|Stella Jean AW12 pieces. Stella Jean is a Haitian Italian designer who is causing a quiet storm in Europe with her consistent use of bold ''African'' prints.|
This post was unplanned, I was going through some images I collected on the internet in the past couple of weeks and came across these ones from Stella Jean's Winter12 collection. I remembered a Skype conversation I had with a friend of mine in the US last week and thought, hey here's a topic that people might find interesting.
I work in fashion. I work with designers in South Africa selling and promoting their clothes at Mememe in Joburg, I write about designers that people need to hear about on my blog, I sell at pop ups and am constantly looking for new opportunities to help spread the word about local and African designers. I don't do it as well as say, this website www.heritage1960.com but I try. I am fortunate to deal with customers and kind of know what people want to wear.
Judging by the current ubiquity of the so called ''African wax print'', a name I often times struggle to use because, well, the prints are not always wax prints but I have not come across a general name that describes the fabrics that are considered to ''look African''. Anyway, this is not about that, let's just call a spade a spade. We've stocked some designers at the shop that make clothing with ''African'' prints and while we have sold some of this clothing because it's beautiful, it has not exactly been flying off the rails. I've seen some stylish people who can pull off a ''bold'' look wear designers like Loin Cloth and Ashes and Hunadi, who both cleverly use these prints and I can see how popular labels like Babatunde and Maria McCloy are becoming because of their use of these fabrics in their accessories. [In fairness, Loin Cloth and Ashes and Hunadi use a range of different fabrics, not only African prints] But if you look at the increasing number of African designers who work with these fabrics, one wonders two things.
The first is, who are we making these clothes for? Are we making them for ourselves or for the rest of the world to look African? I ask this because the clothes are not nearly selling as fast as the catwalks and magazine features suggest. The people that are buying them are the trendy ones who aren't afraid to wear them or ones that are going to a traditional wedding or some or other special event. I know this because this is what people say. I wonder what general women think of these fabrics, are they nice to look at and admire but too much to pull off? Is it a case of designers expressing their pride in Africa, a pride that patrons are not ready to wear on their sleeves?
The second thing I wonder is, are we going to move on from this beautiful, yet limiting and overly literal approach to expressing our Africanness? These items are a nice to have but they are the stand out pieces, people don't dress like this every day. Or should they? Are the runways paying lip service to a pride we should have about ourselves? What will happen next season when the trend has petered out?
That said, there is solace in the direction that African designers like Maki Oh and Sindiso Khumalo are taking in terms of expressing their African roots. They make ready to wear clothing, clothing that can live in people's everyday style all over the world. They make clothing that is nuanced in Africanness but is not defined by its Africanness and that, I think is how we should be selling our continent. The colour, soul and texture of Africa's beat is inimitable and should be banked on, but perhaps it's time to stop resting on our printed laurels.
|A look from Maki Oh SS13 Collection|
|A look from Sindiso Khumalo's SS13 Collection|