• December 16, 2014

Life in Lagos: Stepping Out for Nigerian Fashion Week

Robin Hammond

Lagos, Nigeria, is Africa’s most populous metropolitan area—with an estimated 21 million inhabitants. It also boasts the biggest economy of any city in Africa, housing some of the richest people on the continent, as well as huge numbers of poor.

Robin Hammond photographed life in Lagos for the story “Africa’s First City,” which appears in the January 2015 issue of National Geographic magazine. In a series of five posts on Proof, he chronicles this city of contrasts that is fast becoming Africa’s hub of creativity, fashion, and business.


When a six-foot tall Nigerian model puts on six-inch heels then adorns herself with a head piece, she gets really tall.

I’d come to Eko Hotel in Lagos that morning to photograph Nigeria’s Fashion Week. The models were only just arriving in their jeans and t-shirts, looking surprisingly ordinary. The catwalk was being built. There was no way they’d be ready for that night, I thought.

African Fashion Week at Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.
Models wait to go onstage during African Fashion Week at Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.

Lagosians have a way of pulling these things together though. By evening, the models had become extraordinary and from the audience’s point of view, bar a few minor glitches, this was a great event of fashion and theatrics.

Backstage was a different matter altogether.

Out front, dozens of photographers and camera crews shot the procession of models strutting the catwalk. But I try to use my camera to capture a version of reality. Backstage seemed more real, and was where the action was—full-on frenetic energy, color, and chaos—a metaphor for Lagos as a whole.

African Fashion Week at Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.
African Fashion Week at Eko Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.

On the catwalk, the models made it look effortless. The audience, made of Lagos’ great and good, was oblivious to the panic and mayhem going on behind the scenes. Too many designs, not enough models. Too many bodies, not enough space. The man in charge spent the whole night screaming at make-up artists and models and designers. Another photographer dared to be standing in the wrong place. He got an earful too.

Models watch the onstage action on a backstage TV before going out in front of the crowd
Models watch the onstage action on a backstage TV before going out in front of the crowd.

Halfway through the show there was a fireworks display. I thought it novel, considering we were inside, until, along with everyone else, I realized one of the stage lights had caught fire sending flames towards the ceiling. Some of the audience panicked and made a mad dash for the door. Some rolled their eyes, as if to say they’d seen it all before. Most though just filed out in an orderly way to get a drink at the bar while the mess was cleared up. Within ten minutes they were back and in the mist of the fire extinguisher, the show went on. And it was a good show.

The title was a little misleading. It was in fact an evening of fashion, not a fashion week as advertised. But Lagos likes to place itself amongst the world’s international cities, so it was natural for Lagos’ premier fashion event to be named after the fashion weeks of Milan, Paris, and New York.

Picture of: Models in Lagos
Models being interviewed after the first day of African Fashion Week in Lagos.

While Lagos is very much an international city, it is still on the rise—in transition. That makes it an amazing place to visit right now. Some say as many as 21 million people reside here, and the economy of the city alone, if it were a country, would make it the fifth largest in Africa. The city’s infrastructure struggles to keep up with rapid population growth. There is enormous wealth, but grinding poverty too. And many still complain that corruption holds it back from meeting its true potential. But the thriving art scene is fast making Lagos the place to be for creative Africans. Its musicians, painters, fashion designers, and architects are creating works that are catching the eyes of observers around the world.

Infrastructure lets down the artists; there is no equivalent of MOMA or Tate Modern. But there are some small but energetic organizations and galleries showcasing amazing work—founded in a beautiful chaos, bursting with creativity.

Read Hammond’s other blog posts on Proof, covering: The rising middle class, the upstart Nollywood film industry, sand diggers at the bottom of the bay, and the roar of big religion.

See more of Hammond’s photos from Lagos, including a gallery of portraits, in the National Geographic story “Africa’s First City.”


Robin Hammond has dedicated his career to documenting human rights and development issues, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. Born in New Zealand, Hammond has lived in Japan, the U.K., South Africa, and France. View more of his work at www.robinhammond.co.uk.

There are 10 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Danielle
    April 1, 2016

    Africa has so much potential for fashion. Here in the United States, art has been influenced by our black population since the beginning. Africa needs to develop their own sense of style and beauty and then own it. It will not be the same as white beauty. They are two different things and always will be and that’s a very good thing.

  2. Aymit Nichols
    April 20, 2015

    I never that dark, black girls and women like me would ever go this far in life and I just want these black girls and women from any country or state should be very proud of their skin and keep up the good work becoming a better model on the runway!!

  3. snj
    March 7, 2015

    This was a great piece and the Jan. 2015 Nat Geo article “Africa’s First City” was a great read. Lagos is a place of extremes (both rich and poor, good and bad, hope and despair). There is a sense of wonder and looking to the future that pervades throughout the growing, busy city. I, for one, am interested in seeing how the city develops over the next few decades.

  4. Harriet
    February 21, 2015

    Is beautiful,keep it on

  5. peusile
    February 11, 2015

    amazing! Kep on….

  6. L
    January 6, 2015

    It never stops to baffle me when those living in Lagos compare their way of living to the general populous. To make NIGERIA great you need to step out of Lagos, PH and Abija mentality and develop other areas. Until this happens our greatness is limited and frankly sitting on the edge of limitation.

  7. kessellybah kokulo-Demenwu
    December 17, 2014

    way to go LAGOS!! show dem yu time don com.

  8. ferd
    December 16, 2014

    Mistake number One. Lagos (EKO) has gotten beyond being a place, its a mindset. Mindset of determination, hustle, belive, art, power, sacrifice, survival. It is a life on its own. Epitomises Nigeria. Yes the typical Nigerian.

  9. momodu abdul rasheed
    December 16, 2014

    Lagos the city Excellence,we have all it takes to become the best all over Africa,that is why is been name MEGA city

  10. Hasker Nelson
    December 16, 2014

    Until now, whenever I heard the word Nigeria, I never thought of “fashion.’ Now I will. Stunning women in stunning outfits are indelibly embedded in my mind.

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