Heat, energy and elevation: ASHLUXE is set to take over

Heat, energy and elevation: ASHLUXE is set to take over

by Stella Hughes
6 min

We’re well into Detty December; the month-long annual party season which brings crowds from around the world to Lagos and Accra to live it up in the heat. Kicking things off this year though was a new type of event, though: a debut fashion show, immediately followed by a rave. A Vertical Rave, to be exact.

The brainchild of creative director and entrepreneur Yinka Ash, the second instalment of Vertical Rave saw nearly 2000 of Ash’s community come together at Lagos’ Landmark Event Centre to party into the early hours. The giant rave also served as the official afterparty to ASHLUXE’s debut show: Yinka’s luxury streetwear brand which has taken over Lagos’ scene and beyond.

In Nigeria, it’s all about going big or going home – ASHLUXE’s first show was produced in collaboration with the legacy and estate of iconic musician Fela Kuti. Setting out to “summon the revolutionary spirit of Fela Kuti and the rich vibrancy of Nigerian culture,” ASHLUXE’s ‘Kalakuta Republic’ was a celebration of spirit: both creating and reflecting the city’s unique energy, and putting it on a global stage.

Opening proceedings was Fela Kuti’s grandson – Mádé Kuti – a multi hyphenate creative in his own right who, as Yinka told us, “can play around 18 instruments. It’s crazy.” Alongside a band and dancers, the fashion-show-stroke-blockbuster-performance became the perfect vessel by which Yinka could showcase the dynamism and vitality of ASHLUXE’s offering.

Classic ASHLUXE staples include a line of hi-colour varsity jerseys and jackets, alongside mesh minidresses for the “Bad B’s”, and premium street-infused sportswear. For the show, we saw these staples out in full force, and elevated by styling which saw their block shapes deliciously clash with more delicate materials and textures. 

This texture-clash was also successful in the accessory department: silk scarves billowed from under caps, working to inject the collection with movement as well as highlight the collection’s central dichotomy of encasement and freedom. We saw this play out in the bomber-atop-slit-skirt looks, and the playfulness of the brand’s oversized bags held in by a strictly-tailored suit arm as it breezed down the catwalk.

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Well-placed pops of energy arrived in multiple forms throughout the show: two sets of twins came as tethering points of impact, whilst the musician and dancer’s solos grounded the whole proceeding in enthusiasm and spirit. This energy carried through moments of stillness, when the full line-up stopped at the show’s finale, until the last note rang out, and into the dressing room where we caught up with Yinka post-show.

Take us through your story – how did we end up sitting here, just after your debut show?!

So after uni I started buying clothes for my friends online – because it wasn’t too common that Nigerian cards worked online at that point. I started posting what I could find on Insta, and then started making commissions on pieces that way. Three years later, I became a personal shopper because there were no big fashion stores in Nigeria – bringing the fashion to the people!

2017 I bought my first store, aged 22, and by 2019 I had started a mini collection of T-shirts. They had little graphics, and were basically my idea of a ‘perfect T-shirt’. I had started to understand what my customers liked and wanted from the business side of things. I knew what silhouettes and shapes they wanted, took the data, and made the collection of tees that did really well. I’d already built up my customer base – they would buy luxury items from the store, then pick up one of my T-shirts so it was easy to transition. And yeah, we’re here today!

Nice! So why is now the perfect time for the first show?

We’re four years in, and have built such a strong community here in Nigeria, and such a strong relationship with the Fela family. They decided that we were the right people to tell the story of his legacy through fashion – it’s such an iconic thing, and event. It’s never been done before. An entire collection based off the story of Fela and his image.

Fela was known for his performance – I couldn’t just drop such a strong collection online and just allow it. It needed its own moment. Mádé Kuti performing was such an electrifying moment.

Agree. Did you hear that note he held on the saxophone for like 3 minutes?!

Yeahhh, you know he can play so many instruments, like 18. It’s crazy.

Let’s talk about the importance of music within ASHLUXE, and for you generally.

As Africans, we love music a lot. Music originated from this continent, and over time, our love for music has only grown. Everyone loves music generally, but it’s a different feeling and connection that we have to music here. There’s no way to separate fashion from music, in Africa or anywhere else.

This is the second year of Vertical Rave (the rave being set up as we speak), too, which is a way that we get our community together. We party together once a year – bringing a rave, party, sort of festival that our community can come and experience. It’s a mix of genres and DJs: from established Afrobeats and house to upcoming DJs. They’re all part of our community: we try and give them that platform. It’s just a way of giving back.

Why is it called Vertical Rave?

Yo, I don’t know haha. At first it was going to be Vertical Wave, like the energy just goes up, but I changed it to Rave and it just makes sense.

Back to the collection, how did you want the clothes to both look and be received today?

When I was researching Fela’s life, I found that he was such an eclectic person. He did so many things, and had so many different impacts. I thought “what would Fela wear if he was alive (and young) now? What would the people around him wear?”

I tried to have textural contrasts: nylon, denim, silk. I see the collection as looks: “what would Fela wear to the airport, what would he wear to the club, what would his wives wear?” There was a Kalakuta bride.

I made sure I had some music references too – one of his songs was called ‘Gentle Man’, so we had a gentle man on the runway with a tailored look. ‘Opposite People’ was reflected in the twins. He was very controversial as well, so we included newspaper prints from the actual articles about Fela.

I love that level of detail. Zooming back out, what one thing would you want people to take away from the show today?

African fashion, or fashion from this part of the world, doesn’t have to be one way. It can be very contemporary – we can touch streetwear, tailoring, menswear, womenswear. There’s a lot of talent on this side of the world, I want people to know that.

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