Artists and fashion designers all over the world have used African patterns, artefacts and silhouettes in their works for many years. Every now and again, we see the African aesthetic recurring on the runway.
Words: Tsakane Chabane, Subeditor: Teh Yusof
Growing up African was hard, especially for us fashion and beauty enthusiasts. Looking at magazines and what they called beautiful didn’t match what I saw in the mirror. Darker skin tones, even in the black community was (and still is sometimes) looked down on. So naturally, young Africans began adopting western culture and trying to change their appearance accordingly.
Young black girls haven’t really had the luxury of being proud of how they look. The beauty standards that most of us have are dictated to us through the fashion industry. The runway and magazines were filled with models who are thin, light-skinned women with minimum curves.
Flash-forward to 2015, where we mostly celebrate our curves. Where having a little more “junk in the trunk” is coveted. And young black women have taken to social media to show how beautiful black can be. Tumblr being at the forefront of the black pride, we’ve seen many young African women modelling dresses and outfits that resemble African traditional dress.
Hollywood definitely played a large role in helping young black women take pride in how they look. We’re seeing more and more black actresses and musicians, embrace African styles and patterns in their red carpet wear.
Every now and again we see African inspired prints on the runway. Stella Jean’s SS16 had a lot of bright colours and interesting shapes that are usually associated with West African traditional clothes. The closer we look, each piece takes the shapes and silhouettes that appeal to western audiences but the prints echo the African aesthetic.
This is giving young African designers the courage to show their talents. And they take pride in their various nationalities, which shows in their collections. And the same can be said for textiles designer, Rebecca Osewa. I interviewed her about African fashion in the western world. We discuss how she fell into fashion and her African pride.
Young British-African designers are taking what African means to them and they are bringing it to the fashion shows. However, like Rebecca mentions in the second part of our interview, it all falls under “outfits I’d wear at an occasion” rather than the ready-to-wear that they intend it to be. For everyday people to wear those designs on a regular day, it would be different. These designs aren’t considered high-street, they serve the purpose of celebrating African pride and nothing else. This is where Rebecca and her textiles come in.
Looking at what the British public choose to wear, the colours and the silhouettes, it is important for any designer and should be more so for young African designers who are looking to bring their culture to the world. They need to look at toning down the “costume” feel of their designs without losing their influences and inspiration.
With the help of African textile designers who have a vision of bringing Africa to the world, we could begin seeing ready-to-wear collections that are on trend as well as being true to the African Aesthetic, no matter which country and culture influenced their line.