An African fashion love affair

2010-06-25 14:25

The beginning of the second round of the World Cup has aroused much

excitement across the country.

But in the fashion ­fraternity, much of the

­excitement stems from the fact that some of the top fashion designers in the

world are about to dazzle the international crowd.

The designers will be showcasing their latest collections at the

second Africa Fashion Week, which will kick-off on June 30 Wednesday at the

Sandton Convention Centre.

The four-day event will be followed by an A-list fundraiser banquet

and the second annual AFI ­(African Fashion International) ­Africa Fashion


The fashion extravaganza promises to be a true African affair with

designers from Guinea Bissau, Nigeria, Uganda, Botswana, Ghana, Somalia,

Tunisia, French Comoros, South Africa, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and


While the designs have international appeal, the 30 designers have

ensured that their collections have a distinctly African identity that

differentiates them from the rest of the world.

Sandhya Lalloo, assistant lecturer at the University of

Johannesburg’s fashion design department, says: “The time has passed when people

used to think of African designs in terms of animal print.

It is now more about

the designer’s background and how they interpret those influences onto their


She adds: “That’s why you see such trends as the youthful Smartees

popping up on the streets. People take international trends and make them their


Lalloo believes this will also lead to audiences seeing less of the

in-your-face African prints on the ramp.

Her statement is echoed by the chairperson of AFI, Dr Precious

Moloi-Motsepe, who says Africa has long been a muse for the arts throughout the


“We’ve recently seen this in fashion with the world’s top designers

choosing to look towards African techniques, designs and materials to ensure

that their collections appeal to a wider global audience.”

Local designer Christiaan du Toit – the one half of Kluk CGDT –

says that although their brand is Proudly African, they always try to appeal to

a wider international market.

“Our brand is international and whatever trends come out globally,

we try and bring them into our ­designs with a local twist.”

Another local, Marianne Fassler, will be showcasing a collection

she calls Global Gathering.

She describes it as a multi-layered extravaganza that will focus on

the idea of beginning.

“I like to think of myself as a ­creative fashion designer who

happens to work in Africa and is inspired by the continent; Africa as the

birthplace of mankind and children as the original designers,” says Fassler.

Ghanaian designer Christie Brown, who won last year’s Africa

Fashion Week emerging designer of the year award, says her brand’s aim is to

satisfy the urge of “that modern woman who seeks a true taste of Africa”.

Brown achieves that goal by creating clothing made from prints from

all over the continent combined with silks, chiffon, denim and wool.

“We try to infuse a modern and distinct twist into the use of

traditional African print, making it ­acceptable the world over; to allow women

the world over to experience the culturally rich and opulent side of Africa

without having to compromise their personal style, way of life or culture,” says


Most of the designers that will be showcasing at this year’s Africa

Fashion Week have adopted a similar approach.

They include Ituen Basi, a designer whose collection is inspired by

Nigeria’s post-independent years. The entire collection is made of ­ankara


“The use of ankara and reference to the Yoruba traditional attire

of the 60s evokes the spirit of the boisterous and colourful African markets,”

says Basi.

One person who tends to stay away from in-your-face African prints

is local designer Thula Sindi.

He says he brings in his concept of Africa through “silhouette and


“The African woman – particularly the South African – is a working

woman, and my clothes must reflect that.”

However, Sindi adds that as much as he has a soft spot for leopard

and zebra prints, particularly this season, he is “careful to not stray ­into

the realm of cliche and artifice”.

“It’s one’s responsibility as a ­designer to reimagine, reinvent

and propose attractive options, free of the burden that is the commonly

­accepted African narrative, for ­example tribal.­”

It is clear that these designers are able to interpret the concept

of ­Africa in many ways – be it through choice of fabric, the use of colour, or

shape and silhouette.

However, what remains more important is for them to give their

designs that African twist and flair, even if it is subliminal.

It will be interesting to see whether the designers have achieved

this when the collections are shown to World Cup visitors, Wags and their

multi-millionaire husbands, international buyers, media, VIPs and celebrities

from Wednesday.

As Moloi-Motsepe once said: “The world continues its love affair

with all things African as a point of reference, not as a ­cliché.

It’s very

important we in Africa continue to support that.”

And these designers certainly do.

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