“People don’t come here for basics, but for glamour,” says Reni Folawiyo, founder of Nigerian concept store Alara. Set in the burgeoning Victoria Island district of Lagos, the space is a design lovers’ dream: a multi-level theatrical building by Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye that hosts an eclectic mix of fashion, art, furnishings and decorative objects – some sourced in Europe, but many more from other parts of Africa, including the mountains of Morocco.
Alara – or “wondrous performer” in Yoruba – was chosen by Folawiyo “because there are so many performance elements to the space,” she says of the store’s calendar of fashion shows, art exhibits and pop-ups – plus the bustle of Nok, the restaurant tucked behind the main building. It is helmed by experimental Senegalese chef Pierre Thiam, who takes classics of African cooking to new epicurean heights.
It was a casual conversation with fashion designer Duro Olowu that led to the selection of Adjaye for this bold project to celebrate pan-African craft. “He’s African and shared my vision of discovery and wonder immediately. This was an emotional endeavour for everyone involved, as we all want our country to do well,” says Folawiyo. The result of their collaboration is a dramatic three-storey glass and metal-clad structure that’s inspired by both traditional Yoruban adire textile patterns and the saturated red colours of the Nigerian soil.
Behind the striking façade, items are displayed exhibition style; the first floor is dedicated to women’s clothing labels such as YSL, Dries Van Noten and Duro Olowu, though it is the kaleidoscopic dresses ($1,000) by Nigerian talent Amaka Osakwe that embody the Alara ethos. “Her collections [for Maki Oh] tell stories in interesting and contemporary ways and are very grounded in her culture,” Folawiyo says of Osakwe’s locally dyed silk and adire creations. Colourful accessories include beaded cuffs ($77) by South African Gillian Fuller, and iridescent earrings ($300) from Danish jeweller Monies.
A robust menswear offering “is focused on creative, informal weekend wear that is suited to the tropics,” says Folawiyo, citing jackets ($400) by Post-Imperial and cool kaftans ($300) by local designer Kenneth Ize. Customised Cartier and Rolex watches (from $33,000) by MAD Paris, rhodium and rose-gold Tateossian cufflinks (from $300) and grooming staples including Men’s Society beard oil and brushes ($100 per set) stand out on display against Adjaye’s wenge-wood finishes.
But what makes this shopping experience so special is the continually changing finds from Folawiyo’s colourful buying trips. On any given day, embroidered Tuareg trunks from Mali might sit beside sculptures from Senegal and Burkina Faso, furniture discovered at Milan’s Salone del Mobile, north African Berber carpets ($2,000) and origami-inspired Lumio lights ($300).
But the beating heart of the store lies in those pieces created by local talents. “We encourage young African designers to pull from their rich history and culture,” says Folawiyo. “Most of all, we just hope kids will come in and see the limitless design possibilities…”