Sweet Lolita, Lolita Sweet

Manuel Bolano’s Spring/Summer 2014 collection took the kawaii (cute) subculture of Japanese youth and gave it a thoroughly grown-up edge. Limiting the palette of pastels to shades of mint and baby blue, and combining it with tuscan beige, Bolano presented a collection in which each outfit was a sum of its many parts: stuffed-animal-as-accessory, mint polka dot socks, tapering coat, necktie of lock of blonde hair, bear-ears hat, and in instances bordering on geek, over-sized backpack and geek-cool glasses.

BolanoSS2014_1 BolanoSS2014_2 BolanoSS2014_3 BolanoSS2014_4

The tailoring was immaculate. Also interesting was Bolano’s allusion to rock climbing, with mountaineering-strength rope and hooks forming belts and backpack drawstrings.

Manuel has given the world another masterpiece with his Spring/Summer 2014 collection, and we would do well to sit up and listen.


Futuristic Amish at Manuel Bolano Autumn/Winter 2013-14

It’s hard to imagine the Amish of the future without being tempted to throw in a device centered around a motherboard. Wanna try? Close your eyes, give it a shot, reopen eyes when exhausted.

Enter Manuel Bolano, young Barcelona born/Galicia raised fashion visionary with the vocabulary to ideate an Amish future beyond iPads and broadband (how about some zippers, blue lipstick and golden russet hats?)

For his Autumn/Winter 2013-14 collection, Bolano sent his models down the 080 runway dressed in Yayoi Kusama spots, their endearingly-tattooed faces maintaining the fixated glare of a people caught between the necessity of eventual progress and a battle with the ills it introduces. Forget homogeneity – many of his models were unmistakably Asian, Scandinavian… as if to imagine a future of Amish cross-breeding.


Textile-wise, simplistic cotton and knits remained prevalent but Bolano also imagined the occasional fashion-embracing Amish, unafraid to welcome a bit of vanity with sequined black tops from Philly, a bit of sheer, lots of shine.


Barely five years fresh from launching his own line after his studies at Felicidad Duce fashion school, he has become in artistic vision, elaborateness of execution and historical story-retelling, something of a John Galliano. From their Mayan-like facial tattoos to their herringbone braids, the narrative was woven not just into the clothes in the collection, but also into the styling and carriage of the models, making them actors of sorts.


Speaking of actors, how long is it before AMC or HBO draws on the Amish community for inspiration for their next prime-time TV offering? I can see it already, thanks to Manuel’s styling and a bit of Photoshop adeptness on my part:


Fashion needs more Maunel Bolano – part of a new guard unafraid to draw inspiration then run with it into uncharted, unexpected and unforgettable waters.

And hey, what do you think about the idea for that show?


*Lob Lied is an Amish song usually sung in church congregations.

Africa as a consumer and producer of global luxury: A take on the 2012 IHT Luxury Conference

On November 15 and 16, some of luxury fashion’s big names from ManoloBlahnik to Donatella Versace converged in one luxurious conference room in Rome to discuss the future of luxury. The conference was organized and moderated by Suzy Menkes, IHT Fashion Editor, and this year the theme was “The Promise of Africa; The Power of the Mediterranean.”

Suzy Menkes discusses luxury with African fashion pioneers Omoyemi Akerele and Duro Olowu at the 2012 IHT Luxury Conference in Rome. Photo: IHT Luxury Conference web site

Some of fashion’s most influential thinkers, doers and writers, the future of luxury lies in Africa. The take of each of said influentials on why, when and how this would come to pass made for lively two-day listening. According to Vivienne Westwood, who has been working with Simone Cipriani (Head of the Poor Communities and Trade Program of the Ethical Fashion Initiative) on various fashion initiatives in Africa, sustainability, not middle-class consumerism and how to promote it among the nouveau riche of the continent, should be the top of everyone’s agenda. More on that later.

Designers and creative directors Manolo Blahnik, Duro Olowu, Kim Jones (head of Louis Vuitton menswear), Renzo Rosso (founder, Diesel) and Jean-Paul Gaultier all emphasized how growing up in or spending some time in Africa shaped their aesthetic, with Kim Jones highlighting the Masai-inspired plaids that formed part of the LV Mens Spring 2012 collection and Jean-Paul Gaultier lauding Africa as a source of beauty, including his uncommonly beautiful muse of many years Farida Khalefa, who also attended the conference as an ambassador of the soon-to-be-relaunched Maison Schiaparelli.

Much of the new interest in Africa comes from the rise of a middle class with a natural desire to trade up premium and mass-market goods and services for luxury ones. Projections of an average GDP growth of 7% for several African countries, coupled with the maturity of European (and increasingly, Asian) markets are leading to the search for a new frontier for luxury consumption. However, while most conference delegates seemed interested in Africa as an expansion of the market reach of their brands, the conference was simultaneously marked by an interest in Africa as a source of craftsmanship, of which the continent has a strong heritage.

The thought of craftsmanship evokes an image of hands as opposed to machines making an object. It is an image that, in a post-industrial era, ties one back to the key topic of the conference: luxury. What is luxury? Several of the speakers gave their definitions. According to Jochen Zeitz, Director of PPR, luxury is not just about price but about aspiration, the unique/bespoke, and quality beyond utility. Donatella Versace qualified luxury as exhibiting skills in craftsmanship, Suzy Menkes emphasized the prerequisite of luxury being ‘touched by human hands’, while Lauren Bush Lauren of the FEED initiative defined a humble luxury that is about creating cherished experiences.

So would it be safe to say that Africa would be the new frontier for what I would call ‘slow manufacturing’, with the twist of creating luxury items, not mass-consumption goods, and equipped with hand tools not heavy industrial machinery?

One of the most striking statements at the conference was made by Vivienne Westwood, who expressed how, after working with artisans in Nairobi to create several shopper bags, she wished they had just given the artisans money to do nothing at all. Because “there’s all this hype that you need to produce all this useless stuff so that a country’s economy can grow.”

How many more bags do we need? Produced under ethical work conditions, or in a sweatshop; by hand or machine; lined with sackcloth or gold threads…is the fabrication of goods really the way to integrate Africa into the world of luxury production? Many of the speakers, and many well-meaning people who engage in projects to help Africans create stuff seem to think so. However, the burning question of sustainability (as Jochen Zeitz put it, what good is wealth if we lose the world to achieve it?) makes the answer to that question less of a resounding yes and more of a tentative maybe. Because sustainability is not only about improving the quality of human life especially in marginalized societies, but also about a responsible management of our limited natural resources, something at odds with the philosophy of employing more hands for the unfettered creation of objects.

Being a bag maker myself, it is quite possible that the conference left me more confused about my role in the world of fashion than I was at the beginning. However, a few things were clear:

– Better to engage the hands on something useful and beautiful than to leave people idle and free to get into trouble.

– Vivienne Westwood and Jochen Zeitz, with their focus on creating a sustainable luxury (according to Zeitz, one that is about creating quality and developing and passing crafts to our future generations, while considering impact on the environment) led the way on how designers need to be thinking and training their consumers to think in the 21st century.

– Africa’s integration into the globalized European and American economies may well happen through fashion, and there seem to be several key figures working behind the scenes to make that happen.

– In ‘integrating’, Africa needs to preserve and develop its indigenous crafting techniques. Good intentions at conferences are one thing, but the pressure-for-profit from investors and sales divisions gradually erodes time-intensive techniques that lead to more culturally-authentic products, in favour of mechanized processes that can churn out more goods and bring in more money. Companies like Prada have fallen in this trap.

– I see a Zara model of responding flexibly to demand (see: Kanban), not creating, storing in a warehouse, and hoping people would buy it all, increasingly as a way to balance the need to create African fashion jobs with the responsibility to create less waste.

– Africa is a sexy place, according to Bono, who also attended the conference and talked about the fashion line he co-founded in 2005.

What next?
If you are a designer interested in learning ways to weave sustainability into your creation process, the British Fashion Council has a document titled “The Sustainable Thread of a Product Lifecycle” that can be downloaded for free.

I hope you would take some time to read the article, share it, and share your thoughts. A conference like this is a paving stone for future actions that affect our economies, lifestyles, and the dynamic of the cities we live in (it would be telling to see which of the designers at the conference follow through with their pledges to open stores or initiate collaborations in Africa).


Not projects in Africa but products from Africa

I’ve been watching the talks at the IHT Luxury conference, and taking lots of notes. One of the most compelling talks was by Andrew Hunt, co-founder of Aduna, a line of premium African beauty products based on the fruit from the Baobab tree. Product marketing aside, his message was intelligent and succinct: the dialogue about Africa needs to be elevated from aid and fairtrade to commerce of products and services bought for their value (utilitarian, aesthetic…), not out of pity. I am with him. Here is a visual summary of his slides.

Love African products for what they are. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. Like Minku (see our selection of bags here).

my first repettos

My first Repettos were a very deliberate purchase from Hu’s Shoes on M Street in Georgetown, Washington DC. It was around 2007, at the peak of my salsa dancing, and I had been filling up a closet with high-heeled, open-toed, synthetic-soled shoes that looked like what the dance instructors wore, but with the added characteristic of  delivering targeted pain to my phalanges, or for another pair, my heels, and for yet another, my arch, and ankles.

I needed to dance.

Without pain.

For hours.

Four hours, if I wanted.

I don’t remember if I went into the store that day thinking I would find appropriate dance shoes. But I walked in, spotted them in all their sparkling beauty, and measured them against what I’d come to learn — the hard way — were the characteristics of a good dancing shoe.

Leather sole (forget that suede sole) for smooth low-friction movement across the dancefloor, which for salsa should be wooden, always wooden, smooth, and slightly varnished. Check.

A strap to hold the foot securely in place below the ankle. Check.

Proper heel support, not in the form of a strap across the back of the heel of the foot, but a solid chunk of leather holding the heel in place during even the most rigorous of spins. Check.

A low-to-medium heel with a CG well-positioned in the middle of the heel, not too far backwards or forward. Check.

A soft, comfortable bed for the feet. Check.

(Ahem, sparkles. Check.)

The shoes fit like gloves. Whole Foods (Whole Paycheck to my friends who were familiar with its organically priced offerings, and heck I called it that too :-)) would have to wait, as I had salsa needs of the non-food variety to attend to.  I could hardly contain my excitement. If I didn’t have a strong and sensible rule of only wearing my dance shoes on the dance floor, I might have worn those darlings home from the store.

Five years and over a hundred salsa nights later, I don’t dance as much as I used to. But my trusty shoes still lie sturdy in their case, awaiting the days – like last September in Lagos – when a chance to spin, sashay, shuffle, and Suzy-q around a dancefloor presents itself.

Today, walking down rue de Rambuteau and spotting a Repetto store at the end (pictured), I smiled my gratefulness to those shoes that spared my feet so I could savor to the painless fullest, that most aerodynamic of human movements.

Minku at Changing Room

On December 17, 2011, Minku got the chance to join 24 other Spanish and international fashion brands in a unique showcase in the heart of Barcelona Spain.

The event was Changing Room, a biannual pop-up store of sorts sponsored this year by Moritz, Bugaboo Strollers, Hotel Chic & Basic, Illy Coffee, GG, and the city of Barcelona. Hand-finished leather goods from Minku were on show in room 21, with handbags, men’s luggage, wallets, and cases for iPad, Kindle and smart phone that combined soft leathers with exciting Nigerian fabrics.

The Minku room was lit and airy. From the hallway, visitors were drawn in by attractive bags hanging from the wall of curtains.  Entering the room, they could get an immediate feel for what Minku is about, and the materials used.

Very many people came to the event. The advertising for it, from magazine interviews to fancy posters hanging from lampposts, was nicely done. The collection was enthusiastically received, marking a nice end to a busy year at Minku.

Here are some pictures of people who came to the Minku room.

Changing Room was immense fun for us at Minku. We met lots of people, the brand was well received, and it was a lovely chance to see what other designers, both international (from the UK, Norway, Sweden, France) and from other parts of Spain are up to. Thank you to everyone who came!

xoxo, Minku

The Shopping Night Barcelona 2011: Review + pictures

So, shopping night is over, I got home about five hours ago. It was cool for the experience, and reminded me of what I imagine Black Friday to be like, from watching too much Bloomberg TV: companies trying to get in the black before the year ends, and thus employing techniques that encourage spending.

Watching too much Bloomberg can make you into a local Scrooge but that’s not what the holidays are about, so I headed into the unknown (for the night at least): Passeig de Gracia. First thing I noticed was that we (finally!) had our city holiday lights lit:

It was nice to see how some stores pulled all the stops, like Custo Barcelona with their pop-up store, Mango with the live classical band,  and Stradivarius with all that awesomeness that I didn’t quite stop to experience, but that was nonetheless going on in front of their store.

Aww men, I spent the better part of an hour queuing up in front of Hotel Mandarin Oriental, to taste renowned chef Carme Ruscalleda’s brou (a type of soup). Alas when we finally got in, the guide merely took us on a marketing spree, here’s our awesome spa, there’s the bar, here’s our huge lobby. But what about my… soup? :-) I think it would have been nice if they told the people queuing that the 120 litres of soup they were hoping to get a bowl of were gone. At least we would have been able to decide whether to continue queuing there or to go and see if the Swarovski store still had Harper’s Bazaar Espana magazines left. Which was what I did after. But by this time even the once-generous cotton-candy servings in Oysho were beginning to wear thin. Argh you Hotel Mandarin peeps.

I went into the Tiffany & Co. store for the first time and they gave me some thick marketing materials in the pretty Tiffany blue. I felt sad to let go of them after, but despite my good intentions, I seem to not be into their jewelry.

I think the night’s winners were 1. The stores that even participated in the Shopping Night at all. 2. The stores that had more to offer than point-blank marketing. 3. The stores that, regardless of their price range, went all-out, like Stradivarius. They are very high-street, but if you had seen the red-carpet showcase in front of their store, you would have thought it was a Zegna store opening. Zegna, alas, was closed for the night. 4. The fancier stores that participated, like Hoss Intropia. 5. The stores that offered deals. Like Custo with that genius pop-up outlet store. The place was packed.

There were peaceful protesters in (scary) all-white outfits and masks. They were protesting consumerism. I was happy we got to see both sides of the coin. But I sincerely think darn, it’s the middle of a (post)-recession-austerity-measures-haircut-no-more-funding-for-this-and-that period for Spain (and many other countries) and I would personally not like it if everyone stayed indoors in protest, during such a colourful event. Tonight was a testimony to people’s resilience, which I hope would not be tested much more than it has been. Besides 4 above, I didn’t see buying as much as I saw queuing up for freebies. Even then, many of us have family members and friends whose bread-and-butter comes from commerce. It’s how currency circulates, from rich to poor, from middle class to other middle class, etc. Use your purchasing power to determine how you want the currency you are responsible for to be redistributed. But don’t hoard it, and don’t push your choices on others, some of whom are just ready for that new winter coat (finally), that new laptop bag, that new shirt. Or who just want to go out on a night when shops are open till midnight, and have a good time with friends.

Here are some more pictures. If you went, let me know your experience, and which activities you enjoyed. Please also check out our full web site, where it’s all about fashion and bags! :-)