Stylist Ashley Okoli Embodies the Nigerian Alté Movement

by Makua Adimora

When posterity gathers to chronicle the rise of the Nigerian alté scene—a freewheeling alternative subculture prioritizing freedom and expression over societal norms—the name Ashley Okoli won’t be omitted from the conversation.

A Lagos-based stylist, model, designer, and creative director, Okoli has been an essential pillar of the alté scene since its emergence in 2017. Although it has evolved into a musical genre, alté began as a way of life that encourages individuals to express themselves in non-traditional ways. The primary concept is to stay true to yourself despite traditions or cultural constraints—something Okoli does better than anyone through her idiosyncratic fashion expression.

Drawing influences from punk, Goth, drag, and everything in between, Okoli’s style is many things: edgy, comfortable, eccentric, and sexy as hell. On an impromptu trip to any ice cream shop in Lagos, you’re likely to catch the 23-year-old in a cheeky lingerie and leather ensemble, accessorized with some chunky boots. As a child, Okoli’s fashion-centric mother often took her thrift shopping, which ignited her interest in clothing and the DIY mentality that runs through her work. In 2017, she launched Sillet, a womenswear brand founded to champion body confidence. Two years later, she teamed up with her best friend Roosevelt Amase to launch Hexefae, a more audacious clothing line promoting flirty, fun, genderless fashion. In a country as conservative as Nigeria, that’s a political statement in itself.

W caught up with the young maverick—who has since gone on to style the likes of British rapper Little Simz, Nigerian artist Obongjayar, and Nigeria-based musician Ayra Starr—for a Style Notes interview a few days after Lagos Fashion Week 2021, where she walked in the emerging designer Elfreda Dali’s show. Here, she reflects on her fashion inspirations, and how her unwavering body confidence is inspiring an entire generation of young Nigerians.

What does alté mean to you?

Alté has always meant alternative and non-conformity, living just as you should.

Talk to me about your brands, Sillet and Hexefae. Who are your clothes for?

Sillet is for the baddest bitches to be badder. Hexefae is my mine and my best friend’s brand—it’s just us being artists, [creating from] our chaotic minds. We style, make clothes—anything we can think of, we create into art. But Sillet is very dear to me, it’s my personal brand. Like I said, it’s to make bad bitches even badder, but it’s [still] for everyone.

You’ve styled many artists and celebrities with a wide range of personal styles. How do you know what outfits to pick for them?

The videos I [style] always have stories behind them, so I can live out my own personal dreams of creating an alter ego. Anybody I style, I like to give them an alter ego, too. Once I meet them, I want to style them in a look that’s not usually their go-to.

You’re a designer, stylist, creative director, and model. How do you balance doing it all?

That’s a great question because it’s not even a thing of balance for me. Everything that I do, I try to have as much fun with it. Anything that’s not fun, I don’t do it. Or anything that starts to look like work, I lose interest. So it’s balancing being a designer, stylist, creative direction, and modeling, all for fun. I’d love to have a career in every single one of them, but every single thing has to be for fun. Knowing I can be better in everything I do helps me balance it all.

What is your go-to outfit for a day off?

Sweatpants, boots, and a crop top. I always wear shoes, I hate slippers.

Describe your style in three words.

“Don’t talk to me,” comfortable, and obviously, sexy. But even my style being sexy is very unintentional, because I love not wearing clothes at all; when I wear revealing clothes it’s not to be sexy, it’s just about covering my body [as little as possible] so I can be out in the world.

What was your style like as a teenager?

When I was in high school, I was still trying to live by the rules, even as rebellious as I was. It was pants, short skirts, just comfortable [clothes], really. Pretty much the same way [I dress now], just more conservative because I was younger. Honestly, my style started changing once I turned 18 and got comfortable in my sexuality.

What’s the most prized possession in your closet?

I got sent a Mugler piece for fall 2021. Yay.

What is always in your bag?

Lip balm and lip gloss.

Who’s your ultimate style icon?

Honestly, I don’t know—I’m my ultimate style icon. But the only person I can think of is Rihanna because she’s just like me: we can wear anything and look amazing.

What’s your daily uniform?

Crop top—always a crop top. Definitely shades—always shades.

What’s your style pet peeve?

Styling people who aren’t open to trying new things.

What’s your preferred footwear?

A pair of boots. [Boots with] heels are a plus.

Which friend or designer’s style do you most admire?

Odunsi [The Engine] and Wavy The Creator.

Where are your favorite places to shop?

I don’t shop a lot, but the clothes I’d really like to have are by Mugler.

What’s currently on your shopping wishlist?

The Bottega Veneta boots. I’m obsessed.

Biggest fashion regret?

Not being comfortable with myself from an early age. It’s never too late, but I just wish I was so much more comfortable [in myself] growing up.