When fashion understudies culture or influences it on some level, it leaves the realm of just clothes and enters the realm of cultural symbolism and meaning. It's why monikers like 'tribal', 'ethnic', and even 'African Fashion' can be problematic for being too general and lazy. Duro Olowu referenced Bamako women in 2008, Mimi Plange referenced scarification in 2010, Maki Oh re-imagines tie-and-dye, Ituen Basi deconstructs wax print, Jewel by Lisa embellishes it. While incorporating Africa shouldn't be mandatory, a hat tip to all those who do in honest and authentic ways, marking a cultural moment and setting it in stone. If we don't dig deep into our cultures and uncover them, who will?
Contemporary womenswear designer Christie Brown used the Talensi women of northern Ghana as a context - 'Although minimalistic in lifestyle, the Talensi tribe is rich with culture', the designer said in a press release pre-collection' - and it what was the young designer's most visually stunning body of work to date; that's saying something for a designer who has kept a culture of constant innovation and improvement. Familiar, simple silhouettes - a chic pencil skirt, a sleeveless trench, blouses - all received the Christie Brown treatment. Strips of wax print draped on yellow peplum blouse, fabric covered buttons adorned a khaki skirt, wax print peeked from chiffon. Christie Brown gets the balance and fusion of elements so well - so well, in fact, that the almost four-year-old label won Arise's Emerging Designer of the Year (Africa) award in 2009 just months after the label's creation, and was nominated in the same category at the recently concluded Africa Fashion Week.
From ultra chic red carpet with chain, slits and layered wrap skirts, to sheer, cropped tanks and blouses, the mix of khaki, yellow, cobalt and print just might seep into every aspect of your spring wardrobe - work separates come by way of a wax print blouse and a pencil skirt, play by way of a khaki tunic-dress, a contemporary red carpet look by way of a fitted ruffle skirt and a cropped tank, or a dress with patchwork detailing and cutout vents. If this isn't pure commercial - and sartorial - brilliance, we don't know what is. Christie Brown's reference point and her constant celebration of contemporary Africa reminds us that culture can transcend time and place and doesn't always need to be literal, and it can help us learn more about each other and ourselves. Surely, we weren't the only ones who googled Talensi. Brilliant, brilliant work, Christie Brown.
Photos courtesy of SDR Photos