Sir David Adjaye OBE,
and the ALÁRA space
Over the course of three decades, Sir David Adjaye has contributed immensely to architecture. Indeed, the prominence the profession has beyond members of the design community, and its current place in popular culture owes much to pioneer ‘starchitects’ such as himself. Since founding his studio, Adjaye Associates in 2000, he has been behind some of the most iconic building projects across the globe and his much garlanded career is testament to the quality and breadth of his work.
Tanzanian born to Ghanaian parents working in the diplomatic corps, his peripatetic childhood resulted in a myriad of visual and intellectual reference points as he came into contact with a plethora of cultures. It also formed the genesis for his broad brush approach to architecture and design; cleverly incorporating ideas from numerous influences and sources. For Adjaye, the building project is not merely determined by the client’s brief: music, contemporary art, science and the notion of space, civic life and identity all come into play in realising the vision.
With studios in London, New York and Accra he has a team dedicated to expanding on his design language motifs which centre around innovative use of diverse materials, fearless use of colour and their constant interplay with light. Some of his most noted works include the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington DC, The Idea Stores in London and the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo.
Given his daring approach and the diverse experience he possesses, it was inevitable that Adjaye would come to be commissioned to design the Alara store in Lagos. For Founder Reni Folawiyo, it was essential that the space was more than a luxury destination but spoke directly to the stories found within its walls and on a wider scale, across Africa. Since the store’s launch, the terracotta and slate coloured, light filled building with cathedral height ceilings has become a Lagos landmark in and of itself. More potently it has come to represent Black excellence in its truest sense: as creative practitioners across all disciplines express and display the beautiful present and future possibilities for the continent, via the lens of their work.
Art X Lagos
“We’ve invited ALARA to design the VIP Lounge at ART X Lagos for the past three years, as ALARA’s take on interior design from the contemporary African perspective is truly special.”
Indeed this year visitors were treated to an homage to the ancient craft of Adiire fabric making, which echoed the in-store exhibition by Peju Layiwola. Regionally sourced furniture and throws completed the indigo infused look with raffia centrepieces and sculptures that were evocative of masquerade adorning the walls. Consistently putting a spotlight on African culture was central to the collaboration as Peterside expands:
“Over the years, through the lounge ALARA has celebrated Touareg culture, Yoruba culture and more, enchanting ART X Lagos’ audience of art collectors and enthusiasts from across the world, with a unique fusion of African luxury, heritage, modernity and style.”
As the fair develops and widens its programme of activities elements that anchor the experience are of increasing importance. New stars of the art world may be born year upon year and the scope of what is considered art might expand, but each year visitors can expect bold and engaging celebrations of what it is to be African via the lens of a contemporary designed space. And with modern design masters from across the continent to call upon as co-creators in the quest for deeper expressions of interior design innovation, the VIP lounge has become a must see in and of itself.
Roksanda Ilinčić might be best known to many as the creative director and force behind fashion brand ‘Roksanda’, but it was inevitable that this former architect (she studied at the prestigious University of Arts in Belgrade, in her native Serbia) would find herself holding her inaugural trunk show at ALÁRA, a concept store that not only stocks her brand but is also a celebrated architectural landmark in Lagos.
For Ilinčić, the event was her first in Nigeria, and provided her with an opportunity to engage directly with the myriad of fans of her designs, collections that season upon season are awash with audacious colour palettes and dramatic silhouettes – style signatures that are favoured by the resident clientele who often favour unabashed glamour.
The cream of Lagos Society flocked to the event, with notable guests from the worlds of politics, finance, media and fashion happily mingling with another including the First Lady of Kwara State Olufolake AbdulRazaq, General Counsel of ExxonMobil Nigeria, Adesua Dozie, and the Founder of Ebony Life TV Mo Abudu. The CEO of ALÁRA, Reni Folawiyo, acted as host, and ended up ‘twinning’ with the guest of honour, with the two women gamely posing for pictures for posterity. Asides from matching ensembles, Ilinčić and Folawiyo shared numerous things in common, including working with David Adjaye to create their respective flagship stores and building businesses and navigating their brands successfully without a loss of authenticity, in a fashion business landscape that is still for the most part dominated by men and continues to wrestle with issues around diversity, inclusiveness and gender parity.
After an engaging conversation, guests were able to purchase pieces previously never available on the continent, and the event which was held in the midst of Lagos Creative Season was yet another example of the importance of harnessing the ever growing cross-cultural exchanges between artists and creators from Africa and other parts of the world.
Peju Layiwola is a’ slasher’ of the best kind: a highly regarded Professor of Art and Art History at the University of Lagos, a prolific and internationally acclaimed artist who initially trained in metalwork before exploring and mastering other media, and a princess of the ancient Benin Kingdom, who instead of only focusing on participating in pomp and pageantry, utilises her social status to highlight the importance of maintaining and owning one’s own cultural heritage; most pertinently with her continuing campaign for the return of the Benin Bronzes to Nigeria. With such a broad and deep understanding of the importance of art both as a tool for social change and and a means of understanding self and others, It was inevitable that this multi-talented dynamo would hold her exhibition, Indigo Reimagined at Alara, a concept store that since opening has championed thought-provoking creative projects, that act as a window for Africa to the world.
The exhibition coincided with the Lagos Creative Season; a time that marks a convergence between disciplines. Over the course of a month Art X Lagos, Lagos Photo and the Lagos Biennial, as well as two fashion events Lagos Fashion Week and GTB Fashion Weekend and the annual film festival AFRIFF are launched, transforming the city into a crucible for artistic excellence.
The exhibition took as its starting point the ancient practise of making Adiire fabric, a process that is centuries old but has recently been popularised for a new generation by contemporary fashion designers embracing it in their collections. During a fireside chat between Layiwola and Alara Founder and CEO Reni Folawiyo, Layiwola was emphatic about the fabric being the star and the focus of attendees’ attention: “The work begins with indigo and ends with indigo…we’re paying homage to those who have pushed forward this tradition [and] celebrating fabric as a form of identity”. The immersive experience which featured double height Adiire murals hung to create a moving fabric sculpture highlighted the intricacy of the craft and how it is synonymous with Yoruba culture and aesthetics. Folawiyo also noted the importance of embracing our art history noting that the exhibition “illustrates what we had was beautiful”.
Place, as well as one’s sense of self in a location was also touched upon with Layiwola referencing the great poet J.P. Clark’s poem, “Ibadan’, which alludes to the city’s seven hills resembling ‘broken china in the sun’ which in turn is often blue and white in hue. Gender politics are also expressed via the fact that Layiwola has chosen to create pieces in indigo, when the process of making the fabric was traditionally in the male domain. The overall impression was that in the ‘re-imagining’ of an ancient craft Layiwola was expanding notions of participation in art itself. As Folawiyo succinctly put it in closing “Peju’s exhibition highlights her own versatility and also the depth, range and scope of what we could generally see as the art of making indigo.” An exhibition that occurred at an important crossroads for contemporary art in Africa, it will be long referenced.
“The work begins with indigo and ends with indigo…”
NOK: The Drinks Alchemist
“When it comes to creating a cocktail programme, balance is the key”says Emil Galiev, the man behind the new cocktail menu at Nok, one that has had bar flies across the city coming back to work their way through it. For Galiev, who is based in New York, and was part of the team behind the legendary Pravda, a bar that reigned in the city from its opening in the late 90’s, working on a project in Lagos came with its own unique set of considerations:“the biggest impact was the taste profile of Nigerians… They like things sweeter, they like more refreshing drinks, things that hint at the tropics.”
“Nigeria for me was like an explosion of flavours and colours and it was super inspiring”
Keen not to go down the route of obvious clichés with an abundance of coconuts and pineapples in each concoction to evoke warmer climes, Galiev took a holistic approach, immersing himself in the food culture of Lagos with beguiling results: “Nigeria for me was like an explosion of flavours and colours and it was super inspiring” he notes and as well as trying all the dishes on the Nok menu to get an idea of pairing flavours he also explored food markets to gain a deeper understanding. His process was driven by a desire to ensure that the menu felt like an authentic reflection of the actual food and drinks culture in situ, rather than one of an ‘imagined Africa’ pieced together by an outsider and he adds: “We found amazing ingredients, one of a kind things, it’s crazy you google to find a description there but I would still say 90% of the ingredients we used, those that inspired, are not [commonly] known to people outside of Nigeria or probably Africa.”
“Nigerian people, I love everything about them; [they’re] kind, hard-working, with a great sense of humour.
Not content with utilising ingredients native to the region, Galiev decided to extend his creative process one step further, delving into the reasons why people drink in addition to exploring what they drink: “I had spent hours in the library, researching online, just looking… and besides the social reasons people drink, health kept coming up. In fact every cocktail I created has health benefits, which historically, any kind of hard liquor or liqueur does [as] they were created as potions of some kind with medicinal purposes.” Indeed, many of the ingredients in the new cocktail list, would not be amiss on a traditional herbalist’s counter, from Uyayak fruit to Awopa bark, known locally as remedies for rheumatic pains and malaria respectively. In bringing traditional medicine into the mix, Galiev has ensured that the genesis as well as the heart of the cocktail menu is rooted deeply in African norms, realities and traditions.
Curiously for a renowned mixologist, Galiev does not drink recalling “I got drunk twice when I was sixteen and then I said stop” but this has not hindered a career that has seen him work around the world, and he sees many ways he could have expanded his thesis on cocktail creation, speaking of the unusual fruits and barks he adds “I wish I could have had a chance to ferment some of them but maybe next time.” Fortunately, for Nok regulars, the prospects of a return visit and further development of the list are high. “Nigerian people, I love everything about them; [they’re] kind, hard-working, with a great sense of humour. Again, to be able to experience Lagos, not just go to the market but also talk to people, experience the culture, the language, the way people act, I don’t know, it was all very cool, I think I am in love with Africa.” And we couldn’t agree more with his analysis, as we raise a glass with one of his ambrosial intoxicating elixirs.
NOK by ALÁRA:
Contemporary Pan-African cuisine
NOK by Alára is a contemporary African restaurant that takes diners on a culinary journey across the continent. Celebrated Executive Chef Pierre Thiam has created a menu that teases out food memories, explores cultures and perfects techniques from a plethora of cuisines, reinterpreting them for a modern palate.
Set in an intimate dining room and spilling out into a lush garden that features furniture and art created by some of Africa’s current ‘design masters’, a visit to NOK is an unparalleled sensory experience.
Power in the diversity
of women Panel
As a fitting end to International Women’s Month, Reni Folawiyo moderated the “Power in the Diversity of Women” panel discussion. The event was a celebration of dynamic women breaking barriers in corporate and entrepreneurial spaces, and the diverse ways they embody today’s power woman. Panelists included Tokini Peterside (Founder, Art X Lagos), Tosin Durotoye (Director, GreenHouse Labs), Hauwa Ojeifo (Founder, She Writes Woman) and Adesua Dozie (General Counsel, GE Africa).
It also doubled as the launch of luxe Nigerian label CLAN’s new workwear themed collection at ALARA, with the brand’s designer sister trio of Teni, Tiwa and Aba in attendance.
“It was a celebration of successful women in various industries that focused on work-wear and targeted women in the business and corporate world”
Arise Fashion Week ’19:
Cocktail Reception hosted
by Naomi Campbell
A cocktail reception was held at ALARA on April 18, 2019 to officially announce the commencement of ARISE Fashion Week. Supermodel Naomi who aims to paint a positive image about Africa and change the negative narratives for good walked the runway last year and was also present to welcome guests at the welcome party. In attendance were fashion and media industry insiders, supporters and fashion designers. Some of them included David Tlale, Tiffany Amber and Segun Agbaje.
“A cocktail reception held at ALARA and supermodel Naomi Campbell was present to welcome guests”
There was an exhibition of Oluwamuyiwa Adeyemi’s work named Down The Rabbit Hole at ALÁRA. The private viewing was attended by art lovers and other artists who were there to celebrate the work of the photographer and filmmaker also known as “Logor.” His view on the city of Lagos led to the selection of this body of work which he debuted in the ALÁRA Emerging Artists’ series.
“ALÁRA Art exhibited a conceptual installation of light and photography tagged Down The Rabbit Hole which fetured excerpts from his widely acclaimed ‘Monochrome Lagos’ and other works”
“Alara is a luxury lifestyle brand dedicated to contemporary art, design, fashion, cuisine and culture”
Alara is a luxury lifestyle brand dedicated to contemporary art, design, fashion, cuisine and culture.
ALARA means wondrous performer in Yoruba and is the creation of business woman Reni Folawiyo, the flagship concept store which features inspirational objects of African origin alongside international design. Alara has the potential to be a beacon for other fashion retailers and a centre for gravity for global luxury brands already beginning to cluster around a nascent fashion district in Lagos. Prior to the store opening Nigerians had tended to shop abroad for luxury purchases, “I felt that we needed something iconic that would change our city, change the way we see ourselves and also change the way the world sees us” Folawiyo told The Wall Street Journal. Folawiyo sees the “Alara Woman” as someone who is a high-powered global citizen. With the store, she aims to establish a contemporary visual language for African luxury.
The store was designed and built by the internationally renowned Ghanian-British architect David Adjaye, whose design for the National Museum of African American History broke ground in 2012. Folawiyo was Born in London and raised in Western Nigeria, she initially studied law, returning to Lagos to work for her father’s law firm. Alongside this, she opened an interior design business producing custom furniture.