SEE FINISH: ‘To have seen it all’
A pidgin term used to describe the inappropriate behaviour that is normalised when boundaries are not clearly defined and enforced in personal or professional relationships.
Events inform a designer’s ethos. For Frank Aghuno, one of those experiences was an invitation to pitch an early collection to a Lagos stockist. He was hopeful that this would be his big break, but she had little patience for inexperience. She called his ambitious collection ‘crap’ and railed about the quality of his finishing, redirecting her frustrations with the failings of an industry and the rigours of running a fashion retail business in an unstructured market into that singular, unrelated interaction, embarrassing him in front of his brother and collaborator. She softened when she realised they had shared ancestry and regretted her lack of tact but the damage was done, and the lesson learned. The only way to be taken seriously, was to learn the rules, then break them. Women across the world have worn Fruché, and resonate with the distinct Nigerian influences that inform our house codes. Technology was the bridge, allowing our brand to reach a global audience. But that access also comes with expectations, many of which seem at odds with the lived reality of the average Nigerian who Fruché desires to dress. Fashion forums discuss climate change and push for sustainability. It all seems urgent but has no context in our studio where every piece is cut by hand and sewn by local artisans who are integral to executing our collections. Every scrap is saved and repurposed, not to save the earth, even though it makes great copy for press releases, but because it is not Nigerian to waste - fabric, resources, or manpower.
This collection, exemplified by the phrase ‘See Finish’, is an exploration of
the multiple parallel realities designers working on the continent are expected to understand and represent in their work. On the surface, it is two English words stitched together, but its meaning shifts and morphs depending on which Nigerian is saying it and the context in which it is used. Much like that phrase, this collection is built with tools and techniques Western audiences instantly recognise to tell stories layered with meaning that is understood only by us.
‘See Finish’ draws inspiration from the many ways colonialism continues to evolve, and the ways culture continues to assert itself, despite attempts to dilute its essence and corrupt its value. It reclaims the dismissive language that is deployed when accountability is demanded of the people who profit off this pillaging of African land, the deflection of
responsibility for problems not of our making. Our execution relies heavily on imagery, recontextualised to explore difficult questions about African
history and how it informs the present, to mirror the questions that are asked of Fruché as a label with a global outlook back to the people who must find the answers and implement them.
Our muse is the Niger Delta, the fabled land where wars are waged over Earth, Water and Oil. Nine states are considered part of this region, all connected by subterranean reservoirs holding crude oil, that toxic tar black residue from epochs past. As the developed world weeps about pollution, their corporations jostle for Nigeria’s liquid gold, greasing palms with stolen dollars, silencing dissenters, extracting it with little care for the lives of the people whose land is poisoned by this oil. They gaslight, speak of these evils in past tense, dissociate themselves from the stolen wealth that pays for their sweatshops and serves as a backdrop for their extravagant shows while they ask via socially distanced zoom meetings and fancy letterheads for ‘Africa’ to embrace ‘slow’ fashion as a way to end pollution. They suggest, insidiously, that they are a better arbiter of the true value, not the people whose cultures are dismantled and repurposed as fodder for appropriation.
This collection reexamines the symbols of the region, flattened by voyeuristic consumption through house codes. Ghana Must Go Bags, a visual shorthand for migration, well known to Nigerians and Ghanaians is repurposed into waist coats and dress shoes, the adopted ‘traditional attire of Ibibio men, relics from a colonial past. We upcycle, marrying the durability of denim that has allowed it pass through many hands and journey in containers to find new life in Lagos second hand markets with the fragile, prohibitive luxury of laser-cut velvet and silk gazar, as commentary on how closely wealth and poverty intersect in the Niger Delta. Handwoven iridescent Aso-oke mimics the crude coated rivers of the Niger Delta, dazzling to the eye but poisonous to the gut. Fishing nets and the riverine towns that dot the coasts of the tributaries that fan out into the Delta Basin are evoked with handmade macrame, powder blue to represent the deceptive stillness of the Atlantic. It comes together as a complex portrait, with layers of meaning that reveal themselves in the right context.
In documenting the beauty of the Niger Delta and its people juxtaposed against the injustices they have endured and the horrors they have meted on each other, Fruché hopes to offer commentary on how the commercialisation of a resource or a skill does not strip it of its intrinsic value. There are tailors on every street, but fashion remains high art, the difference manifesting in the perspective of the artist and the work they produce. ‘See finish’ celebrates the power of self determination, the ability to reject the expectations of others and decide for oneself when a project is done, when a partnership becomes parasitic, when a market no longer serves you, when a cause is not yours to champion. To determine beauty and success for oneself, to be acknowledged as a people and respected as an artist.