Finding Harmony in Contrast

For Fall/Winter 2024, the eclectic Nigerian-British fashion house Tokyo James finds its tribe within an Italian context while forging new style cues that fuse art and fashion from Africa and the world

By Petra Mason

Beneath a cascading universe of 17th-century Italian frescoes and gilded Rococo and set in a Milanese Palazzo, the fashion designer Tokyo James and Nigerian visual artist Yusuff Aina joined forces recently for Milan Fashion Week. 

Aina’s large-scale minimalist installation titled ‘Eniyan: Domain Expansion’ offers a stark and contemporary contrast to the maximalist interior as well as serving as the centrepiece around which the London-born Nigerian fashion designer Iniye Tokyo James created his latest his and hers, they and them Fall/Winter 2024 Collection. 

Gestures of collaboration such as this, during a time when the world is seemingly falling apart, are nothing short of a poultice for the soul. “Finding ways that celebrate individuality — the things that unite and join us rather [than] divide us,” James said of his alliance with 27-year-old Lagos-based artist Yusuff Aina to CNN Style. Under the watchful eye and curatorship of the Nigerian Retro Africa powerhouse founder Dolly Kola-Balogun, the genre-defying ‘Domain Expansion’ partnership is inspired by the many worlds that create the hybrid that is the Tokyo James label, a fashion house not unfamiliar to South African fashionistas.

Leading up to the Milan event, James, along with a team of tailors in Lagos worked around the clock on collection samples offering strong silhouettes, bold prints, layered textures, and chunky accessory details even more pronounced this year as the designer plays with Franken-style: part one thing, part another, stitched and unstitched together to make a hybrid piece. With frequent use of weaving and hand embroidery, zippers, pearls and big beads, James has made it his mission to incorporate African skills and techniques into his work in ways that innovate on tradition. 

Making a statement, this year’s ‘Domain Expansion,’ and its accompanying creative and inclusive dialogue steers away from reductive narratives. James cites his real-life heroes as his “Mother, siblings and friends”, his motto in life as “equity over equality” his greatest extravagance as “gadgets, perfumes and a personal trainer”, and his favourite personal accessory chunky silver rings. The global nomad hopes to move to New York or Atlanta and considers Nigeria’s own Burna Boy as a pan-African style icon. 

Upbeat and charming James accentuates the positive and sticks to business saying of creative collaborator Aina: ‘His work has a whimsical vibe to it, it is fun, but at the same time serious.’ “It’s not playing on the stereotypical nuances that are peddled out there that make people expect an African mask or (traditional) art forms. His work could be at the Metropolitan (Museum) or Art Basel.”

Asked about his interpretation of luxury James said: “Luxury exists between the intersections and commonalities of different worlds. We care about the attention to detail within garment construction and the people who make these items. For us luxury is caring about the environment and doing our part to safeguard it for future generations.”

For James, the burning issue fashion should be focusing on right now is “creating a system that benefits all and not just the few, our industry is so exploitative and this needs to be addressed so all can participate with integrity and dignity.” Retro Africa’s Dolly Kola-Balogun states: “Through this artistic expression, Aina and James aim to convey a message of strength, balance, and oneness. It’s a call to align with ourselves and with nature, to find equilibrium in a world that often feels unbalanced. This is the essence of ‘Domain Expansion’ – a testament to our collective ability to grow, adapt and transform, transcending from a state of strife to a state of harmony and understanding.” 


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