African fashion centre-stage in Paris, Milan
Various institutions have stepped up to the plate, with shows, conferences and public debates, to promote African fashion, which has gained in visibility in recent years thanks to its emerging designers’ increased catwalk presence. A phenomenon that is clear for all to see, attracting the attention of the general public and also of major labels and fashion week organisers, as shown by this season’s busy programme in Paris and Milan.
The African marathon will begin in Paris on Friday with a genuinely must-see event. It is the “first major Parisian event dedicated to contemporary African fashion and haute couture,” according to the website of Africa Fashion Up, the fashion programme devised by Share Africa, a meeting and discussion platform founded by Franco-Ivorian model Valérie Ka and businessman Arnaud Ventura to promote talented young African designers and entrepreneurs.
Africa Fashion Up wishes to “recognise and promote the exuberance currently enjoyed by African fashion, a blend of tradition and modernity, heritage and a global outlook,” and has staged a competition whose winner will be announced on September 17 at the Salomon de Rothschild palace in Paris, at the end of a catwalk show that will present the creations of the programme's five participants: Zac Koné (Ivory Coast), Guy Fabrice Sullivan (Ivory Coast), Natasha Jaume & Carina Louw (South Africa), Souleymane & Laure Tarot (Senegal) and Emmanuel Okoro (Nigeria).
The event will be the culmination of two days of meetings between these five designers and various fashion celebrities and institutions in Paris. Notably, Balenciaga, one of the programme’s partners, will offer the participants personalised support over the course of six months, as part of a wider mentorship programme. The designers will also visit the atelier of Cameroonian stylist Imane Ayissi, who last year joined the Paris Haute Couture week calendar, and will meet Sophie Erika, head of Business and Collection Planning at Kenzo Fashion.
Finally, they will also benefit from a training programme delivered by the HEC business school in Paris. At the end of Africa Fashion Up’s catwalk show, the winner of the programme’s first edition will be chosen by a jury of five established African designers: Imane Ayissi, Karim Tassi from Morocco, Martial Tapolo from Cameroon, Eric Raisina from Madagascar and Soraya Da Piedade from Angola.
On September 18, again in Paris, a conference on Congo’s dandyish ‘Sape’ subculture (‘Sape’ is the acronym of Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes, French for the society of ambience-makers and elegant people), will be held at 5.45 pm at the National Art History Institute. The conference, entitled ‘La mémoire longue d’une mode populaire: la Sape en Europe et au Congo’, focusing on Sape history and aesthetics from the 19th century to the present, will be held by Manuel Charpy, a specialist in the history of material and visual culture.
The following week, it will be Milan’s turn to host a series of events shining a spotlight on contemporary African fashion. The first, scheduled at 10 am on September 22, is the collective show ‘We are made in Italy – Black lives matter in Italian Fashion’, unveiling the work of five Italy-based female designers of African origin.
The show will be streamed online and is the climax of a project launched exactly a year ago by Italian-Cameroonian designer Michelle Francine Ngomno, head of the Afro Fashion Association, a not-for-profit association she founded in 2015 with Ruth Akutu Maccarthy, from Ghana. The show is sponsored by designers Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan, and supported by Italy's national fashion chamber (CNMI).
It will be followed on the same day by the show of designer Joy Ijeoma Meribe, featuring an in-person audience. Nigeria-born Meribe set up her ready-to-wear label, distinctive for its chic, contemporary style and shimmering colours, in the Italian city of Parma in 2017. She took part in last year’s edition of ‘We are made in Italy – Black lives matter in Italian Fashion’, and this year she is making her solo catwalk debut. Among the other African labels included on the Milan fashion week calendar, Nigerian brands Logos Space Programme and Maxivive, and Maison Alvine Demanou, by the eponymous Venice-based Cameroonian designer, who will present their collections online on Monday September 27.
CNMI is also launching, for this edition of the Milan fashion week, the ‘Fashion Bridges - I Ponti della Moda’ project in partnership with the Italian embassy in Pretoria, South Africa, and Florentine academy Polimoda. The project will enable four young designers from the South African fashion week (Jacques Bam, Fikile Zamagcino Sokhulu, Sipho Mbuto and Michael Peter Reid), supported by Polimoda alumni Domenico Orefice, Ilaria Bellomo, Julian Cerro and Alessia Dovero, to each design a capsule collection that will be showed in Milan, and then at Johannesburg Fashion Week.
In parallel with the women’s fashion week, Milan will also host, on September 23-26, the sixth edition of Afro Fashion Week Milano, organised by the Afro Fashion Association. The event will feature conferences and presentations, focusing this season on recycling and the issue of used garments swamping the African continent, and will also include digital collection presentations and a dozen in-person catwalk shows.
Six designers, based between Italy and Burkina Faso, Burundi, Kenya, Morocco, the Ivory Coast and Vietnam, will show on Saturday September 25, and another five, all from Cameroon, will do so on Sunday 26, part of the new ‘Fab Five Bridge Builders International’ project, with a strong focus on BIPOC creativity and style. Virgil Abloh has designed a special Off-White t-shirt to support the initiative. The proceeds from the t-shirt's sales, on showroom.afrofashion.org, will be donated to the Afro Fashion Association.
Taking over the baton from Milan, Paris Fashion Week will showcase Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize, who will open the fashion week programme with an in-person catwalk show scheduled at 5.30 pm on Monday September 27.
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