Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Coming Soon: New African Fashion + Our Expectations


Not long now until Helen Jennings' New African Fashion debuts, highlighting the key trends in and the evolution of Africa's fashion scene. We've seen a number of covers for this book - there's the Ituen Basi one here and a Maki Oh one here. The one we've found most striking, though, is this one (above) featuring a jacket first seen in Duro Olowu's debut catwalk show in 2007. It very nicely encapsulates an industry that is working to shed the toga of African Fashion = African Print and shows the diversity that's apparent when one takes a more honest look.

In 2007, Duro Olowu introduced his work with a collection he dubbed "Bamako Pompadour" - a nod to the ancient empire of Mali and, in one sense, a nod to his African roots without being too obvious. Is that, then, what New African Fashion is? Or at least a substantial portion of what it should try to accomplish?

The labels "African Fashion" and "African Designer" have always been difficult ones and designers have found creative ways to bypass them without cutting them off altogether. Take the following choices  of expression by well-known designers, for example:

Christie Brown - Afromance
David - Afropolitan
Duro Olowu - Afrochic
Jewel by Lisa - An African Definition of Global Luxury
Lola Faturoti - Ethnic Modernism
Mustafa Hassanali - Afroglam
Nkwo - Afromania
Zed Eye - Tribal Romance

It's as if they're all saying: "African, yes, but not just that." It's telling that Duro Olowu, when asked why his F/W 2011 collection looked so West African, responded: "It's an Afro-chic aesthetic.  It's international. My mother dressed like this. She would mix something Jamaican with something Nigerian with English. Everybody starts to box you in."; and Lisa Folawiyo of Jewel by Lisa has been quoted as saying: "I also hope there comes a time when African Fashion is not typically labelled as 'African'; a time when regardless of where you're from on the continent, your pieces are respected for their quality and design and not just its heritage."

Is that, then, the spirit and soul of many emerging designers from Africa -- that they are not chained to their continent even when they may - or may not - use it as a point of reference as they deem fit? We think that just about sums it up. It's good to have African designers who use Africa's rich cultures and history as a reference point -- who's going to tell our stories the ways we want them told if some of us don't rise to the ocassion? It's also good to have African designers who don't reflect Africa much or at all -- why should anyone be forced to subscribe to an agenda they don't necessarily buy into?

- SLiq

Helen Jennings' New African Fashion is pusblished by Prestel and will be available on September 30, 2011. Pre-order available here.

Images courtesy of Style and Waterstones.

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