“The prophets in the beginning were musicians. They were poets, writers. That’s what we’ve been tasked within this life. We’re the whistles. The wind goes through us, we make noise.”
– Jay-Z 4:44 Album
When I first heard this lyric off Jay-Z’s latest album it stopped me dead in my tracks. I had a moment, it transcended my thoughts, I was overwhelmingly happy to be a fellow creative of the multiverse. I finally understood why the creative part of my brain always bleeds through whatever I do, see, touch, and hear. For some reason that line, that space in time, and those words stuck to my bones, my skin, and in my mind. For the multifaceted artist juggling to balance the duality in their creative psyche most days, these few words solidified our organic beings.
At ART LIVING, we undress each visionaries’ creative process because there is so much power in the unveiling of that storytelling and its sacred process. Historically as Black folk we have for centuries learned to conquer life’s unpredictable experiences through the lessons in storytelling, oral histories. Going back to that sacred space in a new authentic visual way is why we exist. The empowerment manifests in the reveal of the story when shared amongst the community. Our latest “Behind the Brand” welcomes the story of a well-traveled young African woman whose roots began in the capital city of Cameroon, Yaoundé. Though her roots are laid in Africa, her frequent childhoods travels from Italy to Maryland have exposed her cultural senses into a melting pot of bold traditionalism and edgy modernity as a designer. In the age of fast fashion and tattered luxury designer, Nyorh Agwe creates sumptuous fashion carrying a special cultural and historical declaration to her roots. No, Nyorh is not a poet or writer although if you follow her social media posts you will see she has a way with words that reflect a wise maturity way beyond her years. I like to think of Agwe as a conductor/sculptor of wearable art as her garments lend themselves way beyond the normal top, pant, or overcoat. You almost feel guilty for just calling her garments “clothes” because they transcend so much more than fabric that covers the body. The designs that ornate her clothes allude to her many childhood travels yet they eclipse the old traditional practices of Cameroon with the present-day modernization of edginess that will cause you to pause, in a good way stirring up the feelings of supreme royalty like that of old childhood fairytales.
A graduate of the Parsons School of Design young designer Nyorh Agwe decided to make her debut to the world of fashion canvassing the transient traditional craftsmanship of the “Tugi” people of northwest Cameroon, the birth culture of Nyorh. It was her personal ode to tradition that was the nucleus of Nyorh’s graduate collection at Parson’s titled, “M’ba M’etta – We the Metta People.” The essence of her collection’s and its gorgeous body of work notarized the importance of cultural and historical declaration within the fashion industry. Nyorh’s gift, is this delving into the creative historical citations corroborating her cross-cultural experiences planted amongst her luxurious threads. Simply put, the garments speak, they move, they tell one hell of a visual story. There is a rich vocabulary of tone and hue within her fabric choices that make them so memorable and resonant. I experienced those threads first hand when dressed by Nyorh for ART LIVING’s 1st Year Anniversary Dinner this past summer and we played dress up in more of her collection during our “Behind the Brand” interview.
Naturally, Nyorh’s color palette choice draws the initial eye of her designs, but more interesting is what she does with each piece, showing their odd relationships and juxtapositions, whose couplings are historically and aesthetically revelatory, yet so effortless. “My goal…is always to envision what Cameroon would be like if modernity didn't come up and just sweep up the culture. If that didn’t happen how would we have evolved our own fashion and cultural sense.” She introduces a cultural conversation that awakens a necessary consciousness especially to American clients. It leaves you no room but to reassess the limited way we’ve been encouraged to see shape and color. Nyorh explains, “Watching my mom and dad growing up I saw that a woman wears a certain silhouette different from a man. I never thought of fashion as a means of having a career until I saw Project Runway which sounds so cliché, but before that moment in my life fashion was something we just did.” The longevity of any visionary lies in how they harmonize the pendulum of authenticity and individuality amidst today’s social media obsession of crash and burn trends, click baits, and cultural appropriation. Clearly the journey of sharing your gift with the world is not for the faint of heart nor ignorant. It takes a conscious effort to not only make a name for oneself, but in the words of Dr. Dre, “…Remember, anybody can get it, but the hard part is keeping it, … (I’ll edit out his last lyric PG-13 style, but you get the gist).
This aspect of borrowing from various cultures and time periods as the backdrop for influential fashion concepts is nothing new be it, art, music, dance, or any other artistic expression but some creators craft an overly obvious costumey collections reflective more of an invented passion so to speak rather than an organic evolution of experiences. They say the difference between a copyist and a designer is one that contrives his materials into something else that is purely his own. He does not reveal it, unaltered as his original, but instead modifies. Nyorh spoke to the distinction of her designs, “I tend to focus on the core aspects of Cameroon which goes back to scale, fabric type, and most importantly for me too is the staying away from using westernized finishes like zippers, buttons, and belts. All things that came with the western influence.” Growing up with American fashion we’re more used to the expression of loving a woman’s body to equal sculpting clothing that reveals the entire woman’s shape or the exact extreme opposite. Androgyny is also a key element woven in to Nyorh’s style of design that really breaks the traditional mold of what you see typical from a young female African designer. It is that deliberate boldness that draws you into her collection and accessories that we at ART LIVING has fallen in love with. As artist of expression we are always able to use our artform in ways that are sometimes more impactful than any classroom or dining room table. We can subvert the status quo and power structures by intentionally curating. Nyorh Agwe is a designer who understands the power of her linage within her garments. Her choice to not use manmade fabrics and instead use only natural organic fibers that feel good on the body reminiscent of the available fabrics worn before modernity defines the middle ground between the past and present. It defines the simplistic genius of the past that so many our ancestors innately developed while giving us a glimpse of what the world might’ve looked like if we controlled the narrative of modernity at our own pace. I don’t know about you, but I really love the looking glass Nyorh has created for us to wear, to appreciate, and to learn from which is why she is more than a designer. She is a creator whose brand is synonymous with the woman she is becoming.
Find out more about Nyorh Agwe on www.nyorhagwe.com
All video & photography was captured by www.lostartbk.com