Category: Fashion legacy

Does there need to be a Vogue Africa?


Lagos was the cradle of African fashion a few weeks ago, hosting 2 big fashion shows. Lagos Fashion Week Nigeria (23 – 25th March) Arise Fashion week 2018 (31 March – 2nd April). There was of course, the vibrancy, craftsmanship and distinctive style that has become ubiquitous over recent years in the African fashion industry. Images which only would have been available via fashion outlets are easily accessible anywhere in the world on social media (as you’ll see below).

During Arise Fashion Week 2018, the supermodel legend that is Naomi Campbell said the renowned fashion publication Vogue Magazine should be launched in Africa.

“Africa has never had the opportunity to be out there and their fabrics and their materials and their designs be accepted on the global platform … it shouldn’t be that way.” – Naomi Campbell

We’ve heard the reminder many times that “Africa is not a country”. When we dissect the continent’s textile heritage, we find there are beautiful fashion and style nuances across the continent. While I agree that the evolution and heritage of African fashion should have a dedicated global fashion platform showcasing to the world, it should be born and pushed by Africans – those on the continent and from the diaspora. Just like European fashion is controlled by Europeans.

Any African fashion publication must be sewn together with an integrated narrative identifying the contribution of each African country. It’s about time that African countries develop and control their own narratives without the, filtration and stamp of approval from Western fashion establishments, who have made fashion and style prestige synonymous with Western culture.

The fact that there is no Vogue Africa Magazine is an OPPORTUNITY, let Africa dictate her fashion industry in her own words and realise herself for herself!

Don’t get me wrong I was all here for Edward Enninful and Virgil Abloh rising to coveted gatekeeping positions in Western fashion establishments of British Vogue and Louis Vuitton, but I think it’s time in 2018 that Africans do not wait for the approval of Western fashion establishments to validate their fashion heritage and existence.

Since its first issue in 1892 Vogue has had 126 years to be inclusive. Strutting into the millennium it has tried with the Vogue Italia all black issue in 2008 (masterminded by Edward Enninful) and the latest most racially diverse cover for the May 2018 issue.

vogue may 2018 cover
Credit: Vogue Magazine

However, I think in 2018 African countries should take their fashion destiny into their own hands and be the global gatekeepers of African fashion and heritage. It can be done, yes creating a fashion publication costs money but there are very talented people in Africa and the diaspora that can make this happen and create jobs on the continent.

This is what we should be pushing for (just as is done in Europe) – African fashion controlled and narrated by Africans.

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Featured image: Arise Fashion Week Instagram : @femioso

Topshop bag collection inspired by “Ghana must go!”


It was a couple of months ago when my friend sent me a text. It was a picture taken somewhere in Europe of a tote bag version of the ‘Ghana must go!’ bag with a TOPSHOP label on it. I wasn’t really bothered, until I saw the price! For a split second, I thought it might be fake, but deep down I knew it wasn’t.

Coincidentally later that week I had already planned to meet a friend in Oxford Street, London so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone 😊. I arrived a little early to investigate if these bags were actually being sold in TOPSHOP’s flagship store. I walked around the accessories but to my disappointment I couldn’t find them! But then…as I was walking out, I saw the chequered pattern glistening in my peripheral vision.  

European fashion houses inspired by Africa
There they were, in all their TOPSHOP glory, called the ‘MARTY check unlined tote bag’ with a whopping price tag of £22! The original sized ‘Ghana must go!” bags can be found in markets (catering for African and Caribbean communities) across London for less than £5, but who knows what price they’ll fetch for now that they have the TOPSHOP stamp of approval.

Ghana must go, tote bag
On display in TOPSHOP’s flagship store in London.

The use of the ‘Ghana must go!” bag aesthetic by European fashion houses isn’t new. Louis Vuitton featured it in its Spring/Summer 2012 collection, and none other than Cristobal Balenciaga in their fall/winter 2016 collection.

So where did these bags come from?
Apparently, originally proceed in…yes you guessed it…China by Zhejiang Daxin Industry. The original bags are big and generally used to store anything and everything. Laundry, shoes, pots, pans, anything you can fit in there. They were dubbed “Ghana must go” bags by Nigerians.

In a nutshell, during the 1970’s Nigeria’s economy was booming and Ghana’s was going in the opposite direction. Ghanaians (and other West Africans from Burkina Faso, Niger and Cameroon) immigrated to Nigeria in search of better opportunities. But all good things do come to an end and in the 1980s Nigeria’s economy took a nose dive. Suddenly Nigerians where competing with these Ghanaian immigrants for the few jobs that were left.

ghanamust go red
Going in for the price close up. Put a TOPSHOP label on it and you can sell it for £22!

 

Ghana must go!
In 1983, apparently the Nigerian government told all (illegal) immigrants to leave the country within two weeks. After the deadline Nigerians were allegedly told they could take whatever ‘action’ they wanted on those who they thought they were illegal and remained in the country. In a frenzy, with the little time they had, Ghanaians quickly packed as much as they could in these big chequered bags and left Nigeria as refugees camping at the Togo and Benin boarders on their journey back to Ghana. At the time, the mass expulsion of an estimated 1 million Ghanaians (out of around 2 million immigrants in total) was condemned internationally. But the shoe was on the other foot years before. In 1969 the Ghanaian government ordered all (illegal) immigrants to leave Ghana if they could not obtain a residence permit. Allegedly, up to 500,000 Nigerians left Ghana over three months.

 

tote bag, ghana must go, topshop, fashion, accessories, topshop bags
Ghana must go! comes in different colours…pick one.

You don’t have to be a ‘designer’ bag…
There’s no doubt that these bags are famous; they have various names across continents. Germany “Tuekenkoffer”, = the Turkish suitcase, in America the bags are referred to as the “Chinatown tote”. In Guyana, more affectionately as the “Guyanese Samsonite”.

The concept of European fashion houses taking something heavily associated with Africans (and other ethnic groups), stamping their name on then selling it at high prices isn’t new.

(Another) lost opportunity
I couldn’t help but think, what if Ghanaians turned a negative into a positive and made the bags more “fashionable” and sold them? But then I thought, if a Ghanaian fashion house tried to do what Louis Vuitton and now more recently TOPSHOP have done, would anyone think these bags were valuable or fashionable?

When it comes to perceived quality and value it seems the European fashion industry can do no wrong.

I’m sure people will happily buy these TOPSHOP bags, probably unbeknown to their chequered history.

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Topshop bags, fashion accessories, Ghana must go, topshop, tote bags, London accessories, African fashion bags.

 

Is the African diaspora diluting African fashion?


African fashion is rising to global acclaim; a form of expression, a mark of heritage, African fashion has contributed in transforming the perception of what was dubbed the ‘dark continent’, ‘hopeless Africa’ by Western media. It wasn’t cool to be African in the UK during the ‘90s, but it sure is now! Back then, nearly everything was up for ridicule, from our names, hair (especially if you had a threaded hair style as a child), features and food. Roll on the 2000s; African diaspora millennials are embracing their culture with zeal, especially when it comes to fashion. Instagram and Pinterest are adorned with African-inspired wax print designs, from clothing brands, bloggers, party nights and weddings.

However, if the diaspora doesn’t celebrate authentic African textile techniques more often, we’re subconsciously complicit in potentially rendering a key part of our heritage obsolete.

african print, ankara
These prints are becoming synonymous with ‘African’ fashion in the diaspora. Photo credit: Pete Woodhead

African prints infused with Western style silhouettes are worn with pride by millennials in some of the most cosmopolitan cites in the West – London, Paris, New York etc. In 2005, Taiye Selasi coined the term, ‘Afropolitan’. Subjectively interpreted by many, the Afropolitan is a stylish city dwelling, socially and politically astute person of African descent, with multicultural heritage. The curation of our multicultural heritage gives us a unique and empowering perspective on style and fashion. This cultural hybrid comprising African and European aesthetics has featured in magazines and catwalks around the world.

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Photo credit: Belinda Lawley

It’s no secret that Dutch wax prints are the emblem of African Fashion. Africans and the diaspora have fervently championed these prints for decades. This has been to the detriment of authentic African textile techniques. Batik is a process of using wax/dyes to create patterns on fabric. Believed to have originated in Egypt during the 5th century, it was later adopted across Asia, most notably Indonesia. During Dutch colonisation in the 1800s, Indonesians taught the Dutch the Batik process, who then mass produced their own ‘Dutch-wax’ version also known as Ankara.

headwraps, african print
Photo credit: Pete Woodhead

After unsuccessful attempts to sell their version back to the Indonesians, they took it to West Africa and the rest is history, as they say. Currently European companies are the main financial beneficiaries of what is commonly referred to as ‘African-prints’.

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Even the dolls are rocking wax prints. Photo credit: Pete Woodhead

Social media is a powerful platform, where we’re able create and tell our own narratives. As consumers, we create the demand that produces the supply of Dutch wax prints. If we want authentic African textile heritage to thrive and Africans to have a greater stake in African Fashion, we should support brands that celebrate this. Rather than always wearing printed imitation versions of Kente cloth (usually printed in China), why not wear the real hand-woven Kente made by artisans in Ghana? Foundations like Nubuke collaborate with diaspora designers making bespoke Kente fabrics. Similarly, why not wear clothes made with the adire cloth, created by Nigerians for centuries or kanga fabrics of Kenya /Tanzania?

sewing machine
Artisans making art –>@nubuke_foundation Ghana

The Internet has made African fashion very accessible and the appetite for this has created opportunities for companies in the diaspora. American based ONYCHEK, Oxosi and UK based Styled by Africa, sell apparel made by artisans in Africa to the diaspora and beyond. Designers are expressing authentic African heritage though their collections. Maxhosa by Laduma celebrates traditional Xhosa symbols and colours, through Knitwear. UK based, AAKS’ handwoven bags, typify weaving techniques used in Ghana and AMWA Designs create their own printed fabrics using Adinkra symbols for their home furnishing ranges.

maxhosa for twtter
Maxhosa knitwear Photo credit: Belinda Lawley

The influence of Afropolitans / the diaspora in shaping the African fashion narrative globally is undeniable. When Beyoncé wore an outfit featuring designs by Burundian artist Serge Alain Nitegeka, from the South-African based fashion platform Kisua, the brand was immediately thrust into the spotlight. Through the Internet we have the power to tell our true stories. Whether it’s celebrities or you and I snapping selfies for Instagram and Twitter, we should incorporate traditional African textile techniques within our fashion repertoire, as much as we do Dutch wax prints. Doing so will project an authentic image of African fashion heritage.

There isn’t an African fashion utopia; Dutch wax prints will probably always be the main fabric used in African fashion. However, as African fashion continues to flourish, we should be careful not to inadvertently contribute to its dilution, by mainly championing Dutch wax prints. Our multicultural Afropolitan heritage is valid but should be balanced. This balance is key because we’re representing African fashion in lands from which we don’t originate, but are intrinsically part of us though birth or habitation. Rather than left languishing in the shadows, authentic African fashion textile heritage should get the props it deserves for its artistry, craftsmanship and elegance.

african utopia kente pete woodhead
The Ghanaian Kente cloth industry is currently fighting against cheap Chinese printed copies. Photo credit: Pete Woodhead

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Yellow African print full length skirt

 

High waist African print skirt

Edward Enninful Editor: British Vogue


It’s been a ground-breaking week in the fashion industry.

After being described as “an influential figure in the communities of fashion, Hollywood and music which shape the cultural zeitgeist”, Ghanaian, Edward Enninful was confirmed as the new editor-in-chief (EIC) of British Vogue. The first man to hold the position. With the help of his predecessor Alexandra Shulman who ran British Vogue for 25 years, Edward will officially start his role on 1st August.

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Edward Enninful. Photo by Mert Alas and Marcus Piggott, as seen in Industrie Magazine.

 

“Edward is an exceptionally talented stylist who will no doubt bring an exciting new creative aesthetic to the magazine. Every Vogue editor arrives with their own range of talents and experience and Edward is very known, respected and liked within the fashion industry” Alexandra Shulman, British Vogue incumbent EIC

Edward Enninful timeline, starting from the top!

2017 – The first man to be the Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue, aged 45.

2016 – Awarded Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), in honour of services to diversity in fashion.

Throughout his career, Enninful has been recognised for this contribution and influence on the fashion industry.

2014 – Received Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator at the British Fashion Awards.

2011 – Style director of American fashion publication, W Magazine, where he was credited with improving the publication’s relevance and finances.

Edward was pivotal in Vogue Italia’s July 2008 ‘All Black’ issue, featuring only black models (styled by Edward), which sold out in hours.

2006-2011 – Worked for American Vogue.

1998-2001 – Worked for Vogue Italia

enninful word cloud

1990 – Fashion director of British youth culture magazine i-D. Becoming the youngest director of an international fashion publication, aged 18.

Worked as an assistant with stylists Simon Foxton (who scouted Edward) and Beth Summers on fashion shoots.

1988 – Model-scouted on the London Underground tube system, aged 16.

Moved to Ladbroke Grove, West London as a child with his family.

1972 – Born in Ghana, West Africa

Ghana flag
Flag of Ghana Photo: @Bistro22gh Instagram

 

The Vogue Italia issue was monumental; having a visceral effect on readers disillusioned with an industry perceived as being endemically racist. According to Time Magazine, the original run of the issue (which had four different covers) sold out in the U.S. and U.K. in 72 hours. An extra, 30,000, 10,000 and 20,000 copies were reprinted in the U.S., U.K. and Italy, respectively. Not just featuring black models, the issue had interviews with Film Director Spike Lee and former editor of Vogue Paris, Edmonde Charles-Roux, who allegedly resigned in 1966 when he wasn’t not allowed to put a black model on the front cover. Although heavily air-brushed as all magazines are, the impact of the 2008 issue cannot be trivialized.

black models, vogue magazine, fashion, European Fashion
Vogue Italia 2008 – Black issue Fab Four (clockwise) – Liya Kebede, Sessilee Lopez, Naomi Campbell, Jourdan Dunn

Photos: Steven Meisel

While Enninful’s appointment is very important and his impact on the fashion industry poignant, we can’t expect things to shift dramatically. It will take time.

He is one man, a very influential man, but one man. I hope he’ll be able to withstand the pressure of being the first non-white editor of British Vogue and the expectation that follows, if he is to take the publication in a new direction.

“By virtue of his talent and experience, Edward is supremely prepared to assume the responsibility of British Vogue.” Jonathan Newhouse Condé Nast International, CEO

We know Enninful isn’t shy about displaying black beauty in fashion. In 2015 as the Style Director of W magazine, he styled an all-black spread, shot by renowned Australian fashion photographer Emma Summerton. The aptly named “Natural Selection” spread showcased models with natural hair, featuring Ajak Deng, Amilna Estevao, Anais Mali, Aya Jones, Binx Walton and Tami Williams.

w magazine afro shot
Natural Selection: Screenshot from W Magazine

“If you put one [non-white] model in a show or in an ad campaign, that doesn’t solve the problem. “We need teachers in universities, we need internships, we need people of different ethnic backgrounds in all parts of the industry. That really is the solution.”Edward Enninful

According to a report by The Fashion Spot, covering diversity across New York, London, Milan and Paris fashion shows in all four cities for the Autumn 2017 collections, 72% of models cast in shows where white and 28% women of colour. This is an improvement on previous years, so things are slowly progressing. London came second out of the four cities, behind New York with an increase in its ‘diversity score’.

You could argue that in 2017, black models on the front of magazines and black professionals appointed to top positions within the fashion industry shouldn’t be headline news. But it is headline news, indicating there are still strides to take and work to be done.

I’m routing for Edward and British Vogue to pleasantly surprise us.

Watch this space.

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Easy headwrap styles


One of the most conspicuous symbols in African fashion is the headwrap (known locally by various names across Africa). The UK is no stranger to cold weather, so why not wrap up and keep warm while still looking good?!

In African cultures, headwraps are more than just a fashion statement, having definitive cultural significance.

We can’t deny the rise of headwraps in the African diaspora as a staple fashion accessory.

AFWL water mk

Here are some great headwrap styles I found and will be trying out myself. Which one will you be wearing?! When you decide, remember to wear your crown like a queen!

Comment below…

 

 

 

 

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MAXHOSA BY LADUMA Knitwear @ Africa Utopia London


Laduma Ngxokolo has been making international waves for a while, since launching his knitwear brand, MAXHOSA by LADUMA in 2010. His collections have graced runways all over the world, including AFI Mercedes Benz Fashion Week – JoBurg  in August.

 

Inspired by Xhosa beadwork distinctive patterns and colours, I was lucky enough to see his collection first hand at Africa Utopia 2016. As part of the team who created the first official magazine for the annual festival, I was in the photographers’ pit when the #AfricaSquad Fashion Show kicked off! The show’s creative director, Agnes Cazin, created a collaborative, afrobeat, disco vibe as models wore a mixture of designers from Africa and the diaspora, including MAXHOSA Knitwear pieces.

Photo credit: Belinda Lawley

Knitwear isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of an African fashion label, and that’s one of the elements I like about MAXHOSA BY LADUMA; it caught me by surprise. Harnessing creative prowess from traditional Xhosa culture, MAXHOSA has reimaged stylish African knitwear.

knitwear, maxhosa, fashion show, london
MAXHOSA Knitwear on the #AfricaSquad runway. Africa Utopia London 2016
maxhosa, african fashion, knitwear
MAXHOSA’s distinctive patterns, where show stopping at Africa Utopia London.

Photo credit: Belinda Lawley

After winning the 2015 Vogue Italia Scouting for Africa prize, MAXHOSA has been covered Elle Magazine (South Africa) and earlier this year went viral after Beyoncé visited the Smithsonian Design Museum in NYC, and became aware of the brand.

MAXHOSA is making the world take note of African knitwear, not just in clothing (including socks) but furnishings too, with a collection of rugs.

At Lagos Fashion & Design Week a few days ago, the Apropriyeyshin SS17 collection was on full display.

instagram fashion
@maxhosa instrgram @_emeraldd

“With this collection, I aim to express the beauty in culture exchange of the dress codes of western and Xhosa dress-code. All the looks are sketched with an ultimate objective of constructing an innovative utopian African feel, that will outlive the time span of the collection.” – MAXHOSA

I have great memories of Africa Utopia London and glad that Laduma was there. CNN African Voices  caught up with him, giving insight to the man and the brand.

maxhosa-cnn-vid

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West African Textiles – then and now


west african textiles2

Despite it’s struggle to survive on the continent, West African textiles are growing in popularity in the diaspora, especially Europe. However, if African textiles are to become a staple across the world, it’s heritage needs to be maintained and strengthened in Africa.

This is an interesting video on the history and current state of West African textiles, which is more than just wax prints.

 

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