The one word on everybody’s lips seems to be - Africa. Dior Cruise was presented in Marrakesh in Morocco on April 29th, a city much loved by Yves Saint Laurent, designer at Dior from 1957 - 1960, himself born in Algeria. Mr Pathé O (Ouédraogo) born in Burkina Faso, and based around the Côte d’Ivoire, worked with Dior’s creative director, Maria Grazia Chiuri on the collection. He was, amongst other things, the tailor behind Nelson Mandela’s shirts and brings more than four decades of passion for African fashion to his aesthetic. Abidjan, (with a population of three and a half million plus) again on the Côte d’Ivoire, was the source for many of the fabrics used in the collection. Halima Aden, born in Somalia, the first hijab wearing model to walk for international collections and be signed by a major agency, has made the cover of Vogue and worn a burkini in Sports Illustrated. The fashion world is changing, and African and Black creatives are changing it. From royalty and luxury to craft and interiors, music to hairdressing, and tailoring to textiles it is the moment, or so it seems, for Africa; but we all know it’s been some years in the build up.
Black Fashion Pioneers- A different view
In 1988 Patrick Kelly joined what was then the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture et du Pret a Porter Parisienne. The first American and the first Black African American designer to do so. Mr Kelly was not only a brilliant fashion talent, and a true original in his design work, but in his collections and references he was bold. He subverted so many associations with stereotypical representations of black culture and racism and reclaimed them, researched them and reinvented them. Today, more than thirty years later, we in the business of fashion are looking to Africa and the black creative contribution to fashion. It may have taken time, but it’s been building for many years from hairdressers through stylists, make up artists, designers and the myriad roles in the business of creating fashion. Patrick Kelly, Willi Smith, Andre Walker, Stephen Burrows and Olive Bensen, amongst so many others, were pioneers, who many can now follow.
Africa may have started to strongly emerge as a fashion hub, but at the same time so have black designers, stylists, and retailers from cultures spread across the world. This is producing designers whose birthplace might be part of their identity, attitudes and style, but who, even when transplanted, can also be influenced by their parents’ culture and political ideas.
Understanding Africa - Marrakesh to CapeTown
Africa is a continent not simply a country, which makes it very complex. Firstly, absorb the fact that there are fifty-four countries within Africa. It’s 5,000 miles from Algiers to Cape Town, and from Egypt to Ghana is a huge leap in cultural and creative terms. Although the continent is divided between Muslims and Christians almost fifty fifty, there are also traditional African Religions, Hindus, followers of the Bahá'í Faith and Buddhists and Jews. Each group with its own cultures, beliefs and understanding of fashion and how this is reflected in the fashion business.
Fashion Weeks & Africa – investigating Africa
The proliferation of fashion weeks, the movement of designers across the globe and the variety and range of creative directions, offers everything from ethnic craft to upcycling and ethical fashion through to hot stylists and sharp business entrepreneurs. There are many names already established and working as models, stylists, retailers, designers and creatives we should know.
Fashion weeks in Africa include the following;
Cairo Fashion Week established in 2015 covering a range of fashion, also showcases some of the rising and established Egyptian couturiers.
Lagos Fashion Week was founded in 2011 by Omoyemi Akerele. Promoting and enhancing Nigerian and ultimately, the African fashion industry; it brings together buyers, consumers and the media to view the current collections of designers in Lagos, capitol of Nigeria.
African Fashion International AFI is the main organiser of Cape Town Fashion Week. Established over ten years ago both new and established designers such as Maxhosa by Laduma feature in the schedule. This year they also linked to the CNI Luxury conference.
In Tanzania the city of Dar es Salaam has been the location for Swahili Fashion Week these past eleven years.
Ghana has long been known in the minds of lovers of fabric through its kente cloth, but the annual Ghana Fashion and Design Week shows that there is more to Ghana than just a single fabric.
Accra Fashion Week; according to their website "Ghana's premier fashion week destined to make Accra city a fashion capital”, focuses on production, manufacturing and distribution. Designers come from countries including Nigeria, Togo, Ivory Coast, and also Ghanaian designers from overseas. Dakar Fashion Week was founded by Senegalese designer Adama Paris sixteen years ago. The 2018 edition featured over thirty designers from more than ten countries, including Tsemaye Binitie from Nigeria and Thula Sindi from South Africa alongside local designers. And now Congolese fashion is bold and strong and gaining magazine coverage.
New Inspirations – New Horizons
So, the conclusion is that it’s not simply about Africa, it’s not simply just one thing linking these fashion professionals, but our focus has shifted to a different awareness of creative heritage. It’s definitely not simply about being Black; but it is about a new awareness of a different attitude which has now firmly taken a step into the spotlight. In the same way Rei Kawakubo or Yohji Yamamoto looked at a jacket in a different way to Yves Saint Laurent or Bill Blass. It’s about expanding our creative vocabulary.
Image: Hany el Behairy Egyptian couturier Main image: Laduma