria, Colombia, Jamaica, Brazil and South Korea. We also went to this incredible one in New York that focussed on the fuller figure. I suppose the end result of what we are trying to communicate is that the world is amazing and there are so many wonderful stories in places that are often overlooked.

Fashion Weeks around the world are associated with certain images and stereotypes. Is your project a refocusing of these ideas to some extent?

The mainstream fashion press had previously paid no mind to these other places, often I find we are the only media backstage. And people usually just report on the parties and the press conferences. When we go somewhere we try to immerse ourselves in the world behind the fashion week as much as possible. For example, I once spent the night with 300 Cambodian garment workers who lived in a shanty town two hours into the countryside. I was extremely moved and affected by the struggle that these women, some still in their mid-teens, have to go through every day to service the needs of the “fashion industry.”

Your work explores some less mainstream issues in the fashion world. Is it about raising awareness?

Each episode is different. You really have to watch them all to get the full picture of what we’re doing. It’s like Breaking Bad or The Wire. You can’t just watch one episode to understand what the show is about. I guess part of it is raising awareness and shining a light on things we feel are buried beneath the torpor of regular fashion week reporting.

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From what you have witnessed, what can fashion mean and offer to a culture?

The main recurring factor is that increasingly, the world’s eyes are turning towards the west, and the fashion industries and young people on other all over the world aspire to North American and Eurocentric trends and aesthetic so that is having an impact on those cultures. For example, our recent episodes in Korea and Jamaica approach such grisly topics as skin bleaching and home face-lift parties where adolescents have their eyelids chopped off by somebody with only slighter higher medical qualifications than a nail salon technician.

When identifying fashion and culture trends in each city what elements do you consider most important to expose? How do you go about narrowing these trends? What have you learned?

To me its not about clothes. It’s about what motivates people in their daily lives, their journeys and often extremely thorny personal issues, which a lot of us can relate to but aren’t often discussed.

I’m an avid consumer of news, current affairs, history, cultural expose so if I haven’t heard enough about something and can’t find it online then hat is usually a good barometer of whether or not its worth telling the story of. As a woman I am drawn to stories that show the things we girls do all over the world in the name of fashion, in pursuit of often unrealistic beauty goals, the validation we get from fashion.

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Which city did you find closest to its native roots and least affected by eurocentric ideas of modern fashion?

Nigeria fashion week was the one that stayed truest to a traditional perception of the place, with heavy use of ankara fabric, Nigerian music and traditional styling on the catwalk. There are several fashion weeks in Nigeria, but this one is the ‘official,’ government endorsed fashion event.

Most societies have a wealthy educated elite at their apex. So the fashion weeks more often than not look to the west as a template, especially if they are trying to sell clothes in a competitive international arena. Even Cambodia Fashion Week didn’t reflect much about the roots of Cambodian culture, because Phnom Penh is so propped up by the ex-pat community. The fashion week there was like a total import. In the street in Phnom Penh people are largely unaffected by western styles. If anything they look to Korea and K-pop styles, which includes wild trends like wearing your pajamas to go to the supermarket. I think they have that in Liverpool, England as well.

What message do you hope to relate to viewers this season that may not have been apparent last season?

The first series got an overwhelmingly positive response so we haven’t really changed the formula but more and more I want to make sure people realise that although this is subjective journalism and think we do that well, we are not making a judgement, especially with many of the contentious issues such as beauty trends, merely presenting the differences and the facts. I hope we can appeal to wider audiences. I hope to be able to appeal to more ‘fashion people’ and get them interested in news, current affairs, culture in way they can relate to.

Thanks Charlet! 

Fashion Week Internationale

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