Nadine Ijewere is a 25-year-old Nigerian-Jamaican photographer whose work champions diversity, and aims to celebrate different kinds of beauty.
For the second installment of #StellaBy, a series where Stella McCartney collaborates with creative talent all over the world, the fashion house turned to Nadine to showcases its current collections through her lens.
Shot in Lagos, Nigeria, and styled by Ibrahim Kamara - who also styled the controversial Kenzo editorial shot in Enugu) and is described as a "norm-defying stylist shaking up the world of fashion’ - this editorial is said to draw inspiration from Nadine's roots.
Also highlighted, are subjects that she believes are not as well represented in fashion imagery. For this shoot, Nadine clearly stated that she wasn’t playing by the rules, but rather that she wanted to add her identity to the images and give a feeling of diversity.
This resulted in male models being dressed in womenswear, and the photographs being shot in a place that looks nothing like the Lagos we know.
According to her,
"Nigeria is a country that is known to be quite conservative, particularly in fashion with no blurring between lines. So I wanted shake things up a bit."
She also described the editorial as:
"A series of images documenting my interpretation of the Stella McCartney SS17 Collection, shot in my family’s hometown… it is very close to my heart! "
Though Stella McCartney referenced ‘The Misrepresentation of Representation’, a dissertation Nadine wrote for her BA in fashion photography at London College of Fashion, this project is not directly linked to that. However, it still explores identity and culture as inspiration.
Following the reactions on the brand’s Instagram page, it’s easy to tell that while majority openly expressed their love and approval, the images still hit the wrong nerve with people who believed the shots were exploitative. Which doesn’t come as a surprise, considering that luxury fashion houses have been guilty of this in the past.
In the words of two commenters:
"Not sure what the message is? "My dress costs more than this entire village would earn in 20 years?" Or "Buy this dress and we will donate money for food and a real roof?"
"This doesn't seem right. In fact it makes me feel disgusting. How much is that dress that the model is wearing? You go to the poorest parts of the world to do a fashion shoot, why? Are you helping these people? Or just using them so that you pics look edgy?"
Another person stated on Twitter:
"Really not down with the fashion scene and their constant romanticising of the backwards parts of Nigeria."
Turns out more than a few people are pissed about this, and their fury isn't misguided.
While we understand Nadine's intentions, and the fact that this shoot may largely be based off the photographer's perception or the stylist's aesthetics, we cannot ignore that this appears to be a blatant misrepresentation of Lagos as a city, and Lagosians as a people. We deserve more credit than this editorial gives.
Also considering that Nadine's roots lie in Nigeria, one would expect that some effort would be put into discontinuing the perception of Africans in general as 'exotic' characters.
This isn't the first time a fashion editorial has been shot in Lagos for an international brand. Oxosi, a New York based African design & culture platform, explored sexuality with an editorial, 'The Illegal Project', shot in Ebute Metta. Contirbutor Magazine shot the fashion story, 'Formless', on a beach here in Lagos, and Nataal also shot 'Last Days Of August' in Lagos as well.
While these editorials were focused on exploring Lagos and its people/culture in diverse forms, none of them turned out to be offensive.
Nadine is a brilliant photographer, and her previous works have beautifully represented people of different races, identities and heritage. But for reasons we cannot fully articulate, this one falls short.