The Narrative Designer: Maki Oh

Published December 18, 2012

This September, 26-year-old designer Maki Oh made her style.com debut. Quite a feat: Oh’s eponymous label is only five seasons old and she is based far away from the eyes of New York fashion editors in Lagos, Nigeria. “We are colorful and flamboyant—true Africans,” Oh explains. “Traditionally, clothes were worn as a means of communication. Colors, motifs, embellishments were the vehicles used to pass messages…they are visual representations of traditional proverbs, announcements and sometimes even warnings.”

Inspired by “the rights of passage of the Dipo ceremony of rural Ghana,” Oh describes her first collection, 2010’s “Everything in Proportion” as “a journey of self-discovery through a systematic cloaking and adornment in the ornamental sensuality of womanhood.” She did not always dream of being a fashion designer. “I wanted to be a lawyer, then an architect, then a dancer for Femi Kuti at the new African shrine,” says Oh. “I also wanted to be a synchronized swimmer.”

Oh hand-dyes all of her fabrics with natural indigo leaves and paints on prints with a cassava plant paste, a traditional Nigerian practice called adire. “We used adire because we believe in ethical and sustainable practices, and more importantly, we believe in keeping our cultural heritage alive,” Oh explains. “Adire is a beautiful art, but it is also a dying art.”

Her Spring 2013 collection was filled with fringed, knee-length dresses and pencil skirts in sheer, feminine fabrics. “Basquiat and Cy Twombly inspired me to go large scale with my thoughts,” Makhi says of her SS13 mood board. “I’ve taken a whole wall in my living room and turned it into my mood board.”

As a series, Oh’s clothes  tell a story: the same women’s long neck and face, and a motif of wide-open eyes, reappear throughout her SS13 collection. They are printed onto an deep indigo dress stretching up the abdomen, carved into the fringing of a pale nude flapper dress, woven into a blouse, or discreetly peeking out from the crook of the elbow. One viewing is not enough.

As for what we can expect for the future? “Maki-Ohness,” she tells us coyly.

Maki Oh is available at Maryam Nassir Zadeh in New York. For more information, visit the Maki Oh website.

To see more of our 13 Faces of 2013, click here.