Last week the New York Times published a fashion article on a subject dear to my heart called Africa’s New Fashion Influence. The article discusses modern African fashion talent, showcasing its sophistication and diversity in an effort to challenge the simplistic and often condescending cliches that Western audiences tend to associate with African style.
In her latest book called New African Fashion Helen Jemmings, a fashion journalist, aims to broaden our perception of what African fashion is. In the popular imagination, and especially in the fashion world, this culturally and ethnically diverse continent is often patronizingly reduced to a monolith in which prints are “tribal”and silhouettes are “primitive”. This stems from an Orientalist tendency to exoticize other cultures and reduce them to a few conveniently static symbols; however, this ignores the exciting evolution and complexity of these cultures. Modern African fashion is so much more dynamic, exciting, and multifaceted in its influences and inspirations, reflecting the diversity of Africans themselves, and it’s important to expose this reality.
The following images (borrowed from the slideshow that accompanied the NYT article) showcase emerging African talent. Some designers take inspiration from traditional African prints and silhouettes, some don’t, some focus on clean architectural lines, and many engage in a conversation with Western fashion by merging it with their own cultural background. The overall diversity, sophistication, and talent of these designers come through loud and clear and are gaining attention on a global scale.
The African fashion industry has been and will continue to grow globally, and along with that exposure, hopefully Western designers will start viewing Africa less as a “tribal” reference point frozen in the past, and be willing to engage with African designers in a contemporary sartorial conversation that elevates and inspires both sides, reflecting the best of cross-cultural exchange.
For a more in-depth look at modern African fashion, Arise Magazine is a great resource.