Fashion 

Yasmina Atta's Graduate Collection Explores the Beauty in Transformation

The Nigerian fashion designer details the inspiration behind her past-meets-future creations.

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Yasmina Atta's Graduate Collection Explores the Beauty in Transformation

The Nigerian fashion designer details the inspiration behind her past-meets-future creations.

Yasmina Atta, 23-year-old Nigerian designer and recent Central Saint Martins graduate, has a self-confessed obsession with the surreal. In her graduate collection, this fixation with fantasy is evident. Drawing inspiration from African cinema (particularly the work of Djibril Diop Mambéty), her work feels both futuristic and nostalgic at the same time, with motorized accessories, laser etching and traditional materials. She uses clothing to tell a story that’s captivating. One that explores a person shapeshifting, she says, revealing the surreal within a person that emerges from a post-colonial African identity. 

A particularly captivating piece from the collection is her motorized butterfly wings, the pinnacle of her story of transformation. “At the beginning of my research, I referenced the mermaid deity Mami Wata. However, wings became a more recurring theme in my research and maybe they unintentionally became a symbol in the collection,” she explains. Hand-crafted from leather with a metal interior, they also perfectly encapsulate her hopes of contrasting “new and old into one.” Her collection is filled with traditional crafts materials like wool and leather, combined with digital printing and pattern making techniques, motors and other mechanisms.

For Atta, research is the most enjoyable part of the project. Drawing from her many interests, she enjoys using film as a reference in her designs because “you’re not necessarily always looking at the visuals but also the feeling you get in general,” she says. Looking at Gundam references and a lot of sculptural pieces for shapes, which include padded shoulders and geometrically-flared leg warmers, the collection’s strong themes of hybridity and transformation means Atta hopes the viewer will “make their own assumptions of the work and create their own story.” “The idea of transformation relates to the idea of the character in the collection being ever changing and not being fixed. Like jazz or something,” she muses.

“I find aspects of Nollywood film really enchanting and I think that was the spark for exploring the surreal which led into the mystical.”

She pinpoints her interest in exploring and subverting the ideas of the future through combining surrealism with the past, with her tendency to view parts of her childhood experiences through the lens of folk tales and Nollywood films, having moved to the UK from Nigeria when she was 11. “I find aspects of Nollywood film really enchanting and I think that was the spark for exploring the surreal which led into the mystical,” she explains. “I feel slightly uncomfortable with some of the preconceptions of mystifying an experience, but I kind of work through that with the project.” Sitting in that uncomfortableness, she references ideas for the future from anime movies she began watching last summer and a kinetic sculpture she “stumbled upon.”

With her ability to draw inspiration from multiple sources, Atta makes her design process look effortless and uniquely her. However, her own story of entering into the fashion design world has been filled with moments of self-doubt. “As a child I was extremely shy and I spent a lot of time observing, I used to draw a lot and art was definitely my favorite subject when I was younger. As I got older I became less confident in my artistic skills, I was drawn to fashion because of the connection to the body,” she stated. “I feel like clothing is practical but also really expressive at times too. I like how clothing can last a person’s lifetime and be a practical creation.” Her design process, also, is continuously shifting. Working on some of the pieces through lockdown, she expresses that there are aspects she “could definitely go back and change so the process is somewhat never ending.”


Laura Pitcher is a New Zealand fashion, art and culture writer based in New York. Her work has been featured by Vogue, Teen Vogue, The Guardian, Vice, Paper, i-D, Dazed and more. You can connect with Pitcher on her Instagram and website.

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