Dunsin Wright is one to watch. The multidisciplinary creative director, stylist to breakout musician Tems – and now, exhibition producer – is on a mission to make people think about the future of fashion.
The industry aficionado has just finished running her first ever annual fashion exhibition aptly titled: ‘2121: Speculative Everything’, which ran for two days in Lagos, Nigeria. Aiming to create a space that could invoke critical conversations surrounding sustainability, representation and alternate realities, the exhibition focused on reclaiming narratives of Afro-Futurism from the western lens.
Featuring five stand out African designers Adesuwa Aighewi, Kadiju, Guido Mösch, Elfreda Dali, Zainab Mansary and Piece et Patch, the event took place over the 13th – 14th of December and was attended by a throng of high profile names, including musicians Tems, BOJ, The Cavemen and Wale Davies, plus actor Denola Grey and social media personality Ashley Okoli.
We caught up with Dunsin to talk about all things inspiration, innovation and imposter syndrome to get a glimpse inside the mind of a burgeoning fashion powerhouse.
Hey Dunsin! Let’s start at the beginning. How did you end up at the stage you are at today?
So I started off in fashion PR at Karla Otto, but I soon realised that I wanted to do more with production and creative direction. I moved back to Lagos, started working in communications with a fashion brand and from there I attended a lot of fashion shows, building contacts, which is when I met Tems. This year was the perfect time for me to put on an exhibition in Lagos, because my schedule doesn’t really get busy with events and awards shows are mostly in the first portion of the year.
You just finished up your two-day exhibition ‘2121: Speculative Everything’. How are you feeling, post-event?
I honestly felt like I achieved everything that I wanted to post-event. What was really important to me for this event was to create a space that I had never seen before in Lagos. I wanted to create an immersive experience where people could feel more audacious with their dreams, more inspired to dream and hope for a better future – especially somewhere like Lagos where there are so many developmental issues and unrest. It can sometimes feel like, ‘what’s the point’?
I wanted to create a space where people could escape and also to reclaim narratives of Afro-futurism from the western lens. So if I think back to why I did this event in the first place, I truly believe that I achieved everything I wanted. The feedback has honestly been so amazing, there was very much the consensus that people had never experienced anything like this before, especially in Lagos.
How did you come to choose this name for the exhibition and what does it mean to you?
I always knew what I wanted to achieve with this exhibition. I wanted to put something together that was centred around afro-futurism. I went on to research this topic, to try to understand how people have tried to reclaim the concept from a western lens. I came across things I’d never heard of before – anthologies with African superheroes, incredible bodies of work surrounding black sci-fi… One that stood out to me was an anthology by a Nigerian author named Ayodele Arigbabu called ‘Lagos 2060’. He had written this back in the eighties and it addresses what he believed Lagos could be like in 100 years. So to me, I wondered – how could this translate to now?
When I first thought of actually putting the exhibition together in 2021, I wanted to focus on what we’d be doing 100 years from now in fashion. I wanted to start a conversation. So when I thought about 2121, I just loved the ring to it – at the end of 100 years, it always feels like a pivotal moment. I had also read about how important it is for us to be constantly speculative about whatever we’re doing – if we can’t speculate then we can’t change. But in some spaces, when you’ve never been written into the narrative, it’s hard to depict a better future. So, by 2121, I hope we’ll be able to speculate about everything.
As your first exhibition, what was your favourite part of the process? Tell us about the highs (and the lows…)
The high was honestly walking onto the set for the first time and seeing what we had done, and to see what I had envisioned a year ago translated into now. For me, I change my mind a lot – I’m quite indecisive, but for this it has barely changed for me from idea to reality. That, to me, was a sign that it was supposed to be this exact way. Another high was seeing people come in and experience it for the first time. To see the look on peoples face was… indescribable.
A low was probably at certain points, I experienced, perhaps, imposter syndrome? In fact, I wouldn’t even particularly call it a ‘low’, but a process. It’s natural to have some doubt. Honestly, I’m not even joking, it’s hard to really think of a low!
We know that for the theme this year, you wanted attendees to imagine what fashion may look like in 100 years. Our question to you is, what would YOUR interpretation be?
I imagine things being quite sculptural and more innovative with materials that we’ll be working with. For example, I wore this beautiful metal corset by CSM student Eulalee. The way that she had designed it, I would have thought that I would have injured everyone walking by! At first sight it looked crazy, but it was actually so wearable and comfortable. In 100 years, I really see fashion making more of a statement with the materials, the shapes, the cuts. Eulalee makes a lot of political statements with her work, and this particular piece was centred around the female body and what women experience in sexual abuse. It represents an armour that you wear around you to keep people away, yet the feminine aspects to the shape were so interesting.
I also feel like people are becoming a lot more sustainable in regards to up cycling and creating things from objects that were once nothing – one of the brands I featured, Piece et Patch , only up-cycles mostly denim that she finds or has in hers and her family’s closet. She makes the craziest things and it’s amazing. I think that people are going to be more daring and fearless with the way they present themselves – as a world we’re experiencing so many new ideas and cultures through social media now every single day, which can only translate into the way we view and consume fashion. We’re going to see more things like 3D fashion, where designers are dressing people completely virtually.
The exhibition was inspired by sci-fi that aims to view alternate realities through fashion. Can you tell our readers a little more about the theme and what it means to you?
The beauty of afro-futurism is how it combines stories of the past, visions of the future and our impending presence. The idea of alternate realities also comes from the same desire to create a space where people can escape their current reality. Alternate reality can be what we experience when we’re consuming art, watching film, even dressing up – for me I wanted to create a space where that effect is heightened.
There’s a bleak, darkness to reality sometimes in Lagos, so the goal feels that much more important. That people have that safe space to go where they don’t have to be met with that kind of reality is why I put on this exhibition.
What are the most special aspects of the designers you chose to showcase? Were you looking for any particular qualities? It must have been hard to select only 5 talented artists – so what stood out with your choices?
So I shortlisted the brands from people I had on my radar for a while. Naturally with styling, I’m constantly researching. The first thing that stood out to me was innovative designs and quality pieces. Sustainability in materials was also a huge factor. I was also interested in not just their stories, but also the statements they were trying to make with their designs – what messaging goes through their collections?
Working with students and up-and-coming brands was also so important – to give a platform to those who are incredibly talented but don’t necessarily have a platform was key to me. I wanted to do whatever I could do in my community to uplift those who aren’t as high profile as others. For me, I wanted to really celebrate their talent and give them their own special moment. It was so important that all of the designers aligned with the purpose of the show, and I can happily say that they all loved and resonated with the concept.
The exhibition was so clearly multi-layered – was there a eureka moment for you when you just knew that it was something you knew you wanted to organise?
I think the eureka moment was probably when I attended the Pierre Cardin exhibition in New York. I was so inspired by the way he was innovating, the shapes he was using, the things that had never been seen before. One thing that stood out to me was his ability to take inspiration from cartoons, books, we could even see some of his private journal entries. It was beautiful to feel so immersed into his process.
But as I was experiencing and seeing his references, what stood out to me was just how little blackness there was. So for me, I thought – how would a little child watching sci-fi, consuming sci-fi media, feel if they could experience what the alternate future can look like, as something that has always previously excluded them? Media is such a powerful tool, and that’s why representation is so vital. So whilst the exhibition was beautiful and so inspiring, I wanted to do that but in a way that was more for Africans, to offer a new narrative to the one that has been unchanged for so long.
This was in 2020, and although I started thinking about the exhibition then, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to pull it off in Nigeria. At the time, I wasn’t even living out here (in Nigeria) – there was a lot going on, and not long afterwards, Covid happened and we were in global lockdown. So in that moment I was inspired, but it wasn’t until we fast forward to 2021 that I thought, hey – we could actually do this!
You’ve worked with music supernova Tems before as her Creative Director and Stylist – how did that relationship blossom?
When I met Tems, she was about to go on tour. On our first shoot we really hit it off, so much so that she asked me to come on tour with her to work on her styling and creative direction for her upcoming shows. I now work predominantly with her – there are just so many exciting things coming up all of the time.
You and Tems have worked on some pretty major projects together – what would you say that your favourite has been so far?
One particular moment that was so special for me, our team, our wider community and even our country was absolutely the BET Awards. Being able to tell a story and work with one of my favourite brands, to create a piece Tems felt beautiful and comfortable in… to go on stage and tell a story for so many women across the world was a very special moment. I was so honoured to be a part of it.
Tell us a little about your creative process. How do you go about getting your ideas from concept to reality?
It depends on what I’m working on – if it’s a personal project, I’ll go to different places to feel inspired. As a creative its so important to take time to rest, recuperate and think. Finding inspiration through film, music, travel, cultures and fashion is when I feel the most centred. If I was working on a styling job, it’s more imminent and urgent, but with personal projects it builds up – I have a lot more time so I can really take in every part of the idea and approach it from so many different angles.
With this exhibition the most important part was finding a good team, and ensuring that they could lead on conversations and be on ground when I wasn’t around. It’s true that if you don’t have the right team around you, no matter how much you try to communicate your ideas, it may never translate. I definitely really learnt from this journey that finding the right team, community and encouragement is so vital. If we’re on the same page, it makes the idea so much more tangible.
Lastly – you’re clearly so passionate about championing and supporting emerging artists and designers. What’s one resource that you wish you had when you were first starting out in the industry?
Having the right contacts, to be honest. When you come into the fashion industry without a certain education or background, it’s hard to infiltrate the sphere because a lot of people come from having these experiences and friendship groups. When I first started, I struggled with building my own directory. I think if I had access to the contacts that I have now, that would have been invaluable.
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