Nigerian brand Fruché was founded in 2014 by designer Frank Aghuno. The brand prides itself on its ability to combine seemingly contradictory aims like novelty with sophistication and heritage with Afrofuturism. Fruché refutes the notion that Nigerian men and women are supposed to look and dress any particular way.
The brand takes classic pieces and reimagines them as reconstructed, edgy, street pieces. A classic white blouse might be turned into a pleated, asymmetrical piece or a work skirt might combine classic tailoring with an Ankara inspired silhouette.
For its latest collection entitled, "Free Spirits II - Mmuo", Fruché took inspiration from the Agbogho Mmuo celebrations practiced in Nigerian Igbo culture. The tradition consists of men dressing up as young women and performing dances to music. Fruché was particularly interested in how pre-colonial Igbo culture practiced fluid gender roles— a sense of freedom Aghuno feels is not as present in contemporary Nigerian society.
The result is a collection that is vividly bold, with Aghuno’s signature tailored, geometrical silhouettes. The pieces make several references to the traditional celebration. The collection features symbols and colors associated with Mmuo masquerade costumes, Ben Enwonwu’s Agbogho Mmuo paintings, ceremonial red coral beads, and the use of camouflage which is considered a taboo print in Nigeria.
Check out The Folklore’s conversation with Fruché head designer Frank Aghuno below, and shop select styles on The Folklore here.
How did you get into fashion design?
I have been designing since the age of 11. I would cut up my mother’s Ankara (Wax Print) wrappers and sew them into dresses by hand. I am self-taught. I haven't had the privilege of attending fashion school yet. Most of my knowledge comes from doing a lot of research and mentorship from my former fashion designer mother. I've always loved fashion. My school being on strike while studying finance really pushed me to start something. My cousin taught me to operate the machine and from there I bought fabrics from the local market and made my first collection. My twin brother, Dricky Stickman, painted the backdrop for that collection and my younger sister and classmate were my models. We put it up online and luckily got rave reviews. The collection was well received and we got a lot of offers to purchase the pieces. I was very naive but thankful I was doing something I loved.
How would you describe your brand’s philosophy?
Fruché merges a unique sensibility of Nigerian craftsmanship with a feminine sensuality that is luxuriously modern. Over the years I've experimented a lot with different techniques and my design process is still very experimental because I am self taught and I like to challenge myself to think of new ideas and different ways of telling our story.
What is a Fruché customer like?
The Fruché woman is free spirited, adventurous, there's a lot of depth to her. The Fruché woman loves to live her best life.
Where do you get design inspiration from?
Every season we ask ourselves who the customer is. We look at what she's wearing, what her life is like, what events she's attending, and most importantly, ask ourselves how we want her to feel while wearing the piece. I believe fashion can affect our mood and confidence so it's important to give the woman a nice boost to make memories while wearing the dress and that she can remember long after she has taken off the dress. We incorporate the key elements that make the pieces "Fruché" and that's how we come up with silhouettes, cuts, and the mood for each collection.
What does your design process look like?
The general idea of each collection is to make radical pieces. So even if it's tulle it's done in such a way that it doesn't quite look delicate or dainty but rather tough, bold, maybe even aggressive. I don't want my next collection to look like the last one. I do a lot of research in terms of textures, colours, drapes. I like to play with contrast and asymmetry. I also research a lot on Nigerian attire and progressive stories within our culture.
Fruché takes from both Nigerian heritage and contemporary design elements. How do you go about combining the two?
I think I combine the two effortlessly because it comes naturally to me. I have worn both Nigerian cultural attire and western attire (like most Nigerians) since I was born. When I got to a certain age, I started to mix them. I would wear jeans with an Adire tunic or my mum would sew suits with Adire fabric for myself and my twin brother. When we would travel abroad we would be so proud to mix both styles.
Your latest collection is based on the Agbogho Mmuo performances. Can you describe how you incorporated this tradition into your designs?
We made a print in Adire inspired by Ben Enwonwu's paintings of the Mmuo masquerade. There's a diamond print inspired by the symbols on the masquerades attire. We incorporated a comb print on silk Adire that says Igwe (King) because the masks usually have combs and other symbols on them. We made masks from scrap pieces in our workplace (I don't throw anything away!) and you'll see the masks throughout the collection.
What other influences informed this collection?
This collection was informed by the idea of freedom in general. Freedom of self-expression is very important in any progressive movement. I think for me personally, my work is where I find freedom. I can do, say, or be whatever I choose. For instance, In Nigeria, citizens are prohibited from wearing camouflage print because it is seen as an act of rebellion. Young people who want to express themselves through style have limited options because of how our society thinks.
For this collection, I explore the duality of self by juxtaposing masquerades and camouflaging in relation to the extroverted side of human beings, oftentimes a performative version of self that wants to be seen, to belong. As opposed to the introvert in us all who is constantly aware of self and most times is in hiding.
Words by Natalie Jarrett