Art meets Fashion meets Lifestyle.
That's Stranger Lagos, in 5 words.
Called STRANGER, this store lives up to my expectation of it as an artsy place. I want to say artsy fartsy, but I use that when I’m describing artsy wanna-be’s. This place is not a wanna-be anything. It’s a legit STRANGER in the midst of the Lagos chaos.
Quietly rooted in one of the high-end neighborhoods in Lagos, Lekki Phase I, STRANGER Lagos is a dream. Initially, I drove right past it. That’s the kind of quiet I mean. The “if you know, you know” kind of silence. No sign post or anything of the sort calls attention to it. As I passed one of the landmarks I had used to trace my way there, I knew immediately that I had gone too far. I pulled out my phone and the street number “3” confirmed my fears. I made that rickety U-turn I always make on these Lagos streets, drove to the beginning of the street and asked a security guard who directed me to the right building. I had seen that travel agency sign post and driven right past it. Turns out that STRANGER Lagos is housed in that same building.
Quite shyly, I ring the bell. It feels like going to someone’s house. The generator is on, so I can’t hear the “who’s there?” I expect to hear from a Nigerian household. Only that this is not a residential address so I rest my mind. I see a sign with STRANGER upside down and a line above the “R”. I chuckle in my mind at how one would think that was a mistake done by whoever put up the sign. I pull out my phone and check their Instagram page. Right there in their logo is STRANGER in the exact same way. Case closed.
I walk away a bit, taking in the entire building as I retreat and just as I think to myself that no one is “home”, a lady peeks out of the door and lets me in.
As soon as I walk in, I start taking in the space. I see a bar and a set of tables with people working and… a young, sharp gentleman takes brisk steps towards me. He introduces himself and asks if I’m here for a showing or to hang around. From the part awe, part cluelessness in my eyes, he knows before I say a word. He is intentional. He is a bit short, great build nonetheless and dressed in an oversized short-sleeved shirt with cargo shorts and a hat. I love his entire look and how everything rests so effortlessly on his frame. As he begins to give me an introduction about the space – starting with the bar and the assortment of drinks – I notice that about 3 people have their laptops out in front of them. FREE Wi-Fi, I immediately think. It’s the one thing you can sell Nigerians with. “So this is a mini bar. We serve a variety of drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic as well as coffee”. “Do you drink coffee?” I shake my head. I know he was about to tell me something spectacular about the coffee they serve, but asking that question was key because I won’t appreciate the information. See? I told you he’s intentional.
Next, he walks me over to a little section. It’s a bit dark here but I love the vibe. I'll describe it as "Urbn". Yes, without the "a". It’s laid back, relaxed yet everything seems so exquisite with a very artsy flair. Before seeing the objects and decor that filled that space, I notice clothes by one of my favorite young Nigerian designers, Orange Culture. I complete T's words as he introduces the brand to me. Naturally, I follow this up with a few words on what I do and how I basically stalk these brands on social media. My visit now makes sense.
T (I'll call the sales rep "T") tells me he's happy the Orange Culture brand has managed to erase the fine line between what’s masculine and what’s feminine with their SS15 Collection. I am in total agreement. So many ladies have been spotted in the "men's" clothes since that collection dropped and they're doing it stylishly too. No boundaries.
As he speaks, I briefly recollect and share with him how I took to Bella Naija to leave my first ever comment when short-sighted Nigerians termed the entire collection as "gay" and "not for straight Nigerian men". Have fun finding my comment on that Bella Naija article. :D
I was most pleased to see a bag by Orange Culture and another brand, Oeclat which was used on the runway during one of the many shows the OC brand showcased. Shoes, accessories and other bags straight off the runway made it to a shelf in Stranger.
The rest of this dark room as I call it was very picture-esque, with things ranging from books, to scribble notes, pencils, everything nice and genuinely artsy-inducing. I wanted the Field Notes so bad, but I have too many scribble assistants so I took my eyes off it. Standing in the opposite corner was a tall black shelf with board games. I honestly thought this was more decor so you can imagine the genuine shock in my eyes when T told me they host a board Game Night every Friday evening. I was sad as I had run out of Fridays to spend in Lagos. My departure was in two days. It was Tuesday.
I really like T because he is widely read and is so knowledgeable about everything in the store. You might say "duhh! It's his job" but the way he is giving me a tour of this concept store is more than someone merely executing his job description. I see passion and true knowledge, which adds to my Stranger experience. Imagine talking to someone who has no knowledge or interest whatsoever for what's in the space.
I bought the book next to the one that's opened. It's called Vestoj: On Slowness.
I return to the table to admire some more. T gives me some time. I pick up one of the books. "Vestoj: The Journal of Sartorial Matters" is boldly written at the top with "Issue Five: On Slowness" at the bottom. Very striking. My soul leaps. I try to calm it down but the damage is already done. I just might walk out with this one. But first, I ask T if he knows much about it. He's read it all and tells me the Vestoj journal is an annual publication. If you'd like to pick up one of these books or read the short stories on their website, click.
Next, he takes me to the third section with a single rack of clothes, 3 screens above them (that I suppose have fashion shows rolling during on-season) and a long chair to sit on. From the glass door beside me, I see a beautiful outdoor space that I wish I'd seen earlier to host my meetup. We talk about the clothes.
Some of the designers present on this rack are:
- Kenneth Ize : As soon as T mentions this, I gasp! I had just found Kenneth Ize's page the previous week and was going to feature his work on my Instagram page. Note, his shirts are the 3 on the far left. I've forgotten what brand the blue shirts are from but I loved the feel and thick, expensive texture of the fabric. I like the Kenneth Ize aesthetic that T describes perfectly - raw edges, exposed thread, lots of other details and the fabric was reminiscent of aso-oke, a handmade, opulent Nigerian fabric.
- IAMIsigo : In my head, the designer, Bubu Ogosi is "ma girrrlllll". Her designs are
fayaaaaaaavery accessible yet fashion-forward. With tact, you can certainly pull off her pieces. She's heavy on aesthetics as well as evident on the brand's social media page. On this rack in Stranger, there was a pair of pants and tops from IamIsigo's last collection, plus a necklace that was used on the runway. It feels like I'm dreaming, really. These clothes I'd seen on Instagram are finally right in front of me!
- BlkKangaroo : Their T-shirt designs, especially the chieftaincy beads-inspired shirt had won my heart many months prior to this visit. I had totally forgotten about the shirts, until I saw it hanging so beautifully in Stranger's hanger. I didn't bother asking for the price, as I had exhausted my shopping allowance in the previous store I visited, Elan Red. Overall, I love the designs and the refreshing look of Blk Kangaroo shirts. You'd rarely see me in a printed tee but for their nostalgia-inducing prints, I'd snag these any day! They're really well made too.
- Kelechi Odu : This was my favorite brand in the "I've never heard of you but I like you" category. Here's the catch. Ebola doctors wore something during the outbreak to protect themselves, right? Look at the pictures below.
I sadly cannot remember the last two brands hanging after Kelechi Odu. T had described the clothes from the last designer (last 3 hangers) as minimal, deconstructed, back-to-basic, easy to wear and attention grabbing.
5. Nodrog Street : This bag has my name written all over it. You might need a soothsayer to convince you it was made in Lagos.
Gaddamnnn! There are way too many hidden gems in Nigeria.
I ask if there's plan to add more racks to the floor. T explains it all. I get it. The Stranger experience is not just about the shopping. I envision a very competitive sphere for designer entry into this space, a strong branding tactic for Stranger if you ask me.
At this point, I have to sit down and take it all in, while T and I further discuss Nigerian art (he's an artist) and fashion and the intersection between art, fashion and lifestyle that Stranger exhibited finely. I am cautious not to go to the space outside, lest I slap myself for not finding this space earlier for my meetup. I grab some pictures then make my way back to the middle section where I finally check out that Vestoj book. I've been here for about an hour now but it's no problem. This space is really quiet and so welcoming that I don't mind spending my entire afternoon here. I thank T uncountable times and stop in my tracks as I make way to the door. Realization 1) Lagos is hot. Realization 2) I left home without a water bottle. Realization 3) Stranger has drinks. I walk briskly to the bar and squint at the jars on it. My brain is flipping multiple times as this reminds me of pickled cucumbers. I tell it to relax. "Infused water?" I ask the lady behind the bar. "Nope. It's ice tea with strawberries, kiwi,...". The list goes on and on. There are 3 jars and each has at least 4 different fruits in it. I choose the one with strawberries.
Why am I taking my time to write about this iced tea, you may ask. It's because I have never drank those sad bottled iced tea before, yet from tasting this one, I know immediately that no iced tea can trump this. Go to Lagos. Go to STRANGER Lagos.
Having drank this N1,500 or so drink as I read my new Vestoj book, I am exceedingly happy. "It's time to leave again", I think. Instead, I walk over to say hi to the ladies who were on their laptops when I walked in. "Oh you are Memkoh? You had this...meetup?". Wow! Wait, what? My brain is spinning again. They know...? Ok. This is new. They are pleasant. As I pull out my business cards, one of them says "Ahh me too I have business cards o". My people! You gotta love Nigerians, really. We exchange business cards and although I really don't want to leave Stranger, I bid everyone a final goodbye.
I decide to go straight home, instead of exploring more places. "No experience can trump this", I tell myself. In a final nutshell, here is Stranger Lagos.