Fashion

Ashley Okoli Defines Lagos’s Coolest Subculture

Nigeria’s creative scene burst onto the global stage in 2016, when Drake’s song “One Dance,” featuring British singer Kyla and Nigerian afrobeats artist Wizkid was eventually named the “song of summer” by Billboard. Since then, the community has thrived: Burna Boy has won a Grammy, Wizkid has received multiple global nominations, and Tiwa Savage has worked with Beyoncé, Brandy and more. Even artists relatively new to the scene receive global success, like C-Kay, whose song “Love Nwantiti” currently has over 15 billion views on YouTube. However, Afrobeats is only one facet of Nigeria’s creative world. A small but influential indie scene in Lagos, dubbed “alté” for “alternative,” has continued to redefine what Nigerian creativity can look like. The face of it? 23-year-old stylist and creative director Ashley Okoli.

Okoli wears Mazelle Studio. Photo: Tosan Ukuemoluwa

The moniker alté can be credited to the music group DRB LasGidi, who first used it to describe their sound and style in a song in 2014. The early days of the subculture were marked by artists like Santi, Odunsi (The Engine), BOJ, and Lady Donli—all young people who were not afraid to sound different and look different. While alté started out first as a sound, it quickly evolved to also have a look. The alté fashion took inspiration from the grunge movement, mixed it with gothic elements, and wrapped it in Y2K fashion. The style stars of the moment recreated looks from ’90s Nigerian movies with a modern spin. But to dress alté wasn’t formulaic. It was intuitive, and Okoli has that intuition. Not only has Okoli directed music videos like “Raw Dinner” by Cruel Santino, “Comfortable” by Nonso Amadi, “Corner” by Lady Donli and styled covers for magazines like Native, but she has also become one of the most well-known alté figures.

“I grew up in Ojo, Lagos, for the most part,” Okoli tells Vogue. “It was not exactly the best neighborhood, and I grew up with little to no knowledge of what existed beyond my average lifestyle and upbringing.” From a young age, she enjoyed fashion and thrift shopping with her mother. “We would pick anything we felt we could turn into a full look, and we would often successfully do so. In my early teens, we finally got cable. I would watch a lot of MTV and STYLE TV and was fascinated by fashion.”

Also Read: Cities Like Lagos Need Global Designs, Adapted for Africa.

Okoli began sharing her outfits of the day on Instagram in 2016. She quickly garnered a following for her grungy, gothic style, which stood out against the more conservative fashion dominant in Nigeria. “My sense of style is almost impossible to pin down,” she says. “I’m a risk-taker when it comes to clothes, I could literally rock anything and look good, so my personal style really depends on my mood as well as the season.”

Okoli wears Lisa Folawiyo. Photo: Abdullahi Ali

By 2017, she launched her unisex clothing brand Sillet, which sells sexy, Y2K-inflected tanks and velvet thongs—for people who want a piece of Okoli’s style. The alté movement—in particular its fashion—was becoming popular and other young Nigerians began recreating Okoli’s look, as well as the style of people like Odunsi (The Engine), Deto Black, Lady Donli and more. Around the same time, artists started approaching Okoli, asking her to style them.

“I got a lot of enquiries about styling,” she says. “I have always loved styling and putting clothes together, mostly because of my mum and my upbringing. My mum would always put together outfits for my sister and I whenever we would go out, and I fell in love with it. So when I had the opportunity to do it professionally, I took it.” Some of her earliest work was on styling the music video for ‘Sparky’ by singer Cruel Santino, and since then she’s styled British rapper Little Simz, Nigerian musician Obongjayar, Nigerian-Beninese singer Ayra Starr, and more. But that doesn’t mean she stays behind the camera: she’s walked the runways for fashion lines like Elfreda Dali at Lagos Fashion Week, been in music videos like Burna Boy’s Monsters You Made, and works with brands like Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff. All this success comes down to her rebellious approach to fashion and style.

Okoli wears Reeyah Swim. Photo: Mako Demola

When she’s on the runway or in front of a camera, Okoli can rock anything from bright neon bodysuits and spiky hair, to all black wedding dresses with bright blue hair. Off-duty, her style tends to include chunky boots, crop tops, sweatpants or mini skirts. Never one to shy away from a risk, Okoli’s makeup and hair are as hard to pin as her style. She’s rocked a mullet, a two-toned red and black pixie cut, bone-straight weaves, and braids of any length and color combination you can think of. There are very few styles Okoli won’t try; she just refuses to be boring.

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