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Nigeria Fashion Week puts African designers in the spotlight

A model displays clothes from the Jini collection at The Arise Magazine Fashion Week at Victoria Island in Lagos late on March 8, 2012.
A model displays clothes from the Jini collection at The Arise Magazine Fashion Week at Victoria Island in Lagos late on March 8, 2012.

(CBS/AP) Africa-influenced fashion, from Yves St. Laurent's 1960s collections to Proenza Schouler and Derek Lam's Spring 2012 shows, have been featured in designs for decades. Now, however, more and more African fashion designers are using both their heritage and international trends to gain attention on the world stage.

ARISE Magazine Fashion Week in Lagos, now in its second year, highlighted the work of mostly African or Africa-influenced designers. The 77 designers offered a range of outfits blending traditional fabrics with international aesthetics.

Pictures: Fashion Week in Nigeria

"We are demonstrating that Africans can contribute and be the best and be world class," said media mogul Nduka Obaigbena, who publishes ThisDay newspaper and ARISE Magazine and partially bankrolled the event.

But the struggles affecting both the poor and the rich wrought havoc on an event meant to run six days. The first two days were canceled as electricity problems are rampant in a city where most depend on generators for power. 

But the show finally began and drew a crowd that embraces African fashion not as a sideshow, but as a main component of international design.

Folake Folarin-Coker, the creative director of Tiffany Amber, has been making dresses for Nigeria's rich and famous for 13 years. Last year, she was invited to her first London Fashion Week, after showcasing collections in Paris and New York.

A Paris exhibition on Alix Gres, a peer of Chanel and Lanvin, was the starting point of London-based Nigerian designer Tsemaye Binitie's research. Binitie is a young designer who has worked for famed British designer Stella McCartney. He sells his designs in London, New York and Lagos.

New York-based designer Loza Maleombho debuted a collection that draws from the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara Desert and Afghan traditional wear.

Ozwald Boateng, a British couturier born to Ghanaian parents, was the main attraction for those attending the event. Boateng, the first black tailor to move to London's prestigious Savile Row area back in 1995, said he makes clothes for the man who wants his clothes to communicate who he is.

Like Boateng, South Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek, received rousing applause when she appeared on the catwalk, each time responding with a smile.

"I was very impressed designer after designer; the diversity and the shapes, the fabrics, the music and the energy," said Wek, who's now in her mid-thirties. "It's beautiful to be a part of that."

African models are eager to participate on the international playing field. Many of the Nigerian models who walked on the runway have day jobs to sustain themselves, with the local fashion industry still in its infancy.

Obaigbena announced at the show's finale Sunday that interest had been building up in Cape Town, South Africa, and Nairobi, Kenya, to host the next Africa-focused fashion week.