A Lagos based fashion brand comes into full swing.
Movement has always been at the heart of designer Paolo Sisiano’s namesake brand. It is because of dance, and through dance that the Sisiano label distinguishes itself amongst the best contemporary brands on the African fashion scene today.
Early formations of the brand came from the necessity of creating costumes as a dance artist where he studied contemporary dance with Lagos-based troupe ‘Spirit of David’.
I wasn’t interested in fashion design until I started designing costumes as a dance artist. Paolo Sisiano
“When I started the brand in 2013, Sisiano wasn’t born out of passion. It was meant to be a business while I still danced,” says Paolo. Now, I don’t know what I would do without my brand. I have fallen so much in love with the process of creating and watching it become even bigger from when I first started.”
Paolo designs dreamy, generously flowing and easily wearable clothes with an ethereal aesthetic. And it all begins with a creative vision that naturally starts with movement. “Dance is a universal language and even when we think it’s not there, it’s right there, he says.” He goes on to say that as a choreographer, the slightest twitch can be redirected and spark inspiration. “From the gushing flow of water to the bellowing of wind through palms to the take-off flight of birds. Or even the serpentine speed of a cobra, life keeps moving making the creative journey endless.”
He further explains that “each collection starts with a sound and that sound is a song that plays on repeat for weeks or months depending on what I am searching for. It becomes the reason as to why the garments should move a certain way and fit a certain time. Following that, I sketch the looks inline with the sound. Every now and then I just pick up fabric and twirl in it, looking for shapes that might be of interest to me. On other days I just dance while looking for the imagery through my own movements.”
It’s clear that Sisiano the brand is an open invitation to Paolo’s world- whimsical, eclectic, sensual, carefree, artsy- all the qualities that has his Mother affectionately nicknaming him ‘fantasy boy’. For the brands customers, an audience that’s certain and comfortable in the fullness of the human they have become, it becomes an immersive experience to the extent that he intends making his own human journey accessible through each piece. In fact, a personal highlight he tells me was “having my own water color paintings printed onto fabric for my last collection and that was extra special!”
The fluidity of the garments whether layered or not, almost always exude a draped effect giving the collections a contemporary casual-chic feel. The sometimes printed and always colourful co-ords in both mens and women’s wear strike a particular chord in the difficult times we face-in a state of lockdowns and restrictions due to Covid-19.
Sisiano serves as a potent reminder that freedom and movement is an essential part of our well being, of living to the fullest. And his ability to effortlessly blend the ease and wearability of everyday essentials with the taste and culture of Nigeria is what sets him apart.
The brand stylishly and boldly blends the ease and wearability of everyday essentials with the taste and culture of Nigeria.
Evidently the continent is a treasure chest of inspiration for designers and creatives alike but it’s no mean feat to build a brand and produce a collection on it. “It’s tough business being a designer in Lagos,” says Paolo, “but I have learnt, like a lot of the other talented designers here, to find my way!” And to contextualise the challenges faced by many creatives he goes on to say, ‘We don’t have a structure that supports the creative process of young designers so it takes longer to actualize the commercial aspect, as in the start point of actual sales. There’s a struggle with production as we are still building but eventually you have your own small production space and you stay in a bubble because you’ve had to struggle, mainly by yourself.”
As a result for the most part the fashion value chain in this part of the world is inherently sustainable. There is no overproduction, every resource is used to the barest minimum and there’s a necessity to finding interesting ways to make old new again. Sustainability is not a new phenomena, and is in no way a new term or new process for most independent African fashion designer businesses working and living on the continent.
Despite the challenges the self-taught designer is keen to make his brand more accessible to the rest of the world.
Now he’s taking this quest further by foregoing fashion week this season to launch his brand’s new e-commerce site. The site will feature many treasures from past collections and links to buy the latest collections and exclusive collector items.
Follow for updates: @sisiano
and catch Sisiano’s latest feature on CNN
Photography credit: First image by Manny Jefferson for British Vogue