The V&A’s landmark show “Africa Fashion” opens at the Brooklyn Museum this week, where it will be the most extensive survey the city has yet seen of African design, music, and visual arts from the 1950s to today. With it comes a retail experience like no other by Alára. The Lagos concept store will offer pieces from exhibited designers including Tongoro, Lafalaise Dion, and Christie Brown, alongside a wider curation of over 100 African and diaspora talents.
“The store is Alára’s living version of the exhibition by giving a glimpse into the lived world of African fashion, art and design,” says the store’s founder Reni Folawiyo. “We will open people’s eyes to the incredible creative renaissance that is growing in Africa, and how seamlessly it functions as a part of the global conversation of style.”
Lagoss Acclaimed Concept Store Alra Pops Up at the Brooklyn Museum
The Nigerian lawyer and entrepreneur changed the game in 2015 when she opened Alára in Victoria Island, Lagos. Alára means ‘wondrous performer, one who trills endlessly’ in Yoruba. The David Adjaye-designed store—an imposing three-story concrete and glass cube edifice with pyramid-like discovery zones within—lived up to its name by putting African designers on the same lofty rails as the likes of Saint Laurent and Valentino. It’s since evolved into a cultural destination in West Africa.
“Going beyond luxury retail, we’ve become a platform for exchange across all the creative disciplines. Our curation is trusted, and our network authentic,” adds Folawiyo. “Combining this with the urgency of all things African, from afrobeat to tech to consumer, it felt natural, and also like a responsibility, to bring that positioning to bear globally. Brooklyn Museum is a terrific partner because, like Alára, it engages with culture and builds community on so many levels.”
Naturally Alára’s first US foray is more than a pop-up. The space is encountered as a series of vignette installations that delight and inspire as visitors explore exclusive drops by designers such as Dye Lab, Khiry, Edas, Luar, and Theophilio as well as furniture by Ousmane Mbaye, ceramics from Clementina van Her, conceptual pieces by Cedric Mizero, and much more. Alára will also host an events series, the first being a conversation between Folawiyo and the artist Kehinde Wiley chaired by journalist Lola Ogunnaike on June 22nd.
“The partnership with Alára is an essential part of the discussion the exhibition is having around the importance of African creatives choosing how they are represented. Reni is showcasing the best and brightest in a way that allows them to shine – and the exhibition is doing the same,” says Sills Foundation Curator of African Art and “Africa Fashion” co-curator, Ernestine White-Mifetu.
Together with Annissa Malvoisin, the inaugural Postdoctoral Fellow in the Arts of Africa at the Bard Graduate Center, they’ve taken the already monumental V&A line-up and expanded upon it to highlight Brooklyn Museum’s Arts of Africa collection and New York’s Africa-driven creative scene. In doing so, “Africa Fashion” effortlessly counters the ahistorical and often negative presentation of material culture from the continent. “Visitors can appreciate the artisanal beauty of designers within the exhibition, who have never been confined to their physical spaces and constantly push what it means to be inspired by Africa, then enter Alára where they can continue to enjoy the work in a very tangible way,” says White-Mifetu.
Adeju Thompson of Lagos Space Programme features in “Africa Fashion” and has developed a capsule for Alára. “I believe in Reni’s manifesto to make flesh this idea around creating modern Africa at the intersection of fashion and art, which is a framing that needs to be seen in the world’s most prominent design museums,” says Thompson, who just won the International Woolmark Prize 2023 with his project, Cloth as a Queer Archive. His brand reimagines Yoruba sartorial dress practices and craftsmanship through a non-gendered, cross-cultural lens. “We tap into African futures, which are rooted in living in Africa now and our precolonial histories,” he explains. In store will be a Lagos Space Programme “workwear wardrobe” including scarves, t-shirts and loose pants that revel in Nigeria’s indigo resist-dyed adire practices.
Its emerging stars such as Thompson that make Alára tick. For Folawiyo, the store is ultimately about gratitude: “We are here because of our creators, and we are saying thank you for their skill and inspiration. Alára’s mission is to incubate, promote and celebrate our creatives for audiences around the world.”