A stop at the Fashion Cities Africa exhibition in BrightonPosted on
The term “African Fashion” has been bandied about lately. It covers, loosely, anything related to Africa and Fashion, such as Fashion Collections made using Dutch wax prints or African prints, clothing made on the continent or by African Designers.
Sidestepping the vague use of the term, “African Fashion”, the exhibition “Fashion Cities Africa”, provides an in depth view of the fashion industry in four of the biggest cities of Africa: Casablanca (Morocco), Lagos (Nigeria), Nairobi (Kenya) and Johannesburg (South Africa). The exhibition also explores the relationship between Fashion, Identity and Culture.
Besides the display of outfits, the exhibition is enriched by data provided on each country as well as short interviews with some of the big players in the industry: Designers, Journalists and photographers.
What transpires from the overall exhibition is the diversity across these four cities. From the vibrant street style originating from South Africa or Nairobi with the duo 2manysiblings, to the glamour radiating off Said Mahrouf’s dresses and the lace dresses by Deola Sagoe, it is evident that the industry is enjoying something of a renaissance after decades of decline due to cheap imports.
While the revival is partly due to some ongoing ethical initiatives, it is also linked in part to a cultural movement. In South Africa, a growing number of people are revisiting and reclaiming their heritage – including a certain African aesthetic that is being applied to fashion design. The journalist Maria Mccloy encourages everyone to “wear [their] Africannes” in everything they wear on a daily basis instead of saving these looks for some ceremonial occasions. A similar phenomenon is ongoing in Lagos spearheaded by the Designer Deola Sagoe. She launched her brand in 1989 and has been a vocal supporter of traditional Nigerian fabric. She has patented a new type of lace textile and is determined to create a new narrative around Fashion created in Africa.
The designer Yegwa Ukpo also insists on the story telling aspect of the creative process. He is the co founder of Stranger, part concept store, part creative hub that nurtures new designers who are all part of the booming fashion ecosystem. Lagos, without a doubt, is where the fashion industry is most advanced. There is a wide array of outfits, made of various materials: lace, adire, beads and Aso Oke on display, proof of the dynamism of the fashion industry there. The structure to sustain the industry is growing and the ambition of the Lagos Fashion and Design week’s founder, Omoyemi Akerele, is clear: turn it into one of “the top four fashion week in the world”.
Lagos stands in sharp contrast to Casablanca, Morocco, where the fashion industry is still in its infancy and lacks some fundamental infrastructure to grow. However there is a wealth of creativity in the city especially as geographically it is located at the confluence of Europe, Middle East and Africa. For the Fashion journalist Mounia Belgrini, this is more a question of identity. It seems that the fashion industry are taking their time to find their “own voice” and their own identity instead of being reduced to an echo chamber of the European trends.
With Nairobi, the exhibition investigates another reality of the fashion industry that is barely ever mentioned; the second hand market.
The sheer scale of second hand import has had a devastating impact on the local textile industry and on the viability of fashion design as a career choice. However, the affordable fashion has developed its own thriving ecosystem that provides value for the end users and an income for the wholesalers and retailers. It is not devoid of creativity either as demonstrated by the edgy looks created by the duo of 2manysinblings.
Fashion is intrinsically linked to Textile and these 4 cities are no exception. In the center of the exhibition is a display of several African Textiles along with a Decor Installation by Yinka Ilori. The installation is an invitation to discover more traditional African Textiles such as Adire or Aso oke (Ase-oke) from Nigeria or Kikoy and Kanga from Kenya. It also features contemporary cotton prints wax or Dutch Wax prints – often called African prints.
By painting a distinctive picture of the African fashion industry through the prism of four very different cities, the exhibition has managed to cover a complex and multi faceted subject with accuracy. There are few days to go before the end of the exhibitions and it is a must see.
Fashion Cities Africa runs until Jan 8th at the Brighton Museum.
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