Culture Quake

Nigerian-British designer Tolu Coker explores identity, community, and lived experience through fashion, film, and rich visual narratives.

By Claire Butwinick

As published in GRAY magazine No. 51: The Vanguard Issue

Tolu Coker fashion shoot at last supper style table with Black Panther women and black power fist

For London-based designer Tolu Coker, fashion doesn’t start or end with aesthetics.

Instead, it’s a portal to socially conscious storytelling. Since 2018, she has captivated the fashion world with her breakout eponymous clothing label, expressing her African diasporic identity through youthful yet politically aware collections. At the same time, Coker has asserted black visibility in other media, creating commissioned illustrations for the Tate Modern, celebrating African beauty and the Black Panther movement in a series of collages for H&M and Loewe, and challenging Eurocentric viewpoints with her in-depth documentaries and fashion films. And at 26, she’s just getting started. “I think about the way in which narratives are written, who controls narratives, and what they’re trying to portray—not just in fashion but in society in general,” she tells GRAY. “Identity and narrative are things that I’m always questioning in my work.”

ABOVE: The finale of Coker’s sophomore collection, Juvenile Consciousness, included a sheer dress made of deadstock fabric, accessorized with a Nigerian-inspired headpiece fashioned from discarded belt buckles, bolts, and old jewelry. BELOW: Coker with her models for Juvenile Consciousness.

A recent graduate of London’s celebrated Central Saint Martins fashion school, Coker first sparked international buzz with her 2017 premier collection, Replica, an intimate exploration of her African heritage and British upbringing. Her creative process was groundbreaking: rather than ruminate introspectively in sketchbooks and mood boards, Coker spent a year filming the lives of four African-diaspora youths in London and Paris, whose exper