San Francisco is a long way from Lagos, Nigeria, yet for one woman it’s just a brief jaunt on a journey taking her farther than she might ever have imagined.
Working under the label Maki Oh, 29-year old Amaka Osake has, in a relatively short time, come to international acclaim as a fashion designer, her pieces worn by celebrities such as Rihanna, Lupita N’yongo, and Leelee Sobieski. Solange Knowles wears Maki Oh, and so does her sister — you can see Maki designs in a little known production called, eh-hem, “Lemonade”, viewed well over 5 million times.
One other fan: Michelle Obama has named her as one of her favorite designers, and even had her to the White House.
But Maki wasn’t a guest of honor for a recent dinner at Leo’s Oyster Bar, a nearly 8,000 mile trek from home, because she knows some celebrities. It was all about the clothes.
Hosted by Sherri McMullen, stylist Mary Gonsalves Kinney and Sarah Somberg (B&N’s Director of Social Media), the event celebrated a new milestone in her career — the Maki Oh collection is now being sold in the United States exclusively at the McMullen boutique, and by online fashion powerhouse Farfetch.com
Sherri McMullen, owner of the Piedmont boutique, is carrying all 17 pieces from the latest collection, which she said is rare for her. “I never do that. That really speaks to my thoughts about the collection.” McMullen was instrumental in getting Maki Oh added to Farfetch’s offerings.
Widely respected in the retail world, it’s the latest instance of her scouting out the newer, under-the-radar talents that today’s most fashionable shoppers get excited about. Elegant, gracious, and whip-smart though with a warm, caring quality, one suspects she enjoys nurturing young designers, and does what she can to see them thrive.
“As soon as I met Sherri I saw this light. I said, ‘I see there’s a really good light around her,'” Maki commented. “It’s something that I’m just so humbled to be around.”
And what of the clothes? A tulle blouse festooned with multiple black-and-white sequins resembling little Nazar amulets — a blouse that protects against the “evil eye,” while being the chicest damn thing you’ve seen this season.
Incredible trousers made of exquisite indigo linen, hand-dyed and painted in a style unique to south-western Nigeria. The blue print is a series of “inner eyes”, or “oju inu”, suggesting spiritual insight — or is that mood indigo? Embellished with pristine white pearls, gems of the sea strewn among the indigo leaves.
A beautiful black mesh top and black pleated culottes are accented sparingly by pearls of various sizes, orbs of light among the darkness. Wear it anywhere, San Francisco and beyond. It’s evening in Africa — the sands of Eket Beach beneath your feet, the air is warm, the sky is moist, just you, the Atlantic, the stars and the moon.
Maki’s brilliance is in her syncretic approach to design. She doesn’t “do Africa,” as we so often see in fashion — the Africa of Ralph Lauren safari ads, of John Galliano “tribal” collections. Nor is she a conventional Western designer who just happens to be in Nigeria, trying to create pieces that look straight off a Paris runway.
Instead, she merges the cultures. Taking inspiration from a continent of endless ancient beauty, she designs pieces that feel remarkably progressive, remarkably of the moment, remarkably chic. She has an eye, and a skill of execution, that is beyond her peers — not surprising considering she was raised in an atmosphere of design.
Her mother made all of her clothes as a child, and she continued doing it herself as she got older. “This is a woman who literally grew up designing with her mother,” stylist Mary Gonsalves Kinney remarked. “She learned how to sew and do all the necessary things at a very young age.”
Women around the world can be glad she did.