OVER IDENTITY- HAS PRINT COME TO DEFINE THE AFRICAN DESIGNER?
BY WANA UDOBANG
During the British summer, the country’s collective state of mind is equally dictated by its unpremeditated skyline as much as it fashion trends. I remember one of these summers walking down Oxford Street. The Selfridges window was decorated with stuffed tropical wildlife, spears, horns and mannequins’ draped in all shades of African print. The window backdrop was plastered in Ghanaian Kente cloth and off shoots of elephant grass sprouting from different corners. As you can already tell, that summer, European fashion was going African.
Since then, it has been observed, that print has come to define African design or even the African fashion aesthetic. From Lisa Folawiyo’s bejewelled Ankara garments to Odio Mimonet and even Zebra’s ready to war line, print has become the main course in the African designer’s staple. Hilfiger and Lauren came to embody the All American look, even then, they saw the need to diversify to satisfy the insatiable buying taste of trendy fashion consumers.
In terms of the retrospective, designers Kesse Jabari and Nikki Africana started of working with African fabric. They varied from Adire tie die, Asho Oke, George, Damask, Ankara to even brocade and lace, the Y2K generation haven’t completely departed from this model. Though Tiffany Amber works more with romantic and ethereal fabrics like chiffon, silk and lace, Mali’s Xuly Bet opted for fabric with solid blocks of colour in its last gothic inspired collection. Still there were enormous traces of Print. It makes one begin to believe that there is a likelihood that this monopoly of Print may become detrimental to the African designer as it has come to detract from the technique and dexterity of the African clothes constructors.
Though different iconoclastic trends are still traced to its lineage in certain eras, like corsets to the Victorians and floral to the hippies, every knowledgeable fashionista can see its evolution through the decades. Granted the two thousands saw less originality and more a re-invention of the wheel, no particular attribute has come to strongly define a designers nationality or race.
So should being an African designer be one who just works with African fabric? Some might argue that people should be able to work with what they know as well as what influences them without giving into the paranoia of global acceptance. At the end of the day Yinka Shonibare’s Print influenced and revamped Nelson’s ship has been commissioned for the fourth plinth in Tralfalger square. The same can be said for the Japanese kimono and for the south East Asia with their Saris.
Don’t forget that though Vivian Westwood has been ordained the Dame of opulent fashion, she was once the goddess of punk rock. There is a need to become more than the Ankara before it becomes us. This homogeny of fabric should not obliterate its handler.
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