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Lagos Space Programme
Photography Tamibé Bourdanné

Lagos Space Programme is reconnecting African fashion to Yoruba traditions

We catch up with designer Adeju Thompson on decolonising fashion, trashy royal family dramas, and why it might be embarrassing for straight people to go through their camera roll

“I’m from Lagos so looking good is part of our DNA,” says Adeju Thompson. “Taking pride in how we present ourselves in public is so important. It’s rooted in our history.” As the brains behind Lagos Space Programme, Thompson’s practice is rooted in the idea of decolonisation, with each collection drawing on the liberal attitudes of indigenous Yoruba people, whose stance on gender and sexuality was far more progressive than their Bible-bashing invaders. Through this, LSP is an attempt at orienting present-day Africans towards a future that feels closer in line to their past. Thompson’s latest collection, for example, drew parallels between traditional Adire artisans who use indigo-dyed cloth as a storytelling device, and the semiotics of contemporary queer fashion. It’s all in the LSP name: “grounded in our roots but still looking outward.” 

Handspun and ever-so-slightly subversive, Thompson’s approach can be mapped across navel-trailing collars, frayed wrap skirts, ceremonial scarves, textured lab coats, and harness-vest hybrids – looks that have placed the designer on the LVMH and International Woolmark Prize shortlist two consecutive years in a row. Looks that have found themselves in the Victoria & Albert museum’s Africa Fashion exhibition. And yet, while Thompson’s work is clearly bound-up in national pride, their manifesto reads “Lagos Space Programme must not create fashion that is obviously Nigerian in its visual presentation,” and is committed to challenging the aesthetic expectations of African design. “There are wrong misconceptions, and we believe fashion really can shift cultural prejudices,” they say. Below, we get to know the designer on a more intimate level, as they talk trashy YouTube wormholes and why it might be embarrassing for straight people to go through their camera roll.

Hey Adeju! When do you think you first become aware of the power of fashion? 

Adeju Thompson: Probably when I was in art school. Having access to an amazing on-campus library opened my eyes to different subcultures like 70s punk and the New Romantics of the 80s. I also discovered the anti-fashion movement of the 80s led by Yohji Yamamoto and Rei Kawakubo – they explored clothing in a very serious, conceptual way: communicating ideas of individuality, proposing new ways to understand beauty, while dissecting the ideology of the time with cut. It was such a revelation to me; the antithesis of what fashion was back home in Nigeria. I was so inspired, and I wanted to be like them. I wanted to share myself in my work.

What do you think is your most totemic design? 

Adeju Thompson: The most emblematic piece within the Lagos Space Programme design canon is our Venture Vest – a long, loose fit, asymmetric vest with cut-out details that’s very elegant but allows for utility. It's a piece that’s part of every collection and it evolves constantly – symbolising the coexistence of tradition and change. This piece is an abstraction of indigenous clothing and modular ideas connected to utilitarian dress. I’d describe the Venture vest as an object that mediates between my culture and global sensibilities, and that’s pretty much our ethos.

What do you think people are likely to misunderstand about your work?

Adeju Thompson: Lagos Space Programme isn’t solely a fashion label, but a multidisciplinary design studio – ready-to-wear is only a part of what we do and over the past year, our work has been collected into three art institutions.

What’s your weirdest internet obsession?

Adeju Thompson: OMG I’m embarrassed to say this, but I’m obsessed with this show on YouTube called Palace Confidential, which chronicled the dramatic lives of the British Royal family. I’m always here for royal drama. It’s my ultimate guilty pleasure. 

The most embarrassing picture/screenshot on your camera roll? 

Adeju Thompson: I don’t think I really have any… However I’d prefer if straight people didn’t go through my phone. It might be embarrassing for them. LOL.

The most recent note on your notes app?

Adeju Thompson: I had an amazing opportunity to meet a custodian family of the Egungun masquerade, which is a very secretive practice. I was there on research and took a lot of interesting notes from the conversations that I had with them, they were very generous with their knowledge.

 Your weirdest comfort food?

Adeju Thompson:  I don’t know about weird… but I really enjoy an authentic English breakfast. 

The worst advice you’ve ever been given?

Adeju Thompson: ‘That’s how fashion is, you have to make it work’ – I think it’s important to carve a niche for oneself in fashion and find a way to make it work for you. Fashion’s great at saying the right things but that doesn’t always translate to actions.

Who’s your nemesis?

Adeju Thompson: The gateman of my gated neighbourhood – he really makes me angry. It’s very complicated.

What’s your star sign and are you typical of that sign?

Adeju Thompson: I’m a Gemini. And yes, I’m very Gemini.  

Pettiest thing you’ve ever done?

Adeju Thompson: I try not to be too petty these days. I’m in my post-petty era, it’s all love for me.

What Dazed headline would you be? 

Adeju Thompson: The Queer Supremacist Yoruba Aunty Artist Confronting Bad Taste and Misconceptions of African Design. (I wasn’t high enough for this question tbh). 

Who would be in your nightmare blunt rotation? and your dream blunt rotation?

Adeju Thompson: Nightmare: Nigerian President Buhari, I can’t imagine anything worse tbh. Dream: Yoko Ono, Stevie Nicks, Madonna, Susanne Wenger, and my best friend Greer. 

What would your ghost outfit be?

Adeju Thompson: Post-Adire Lab coat and Yoruba wide trousers from Lagos Space Programme – super utilitarian but still stylish!

What do you reckon you’re most likely to get cancelled for?

Adeju Thompson: Lol this is a very problematic question, I abstain! 

Title of your biography?  

Adeju Thompson: A Memoir of a Warrior Yoruba Aunt.