Casting new light on Africa and the emerging African Fashion Phenomena

Casting new light on Africa and the emerging African Fashion Phenomena

By Geeta Kaur Dhiman

Casting new light on Africa and the emerging African Fashion Phenomena

By Geeta Kaur Dhiman

A creative revolution is rising and a bold African chapter in the history of fashion is now emerging - Fashion weeks and fashion schools are bourgeoning around cities in Africa. The rise of African fashion and design, which has been side-lined by mainstream fashion for over half a century, has caught the attention of international observers, who are acclaiming Africa as a new global locus for creativity.
‘The African Renaissance’- a philosophical and political movement to end the violence, elitism, corruption, and to replace them with a more just and equitable mandate, encourages Africans to take pride in their heritage and to take charge of their lives. This signalled an era of post-colonial re-awakening. There's a great African proverb that says "until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter." We are now looking at the lions' stories – from overlooked historical figures to works that liberate an idea of beauty that have been diminished or stereotyped.

A new generation of audacious and innovative African designers, artists and remarkable photographers; notably Aïda Muluneh, Trevor Stuurman, Justin Dingwall and Le Jardin Jolof amongst several, are redefining cultural aesthetics and contributing to a richer, authentic and sensitive visual narrative about the continent. Below Senegalese visual artists Le Jardin Jolof and Nzinga Desir, unapologetically capture elevated and mystical emotions of the African mask –which influenced famous artists such as Picasso and Matisse as contemporary Art forms, evoking undeniable 'spiritual dimension’.

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Credits: Le Jardin Jolof+ Nzinga Desir

African creatives are already changing the notion of design in the areas of sustainability, circular economies, connectivity and identity. With home grown ”Made in Africa” jewellery brands such as Akapo Jewels, Pichulik, Jiamini Kenya, Margaux Wong and Adele Dejak constructing an ethical and culturally literate lens- that will help equip Africa to thrive.

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Credits: Pichulik + Jiamini Kenya + Margaux Wong+ Adele Dejak

In the realm of luxury fashion brands such as Sukenia, Adebayo Jones, Imane Ayissi, Kennith Ize, Alphadi, Lisou and exemplary jewellery brands such as Matturi Fine Jewellery and Rosenkrantz Africa, are conveying an ultra-contemporary perspective on African high fashion today.

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Credits: Rosenkrantz Africa + Matturi Fine Jewellery

Today’s emerging African designers are breathing new life into lost aesthetics, craft and processes. These contemporary designers are looking back to adopting indigenous textiles and local manufacturing techniques for their collections. Rather than replicate what’s happening in the west, Africans value their own local market and produce for their own context, while proudly exporting designs to a global audience too.

London’s Victoria & Albert Museum is currently hosting an avant-garde ‘Africa Fashion’ exhibition, open until April 2023. The show will follow the journey that fashion from the continent has taken since the Independence era, celebrate its ingenuity, richness and impact on global style.
The showcase brings together over 250 objects, drawn from the personal archives of a selection of influential designers from the 1950s to the 1990s. From the vanguard who shaped Africa’s cultural renaissance to exhibits that will explore how the digital world, the playground of Generation Z, which has accelerated the expansion of the industry, irreversibly transforming global fashions as we know them. These key pieces will be surrounded by personal testimonials, photography, textiles, music, editorials and catwalk footage that tell wider and contextual stories.
Dr Christine Checinska, senior curator African and African Diaspora: Textile and Fashion, at the V&A, is spearheading the curation of this exhibition, which will engage fashion as an empowering practice and highlight the diversity of African culture. Dr Checinska states ‘It will create a space for others to be heard, exploring the relationship between cloth, culture and race. There are many ways to be African. There are many ways to be fashionable. African fashions are undefinable’ – this is part of the exhibition’s narrative. Through Africa Fashion V&A aims to give a glimpse of the diversity of the scene.

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Credits:V&A FASHION AFRICA- Kofi Ansah, Thebe Magugu, Imane Ayissi and Maison ArtC

Social media and pop culture are essential catalysts to this phenomenon, with the key audience being Millenials and zoomers. African Millennials are perceived as having changed the world’s understanding of Africa, bringing it from a ‘dark continent’ to ‘Africa rising’ through photography blogging and social media. Highlighting cultural re-appropriation and Africa’s untapped creative and innovative potential. Whereas 60% of Africa’s 1.25 billion people are under age 25, referred to as Gen Z, the first ‘digital natives’, being a generation born into technology. This generation is seen as perhaps the most progressive, involved in advocating for issues like gender equality, anti-racism, LGBTQ rights and climate change action, activism around gun control and immigration reform. Reuniting Africa, they also believe that governments should work to ensure a free and equal world. It is this very generation who will build or break your brand, accelerate or stand in the way of your growth. Gen Z, is the generation that is crafting a greater Africa.

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