If designer Maki Osakwe based Maki Oh in New York City or in London, she'd be one of the most buzzed-about young designers around. Her point of view is unique and compelling. The clothes she designs are beautifully tailored, feminine, and elegant yet idiosyncratically modern. She knows how to make unexpected juxtapositions convincing. Her designs have been worn by the likes of Solange Knowles and Leelee Sobieski, which is truly remarkable given that she's actually based in Lagos, Nigeria. There will probably come a day when Lagos, teeming metropolis that it is, displaces London or New York as a fashion capital for emerging designers. Today, however, Lagos is a place where Internet outages are a daily occurrence. That Osakwe is getting noticed at all is a testament to her extraordinary talent and equivalent potential.
Part of what makes Osakwe so interesting is the way her designs are informed by Africa. One signature of her brand is that it's dyed by hand using a traditional process called adire. Another is her way of combining Western silhouettes and native materials and motifs—to wit, a lace-blouse-and-pencil-skirt set appliquéd with unsettling raffia eyeballs. Perhaps most significantly, though, Osakwe brings an African sense of clothes-as-storytelling to her collections: This season, for instance, her starting point was a story she made up about secrets. The eyes on Osakwe's clothes are meant to be unsettling: They're watching you. And it's no accident that the face cut into the fringe on Osakwe's terrific slipdress looks pissed off; that's the girl whose secret's been betrayed. Elsewhere, Osakwe picked up a traditional Nigerian print of spiraled squares, which was an allusion to the compounds where people live in rural Nigeria. These are places, she explained when she presented her collection by appointment, where it's impossible to keep secrets.
And so on. You can either take an interest in Osakwe's stories or you can consign them to the same "interesting…but whatever" mental pile where you put information like the fact that Osakwe was also inspired by Cy Twombly this season, and Pina Bausch. Though the African-ness of Osakwe's clothes are a non-incidental part of their appeal, they're as much a mash-up of references and obsessions as that of any designer. The thing to put in your mental "must-know" pile is that Maki Osakwe deserves to be a star.