Keeping It Cute in 'Nollycore'

Keeping It Cute in 'Nollycore'

Story by Andrew Nguyen / Creative Direction by Tiolu Enitan / Photography by Dax ReedyApr 18, 2024

The States has Hollywood, and Nigeria has Nollywood — the second largest film industry in the world.

With its peak in the aughts, Nollywood has it all: bombastic plots, campy acting and iconic fashion and beauty looks from Nigerian baddies (think miniskirt co-ord sets, body con dresses, skinny brows and glossy lips). For creative director Tiolu Enitan, who spends her time between Lagos, Nigeria, London and New York, Nollywood actresses shaped who she is today — both creatively and how she moves through the world.

"My love for Nolly definitely started with them," Enitan tells PAPER. "They embody true Lagos babe realness, and I guess they showed me it was okay to be different, talk different, act different, dress different and just find the fun in life."

That's why she reached out to photographer Dax Reedy and 3D artist Thomas Trasser, to honor Nollywood and its impact on herself and global culture through a contemporary lens. In Reedy's images, Lagos babes hit up the Bodega and laundromat in head-to-toe looks, while Trasser's augmented reality renderings bring it all to life.

PAPER chatted with Enitan about Nollywood babes, being that girl and how unapologetic self-expression can connect us all. See the project, titled "Nollycore," below. And check out the augmented reality here, here, here and here.

What do you love about Nollywood?

Representation really does matter. To me, Nolly is an appreciation of Nigerian talent, stories and culture. I grew up on 2000s Nollywood films, when it was at its peak. After school my mom always had her favorite shows and movies lined up so it was either Zee World (an Indian TV channel in Lagos) or Africa Magic (a Nolly TV channel in Lagos) all week, I had no say.

Do you have any favorite Nollywood moments?

One of my favorite memories about Nollywood are the Nolly babes, of course! Boss ladies. They were so slay! Super maximalist, very assertive, so well spoken, no-nonsense women. Icons. OGs Echaria-Anunobi Ekwu and Clarion Chukwura always had such fun and colorful looks in almost every movie they got cast in. They basically invented the skinny brow in my books.

Where they sort of your icons and role models?

I also remember Genevieve Nnaji, Ini Edo, Tonto Dike, Mercy Johnson and Rita Dominic. Those were my "it" girls. Their movies showcased young, fabulous girls who just wanted to have fun! They were beauty and fashion icons, always prioritized their happiness, made their own money. They were sassy, sexy, confident! And most definitely didn’t give a thought to what anybody had to say about them. They never settled for less than the best, especially with men, and always stayed true to who they were. My love for Nolly definitely started with them — they embody true Lagos babe realness, and I guess they showed me it was okay to be different, talk different, act different, dress different and just find the fun in life.

What's a "Lagos babe" to someone who doesn't know what that means?

Lagos is a city in Nigeria — probably the busiest and biggest one. "Lagos babes," simply put, is a term to describe girls raised in Lagos, who are well familiar with the city's ways and its niches.

Nigeria can be a challenging place to live, especially for the average woman. So to be a girl who lives, laughs and loves Lagos despite its wahala, or troubles, means to be that girl: owning her city (in the safest way possible of course), enjoying its perks and not letting its circumstances solely define her.

Why is Nigeria a challenging place to live for the "average woman"?

Nigerian women back home get put in a box of how they should look, talk, and act. Believe it or not, a lot of these movies were propaganda to do exactly that. The fun, cool girls were always the “bad,” “unserious” or “immoral” girls. I remember watching Genevieve in Girls Cot and thinking, “I wanna be her! I want to dress cool. I want to be unique. So am I a bad child?”

Has that mindset progressed since then?

The EndSARS movement back in 2020 explains the point perfectly. It saw the harassment and brutality of Nigerian youth from the Lagos police based on the way they chose to dress and express themselves. The youth should feel safe, comfortable and confident exploring style, talent and creativity without being extremely alienated by their own, or worse, brutally attacked and killed.

I’ve always been very creative and super experimental with my looks growing up so I know what it feels like to constantly question yourself, feel unsafe and be judged in a very sensitive stage of your life just because it doesn’t fit the norm. We simply aren’t a one size fits all.

Where do you fit into that?

I am a Yoruba woman: My tribe is super maximalist and colorful. I basically grew up seeing massive geles and flashy owambe outfits! So I am quite colorful and gravitate towards maximalist styles.

As a Nigerian woman, I want to be able to communicate to people through my work, and inspire others through what inspires me. I call it "Nollycore": being unapologetically you, that being enough and always keeping it cute with zero energy for any negativity. I wanted to capture that whole energy into imagery — for people to see our mannerisms and feel the sassiness, sophistication and confidence through each shot. Ultimately, I just wanted to have fun with the looks too. My team and I created a lovely fusion implementing 3D into our project to produce an out-of-this-world Nollycore experience.

Has your upbringing it informed your creativity now and in this project specifically?

This project is definitely for my younger self. I believe every project I create is for my younger self. Let's say it's a form of therapy. Growing up, I never had the resources or the confidence to tap into my creativity. I was quite sheltered as a child so I didn’t know or get to meet a lot of children similar to me. However, I always remember being quite radical. Younger me was sassy, never shy to counter arguments and put anybody in their place. I was always told I had a sharp mouth, but I think at a young age, I just knew I had a level of self-respect, which was not something up for debate. I was always willing to fight for it.

I am grateful to have had the privilege to go to University in Cambridge, and even though it took getting to my final year before leaping into my creative passions in London, it opened my eyes to the beauty of community and broadened my knowledge about the world of fashion, starting out from an intern to now a fashion and creative director.

With every project I create, I think about how younger Tio would be so proud!

Creative direction, production, styling and casting: Tiolu Enitan
Photography, art direction, creative consulting and casting: Dax Reedy
3D Photography: Tom Trasser
Makeup: Kye Quinlan
Models: Tonoia, Sevah, Jada and