What Defines African Fashion?
To many not working within the fashion sphere, references such as cowrie shells, mud cloth, and colorful patterns would come to mind.
These references are not only one-dimensional, but condescending as well. There are some serious waves being made on the fashion industry, and the influence African culture has on today’s designs is more varied than ever before.
The love affair between the African continent and the catwalk began in 1967 when Yves Saint Laurent showed off his “African collection,” and has only grown since then.
Today, a large compilation of all designers who either have their work made in Africa, or derive ideas from the continent, is available in book form. Helen Jennings, a fashion journalist, has come out with a new book, titled “New African Fashion,” documenting just how influential African people, prints, and textiles are to today’s couture movement.
Mini Plange, a designer born in Ghana and co-collaborator with names like Andre Leon Talley and Manolo Blahnik, has showcased a spring 2012 collection with emphasis on African lines. She wants to show the world that African culture doesn’t deserve to be pigeonholed.
And speaking of Ghana, Franca Sozzani, editor of Vogue Italia, is visiting the country now. She defined her proudest moment professionally as publishing the “Black Issue,” which helped promote diversity in the fashion industry. She’s continuing that campaign with mentoring the WEB-Young Designers Hub, a fashion group project local to Ghana.
One of the most prominent African designers is Nigerian-born Duro Olowu. Haven’t heard of him? He’s a fashion go-to for First Lady Michelle Obama, who has vocally supported African design, and has been seen in Mr. Olowu’s creations several times. Another famous lady who favors Duro Olowu work is Solange Knowles.
As for the future of African fashion? It’s looking very bright, thanks to Somali-American twins Idyl and Ayaan Mohallim, twin sisters who are behind the fashion line Mataano, meaning “twins” in Somali. They first debuted in 2009, and were shortly afterwards seen in an entrepreneur clip on the Oprah Winfrey Show. This year, Iman cosmetics announced the two sisters were ambassadors for the brand, after sponsoring their spring 2012 collection.
Michael Kors and Burberry are two top-level brands that have both revealed strong African influence in their spring 2012 collections for this year.
Who knows? The next time you see a sample from the newest line of designer clothing, a touch of Africa might be enmeshed in the fabric, a little bit of the culture woven there.