ALARA — Nigeria's answer to Barneys

By Vaughn GRAY

Sunday, June 24, 2018

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Here are some interesting facts about Africa: Senegal has been described as the “Paris of Africa”, Djibouti the “Singapore of Africa” and the Republic of Congo is determined to become Africa's next fashion capital. And who would have thunk it? In Lagos, Nigeria, there's a store that rivals Barneys New York.

Alara, “wondrous performer” in Yoruba, was founded in 2015 by Reni Folawiyo. It's located in the affluent area of Victoria Island (think: Bond Street, London). The area serves as the home and playground of well-heeled locals who have an appreciation for luxury items and expats who don't wish to travel to Europe for the season's must-haves.

Whenever Africa is discussed, a particular set of images is somehow conjured up: white people in jeeps on safari; jumping Masai; the pyramids of Egypt; infants with convex bellies; and rotund women, bedecked in bright prints, with gap-toothed smiles. This is Africa, but only a small part of it. In 2014, Nigeria ranked third on the list of countries likely to have created the most millionaires. Despite all this wealth, it seemed that the country wasn't ready for a concept store of significance.

“The local market has always been ready for luxury goods, but we haven't given them that opportunity,” said Folawiyo. “The lack of investment in retail in Nigeria made it look like the country wasn't ready.” Au contraire, it certainly was.

The store was designed by notable British-Ghanaian architect David Adjaye, whose other impressive works include the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC and the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo. Alara has received the seal of approval from global publications including The New York Times, Vogue and the Financial Times. Its restaurant, Nok by Alara, is considered a “rare gem of a restaurant in Lagos”.

Alara stocks designs from internationally acclaimed African designers like Duro Olowu alongside European heavyweights like Valentino, Stella McCartney and Dries Van Noten. There's Tsemaye Binitie, R Bahia, Lanre de Silva Ajayi and hot Lagos-based designer Maki Oh. Alara is a curatorial dream of modern clothing, one-of-a-kind furniture and unusual gifts. The store is in a class by itself like other concept stores — Darklands in Berlin, Dover Street Market in London and Colette in Paris (RIP). Last month, Naomi Campbell launched her book Art of Beauty at Alara. The event was covered by a number of international and African media outlets. It unabashedly paraded Lagos's glamour and wealth in front of the fashion world.

Africa is a continent (lest you forget) of wealth and abundance as much as it is one of strife and want. It's a land of inconsistencies, but this is not a situation unique to the cradle of civilisation. Rarely does one hear about the starving children in Belarus who could do with your “one dollar a day” donation. Or the number of indigenous women who have gone missing in Canada. Or that there's serious knife crime in England.

Alara appeals to global citizens who intensely desire unique experiences. Lagos is an emerging economic global capital. As a result, it has to create opportunities for its luxury-oriented population to spend their money locally instead of in London, New York, Milan or Paris. Fashion's surge has washed over Europe, Asia and the Middle East — it's now Africa's time. Alara is showing the world that the Motherland is not only ready, but also able to be a major player in the fashion industry... Hello, Vogue... it's Africa holding for Anna. Is she available? Here's the thing: they might not hold for too long!

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