African Lace: A History of Trade, Creativity and Fashion in Nigeria

by Barbara Planensteiner & Nath Mayo Adediran


Brightly coloured industrially embroidered textiles characterize Nigerian formal attire since the 1960s. The embroidered fabrics are a transnational creation resulting from nearly fifty years of Austro-Nigerian business relations and the concomitant cultural interaction. Known in Nigeria as Swiss, Austrian, or African Lace, the embroideries are produced today in Austria, Switzerland, Korea, China, and as well in Nigeria. African Lace reconstructs the production and trade history of the industrial embroideries and explores their cultural and social significance in Nigeria. The catalogue also gives an overview over the development of clothing traditions in southwest Nigeria, a style chronology of Nigerian lace fashion since the seventies and offers insight into the lively society life and vibrant fashion scene in Lagos. The story also touches sociopolitical issues related to the postcolonial history of Nigeria. The attire fashioned out of the expensive imported embroideries was an expression of the prosperity during the oil boom. Criticism on their popularity since the 1970s became an outlet for the reconsideration of national cultural values that were expected to manifest themselves also in fabrics and dress styles. In spite of the ambivalent attitude in regard to the imported luxury fabrics, they remained extremely popular and the clothes fashioned out of them are meanwhile considered as “traditional dress,” worn particularly on festive occasions such as naming ceremonies, weddings or funerals. At public appearances of politicians or other persons of prominence at home and abroad the embroidery textiles are omnipresent and define the image of Nigerians worldwide.

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