A Fashion Continent

By Jo Phillips

It’s probably fair to say that the world of fashion has been dominated by four key cities from only two continents around the world, NYC in the north Americas London, Paris and Milan all in Europe.  But finally, things are changing.  The internet has made the whole world smaller we know that means it’s so much easier finding anything from literally anywhere in the world.  Hence fashion buyers are now looking further afield to find something unique to stock, in order to make them stand out in a very competitive market.  Also, with people finally understanding that cultural appropriation is not acceptable we see the tides turning with lesser-known fashion arenas re-appropriating their own cultures and utilising them within their own fashion collections.  A new book  Africa: The Fashion Continent by Emmanuelle Courrèges (Flammarion, 2022). Explores just this, the amazing creativity within the world of clothing design styling and photography coming out of this continent. The multitude of their own traditions being mixed with more traditionally western attire makes for a melting pot of fresh new ideas so find out more here in A Fashion Continent.

Book Cover. Designer Lafalaise Dion wearing a cowrie headdress from her collection, September 2018. © Daron Bandeira.

In 2019 Thebe Magugu, a 26-year-old South African fashion designer won the much-lauded LVMH Prize for emerging talent.  His multifaceted collections celebrate South Africa’s history and spirituality, combining traditional motifs with sleek, modern design. He highlighted to the rest of the global industry just the breadth of talent coming from the African continent.

Or check out the work of Rich Mnisi who is also from Soth Africa whose multi patterns and colourful clothing defies the boundaries associated by sex. Find within his collections Africa’s hidden treasures while also seeing youthfulness dressed contemporarily, and modernist to the core as well as innovative designs and craftsmanship.

Music festivals, catwalks, influencers, and accessory makers, from as far and wide as Lagos, Casablanca, Marrakech and Johannesburg are featured in this new book alongside hair, makeup and image-makers all of who give a 360 vision to the whole of the industry.

Ituen Basi, runway show presenting the “Balogun” collection, spring-summer 2020, at GTBank Fashion Weekend, November 2019. © Kola Oshalusi/Insigna Media.

Colour jumps out from the pages but also print neither confined to just women the men are as dynamic in dress as the womenswear. The collections are effervescent, vibrant and committedly tied to their own culture.  It’s fair to say this is redefining the continent’s aesthetic grammar a creative language with its own unique signature.

Orange Culture (brand created by Adebayo Oke-Lawal), spring-summer 2016 collection, backstage at the runway show at Largos Fashion Week, Nigeria, 2015. © Emmanuelle Courrèges.

The book looks not back but forward at a new visual idenity of a new breed of creators, lead very much, by the beautiful visual pages through the book.

Textiles, raw materials and patterns all take the heritage and update it if not even turn it on its head so the heritage may well be there but it’s very unexpected, innovative and contemporary.  Yet sewn into the garments is the rich history stories and craft passed down, the rehsaped and reworked even fine tuned into something new.

Mamprusi chief Kulibidaana wearing a batakari in his house in Nalgerigu, Ghana, 2015. He is sitting on the hide of a cow killed on the day he was made a chief – a symbol of his power. © William Haun. Blouses, dress, and batakali tunics by Marché Noir (brand created by Amah Ayivi), June 2019 © Marc Posso.

Trims, surface, decoration and texture are aplenty giving layers of meaning and emotion to the items designed.  Shapes go from geometric to oversized via long and loose with everything in between including tailoring for both men and women. Literally covering clothes from Haute Coutre to Streetwear.

There is a huge sense of freedom with new young voices exploring without boundaries and restrictions that western fashion may falter at. As well as the clothes designed the hair, makeup and styling all break frontiers and finally, the image-makers creating the fashion shoots bring a fresh aesthetic as well from their own perspective, fresh brave diverse and most all of full of life and vitality.

Kenneth Ize, long silk shirt featuring a pattern created by Nigerian artist Fadekmi Ogunsanya, Arise Fashion Week, Lagos, Nigeria April 2019. © Kola Oshalusi/Insigna Media.

The book is broken down into Designers, Style, and Photo with written content accompanied by magnificent rich imagery.

The book was created by freelance journalist Emmanuelle Courrèges who spent the first two decades of her life in West Africa. A reporter and specialist on social issues, she has written articles for numerous publications including Afrique Magazine, Marie-Claire, L’Express Styles and ELLE.

If the fabrics of African designers interest then an exhibition coming up at the William Morris Gallery. The gallery will be showing Althea McNish: Colour is Mine, the first major retrospective of Althea McNish (1924 – 2020). McNish was one of the UK’s most influential and innovative textile designers and the first designer of Caribbean descent to achieve international recognition.

Althea McNish

Born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, Althea McNish moved to the UK with her family in 1950. Initially intending to study Architecture, she decided instead to enrol in a graphics course at the London School of Printing and Graphic Arts (now the London College of Communication). She later went on to gain a scholarship for a postgraduate degree in textiles at the Royal College of Art. Much studying later and after an interview with Arthur-Stuart Liberty, the Chairman of Liberty of London who bought her graduate collection on the spot. From that day McNish’s career as a commercial designer was set and she would go on to design bestselling furnishing and fashion fabrics for iconic firms including Liberty, Dior, Conran, Cavendish Textiles, Heal’s and Hull Traders.

While taking night classes in the mid-1950s at the Central School of Art and Design McNish was taught by Eduardo Paolozzi( Scottish artist, known for his sculpture and graphic works) who recognised her skill as a draughtsperson and printmaker and encouraged her to switch to the textile design programme at the Royal College of Art. 

During her lifetime McNish’s work was featured in landmark exhibitions including Paintings by Trinidad and Tobago Artists at the Commonwealth Institute in London in 1961, The Way we Live Now at the V&A in 1978 and more recently Get Up, Stand Up Now: Generations of Black Creative Pioneers at Somerset House 2019. Her work is also included in the major survey of Caribbean-British art ‘Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art 1950s – Now’, currently on show at Tate Britain until 3 April 2022.

McNish’s extraordinary career and her transformative impact on mid-century design, along with her enduring influence today. Highlights in gthe exhibition will include items from McNish’s recently uncovered personal archive, much of which has never been seen before. Also on display will be examples of McNish’s original designs alongside her most celebrated textile and wallpapers.

Finally, if you are looking for African Heritage inspired fashion that is local why not check out designer Kemi Telford a fashion label that was founded in 2017 by Yvonne Modupe Telford, which is based in London.

Yvonne was born and raised in Kano, Nigeria and she arrived in England in 1996. Her journey into the fashion business started when she started blogging and people kept asking her, “Where did you get that outfit?”

Because of her Nigerian heritage, her clothes were hand-tailored one-offs. Yet with no formal training in the fashion industry, Yvonne decided to create two skirts using bold wax prints that she grew up seeing women in Nigeria wear.

The FW21 collection “A New Dawn” signifies a new beginning in Kemi Telford’s journey, and the campaign demonstrates how far the business has come.  Yvonne’s inspiration drew on the memories of the outfits her parents wore when she was a child. From a safari suit that her father wore, now reimagined in shirting, to specially tailored dresses that her mother would wear to the Kano Club, now providing a key silhouette.

With bold patterns, audacious colourways and specific styles and aesthetics, the collection brings together traditional elements with a modern edge, such as the Buba Belted Blouse that evokes the customary attire worn by women of the Yoruba tribe in Nigeria.

TSAU-The Space Around Us (brand created by Bevan Agyemang). © 2019 Bevan Agyemang, TASU. All Rights Reserved.

If you love life and love creativity and want a book that brings colour texture design and passion together look no further than this compendium.

Africa The Fashion Continent Published by Flammarion | 10 February 2022