African fashion is popular right now. From couture to street hip-hop style, it’s one of the world’s most inventive, dynamic current design scenes. A recent book that examines four African cities at the epicenters of this revolution is reviewed by Juliet Highet: Hannah Azieb Pool’s curated book, Fashion Cities Africa.
Contemporary African art and design have significantly increased in popularity over the past ten years. For the first time, Lagos, Nairobi, Casablanca, and Johannesburg—four cities at the compass points of the African continent—have books dedicated to their emerging or established fashion and style scenes.
The book focuses on the fashion choices made by specific important figures from each location and how they depict the social and political climates of those cities. This includes bloggers, photographers, stylists, and designers. Their selections honor each city’s apparel, jewelry, and accessories, capturing the spirit, drama, and inventiveness of the individual cities and their rich artisan traditions.
Anthropologists and ethnographers have produced far too many volumes on African design. Let’s now hear from those who now create and wear it. This book’s editor, Hannah Azieb Pool, born in Eritrea, states: “The book is neither an academic study nor a comprehensive guide to African fashion. But my objective is that it offers a beautiful glimpse of contrasting fashion scenes.
Lagos: Nigerians are the new hot guys.
According to Tokini Peterside, a strategic consultant specializing in African luxury goods, “We are known for being rambunctious and flamboyant.” But here, you have to be distinctive. Otherwise, the crowd’s loudness and noise will smother you.
Bubu Ogisi of I.Am.Isigo inspires her creations from various sources, including the northern Nigerian Wodaabe Fulani and the film Calamity Jane. She claims the stress of living here, which fosters creativity, motivates us all. The turmoil has beauty to it.
“Nigerians are now considered hot. With the spotlight on our creative industry, we can develop and use it to make a difference. Hauwa Mukan, a producer and presenter for radio and television, says it’s time to step up and deliver. “I want to see our brands consumed in the mainstream internationally,” adds Chinedu Okeke, a brand consultant and festival producer. That is the proper location for them. And among such “brands” is fashion.
Arise magazine’s debut in 2008 marked the beginning of the definition of modern Nigerian fashion. Lisa Folawiyo has reimagined Ankara (Dutch wax cloth) as an opulently adorned fabric for her line Jewel. Since its invention in the early 19th century, this printed textile has been associated with West African fashion.
Utilizing indigo resist-dyeing methods, Maki Oh’s Apparel reinterprets adire, a garment traditionally created by Yoruba women in southwest Nigeria. Professionals in Lagos are encouraged to “wear traditional” to work on Fridays.
Other influential figures in fashion are becoming aware of the necessity to preserve and advance handmade traditions. The men’s clothing retailer Stranger was established in 2013 by design expert Yegwa Ukpo and his wife. Stranger carries unconventional Nigerian designer clothing that is hard to find elsewhere and has an indigo dyeing pit.
“Indigo holds such history and mystique for Lagosians,” claims Ukpo. “We currently provide dyeing lessons but also plan to offer weaving workshops. My objective is to demonstrate that it is possible to create something modern by incorporating old crafts and bringing them into the present. Less importing and greater manufacturing are needed in this nation. It’s time to support the economy, generate lasting jobs, and be proud to say “Made in Nigeria.”
Nairobi: a fusion of fashion-related energy
High-end Nairobi labels also take a novel approach to the city’s history of tailoring and utilizing traditional textiles. Ami Doshi Shah and Adèle Dejak are accessory and jewelry designers who use local materials to produce personalized, incredibly sophisticated items, defying the idea that Africa doesn’t do luxury.
Dejak, a jewelry designer known for her striking pieces, presented during Milan Fashion Week and had an article about her designs in Vogue Italia. She claims we’re not a ‘curio’ that serves the expat or international market. Kenyans also purchase our artwork.
Anthony Mulli combines Maasai beadwork and seasonal fashions worldwide to produce bags popular in New York and Nairobi. He seeks out artisans for his Katchy Kollections, acquires their knowledge, and pushes them to update their goods for modern tastes, shifting perceptions of African fashion. He claims that Kenyans are leaving a legacy and preserving some of their cultural traditions by doing this.
Secondhand clothing, or mitumba, is a significant component of Nairobi’s fashion scene. Around 20 acres comprise the Gikomba market, where daily imports from China and towering bales of used apparel from North America and Europe arrive. Somehow, “the look” combines, like pairing an antique beaded bag with a “distressed” leather jacket. Tailors are positioned amid what appears to be chaos, ready and equipped to make changes immediately.
However, differing viewpoints on mitumba reflect the diverse responses to what are essentially leftover imports. Is it eroding or democratizing style by allowing the less fortunate to buy necessities or Nairobi’s affluent youth to assemble their distinctively fashionable ensemble? Is it bad for local fashion since so many Kenyan designers have to target the high-end, exclusive market?
However, stay around the Nairobi happening scene. You’ll see traditional fabrics like kanga, kitenge, and like, which traditionally had ‘bush’ connotations, worn with skinny jeans and sneakers from the markets’ secondhand clothing section. There is a confluence of fashion spirit in Nairobi and an awareness of the value of supporting local designers and brands.
Casablanca: Streetwear meets the Souk
According to stylist and blogger Louis Philippe de Gagoue, “Casablanca’s fashion scene is very calm, people there are stylish, and the culture there is rich.” To put it mildly, he has inspired street style with his varied appearance. “I mix clothing from different cultures with babouche slippers and Tuareg and Berber jewelry.”
I have tattoos and short hair, and I wear caftans from my grandmother, says architect Zineb Andress Arraki. Although my aesthetic is seen as punk, it’s about preserving a legacy for the future.
Mouna Belgrini, a journalist, explains: “Morocco is like a sponge. We keep our roots while absorbing elements from Europe, Africa, and the Arab world. That has always been the case. You can decide which culture best represents who you are and show that via your clothing. Since Morocco has long been a crossroads for trade routes and civilizations, Casablanca, its principal port city and commercial center, has a distinctively global aesthetic.
When the first generation of fashion designers emerged in the 1960s, they realized that women leading modern lives could not and would not wear the big, bulky, heavy traditional clothing like the djellaba (hooded robe), which limited their mobility and was also excessively hot.
Amine Bendriouich established his brand ABCB, which stands for Amine Bendriouich Couture & Bullshit and features a streetwear-meets-souq aesthetic. He visited the Sahara in 2014 in search of regional artisans who produce carpets and embroideries. He used this as the basis for figure-hugging black dresses covered in vibrant, psychedelic-colored embroidery. “I’m taking a stand against the caftan’s hegemony, which had become self-exoticized,” he declares.
Political and design lightning in Johannesburg
According to Milisuthando Bongela, who writes as Miss Milli B, “There’s always been a relationship between race, politics, and fashion, and nowhere is this truer than in Johannesburg.” This contrast is current and active; few cities like Johannesburg crackle with political and architectural lightning.
Although apartheid is ostensibly abolished, the city occasionally has tension about to explode. “It’s depressing, but it inspires creativity. According to Nkhensani Nkosi, the creator of the lifestyle brand Stoned Cherrie, “There’s something attractive, creatively speaking, about it. There is always activity here, so intense that it is boiling.
Two competing fashion weeks offer designers a wonderful platform and have been instrumental in showing the sector’s vigor. South African Fashion Week (SAFW) founder and director Lucilla Booyzen says: “Jo’burg is a vibrant city, there’s a love of glamour, but there’s also a willingness to experiment, to mix things up; a boldness that shines whether people are wearing high street or Hermès.”
Afripop founder Yolanda Sangweni declares: “My style is super funky, stolen from my Mum and aunties, super-African, and non-conforming.” Standive Kooroge, an actor and activist, offers a universal perspective: “My style is a reflection of my life experiences and travel – a traditional Zulu influence and a vintage Western tapestry; I’m an African global citizen.”