Nigerian fashion pioneer Folashade ‘Shade’ will be celebrated at ‘Africa Fashion’ exhibition Cape Town.
Folashade “Shade” Thomas-Fahm in the 1970s. Credit: Shade Thomas-Fahm/Courtesy of The Victoria and Albert Museum
After studying fashion in London, Shade Thomas-Fahm returned to Nigeria and opened a factory and boutique under the name Maison Shade (later Shade’s Boutique), which became a go-to place for those in search of contemporary fashions. In the 1960s she became known for using traditional Nigerian textiles. Her foray into the fashion world took place in tandem with independence movements across the continent.
“In the 50s and 60s there was a kind of confusion about our identity,” she said. “Everything Western was being praised and nobody seemed to care about our own indigenously produced materials. I just never felt that way.” Steering the V&A exhibition is the museum’s curator of African and African Diaspora Fashion, Christine Checinska. For the past year she’s been speaking to icons of the industry, including Thomas-Fahm. Checinska said Thomas-Fahm’s re-evaluation of indigenous textiles and silhouettes chimed with the coming of independence for many African nations and women, symbolizing an affirmation of African identities.
“That moment of independence and liberation constituted this moment of pride in being African, pride in being Black,” said Checinska. “There was a real galvanization of creativity around the arts, but in particular within fashion. You had wonderful designers like Shade Thomas-Fahm bubbling up during those years,” she added. “We want to give a platform for iconic designers like Shade Thomas-Fahm. It is important to play a part in ensuring that her contribution to global fashion history is recognized.” Checinska also notes the importance of celebrating the diversity of fashions across the continent. She said that all too often, representations of Africa focus on what’s lacking. “We want our starting point to be about abundance and diversity.”
Nigerian fashion pioneer Folashade ‘Shade’ Thomas-Fahm will be celebrated at ‘Africa Fashion’ exhibition. Folashade “Shade” Thomas-Fahm is a hugely important figure in Nigerian fashion. She is one of the designers who will be celebrated at the “Africa Fashion” exhibition at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) next year. She is pictured at the 1957 London Earls Court Motorboat show.Courtesy Shade Thomas-Fahm She’s been called one of Africa’s most important designers, and a pioneering figure in Nigerian fashion. Now, Folashade “Shade” Thomas-Fahm is among the names being celebrated by London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. Set to open next year, its Africa Fashion exhibition will commemorate past and contemporary African designers including Mali’s Chris Seydou and Ghana’s Kofi Ansah. Often described as the country’s first modern designer, Thomas-Fahm is a former president of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria and received a lifetime achievement award at Arise Magazine’s Fashion Week in Lagos in 2011. But an illustrious career in fashion wasn’t on the cards when she first moved from Lagos to London in 1953. Initially planning to train as a nurse, she recalls changing her mind after seeing shop window displays as she walked around the city. “I knew there and then that fashion was my calling,” she said.