The African Aesthetic
It’s no news stating that African fashion from onset has been synonymous to bright and vibrant colors/prints. This ideology has been carried along in the hearts/minds of African designs in their representation of fashion to the world, setting the standards in that trend.
In recent times, this Embodiment of ‘African aesthetics’ has broken into the global market, going on with words like tribal, traditional or primitive, probably another way of saying, African fashion lacks subtlety.
African designers in spotlight get featured on fashion editorials year in year out, with little or no emphasis to the innovation or craftsmanship fused into each collection but fixating again on vibrant prints. How is Africa as a continent pushing the fashion industry forward with it’s vibrant prints and why does being African imply clinging to the stereotypes of vibrant and wild?
Cultural appropriation; a crucial issue still predominant in global fashion, designers continually appropriate African cultural values with little reference to the culture/ sub culture in which inspirations where derived from.
Cultural appropriation takes much without giving back, integrating cultural relics with Eurocentric fabrics and exorbitant prices.
Valentino’s SS16 collection, wildly inspired by ‘tribal African’ was subject to backlash as it featured a lineup of largely white models. An abstraction meant to personify a modern day Africa was graced by 8 black models with about 90 looks flooding down the runway, with many more references to cultural appropriation.
In essence, there’s a bit of pressure on African designers to portray Africa with the stereotypical African design and aesthetics of bright and vibrant fabric particularly now as global brands feature African prints.
A number of African designers still cling to our cultural significance; with the notion of sending a message of cultural relevance.
They need to know that that message has been passed already. African prints are ubiquitous now. We should focus on more ideas for our prints, more fusions, more detailing in the idea of fashion itself, improving the form of covering the new identities of Africa’s new generation and the world in general requires as clothes to be garbed in, our taste levels have been connected with fashion shows in Paris, with Gucci’s Alessandro Michele amazing new forms and shapes created with his clothes, we want so much more, we need to be fed and clothed. So what’s next?
An example might be PITH, a fashion house birthed from Africa based on timelines and identities of minds all over the world ; a brand with the aim to reinvent what is meant by the African fashion aesthetic. The idea is to curate abstractions with both aesthetic and artistic details which represent the distinctions and unique diversity of tastes, cultures, ideas and personalities in our world. Their first abstraction titled DILLY ONE is an expression of us, a raw essence being displayed with our skin as luxury.
South African designer, King David in an interview for Africa.com says ‘I want to do this without being too harsh and saying I’m going to give you, feed you, African prints. I want to give you fashion.”
We have seen an influx of fashion consciousness with weeks set aside in appreciation of fashion in various African countries. SA fashion week, Ghana fashion and design week, Nairobi fashion week, Kenya, Lagos fashion and design week, Nigeria; all showcasing emerging designers, engaging in seminars educating fashion designers about the business of fashion in Africa. These shows each year create an environment for the culture to be showcased, they need to grow in their curation to give the designers a bigger stage, more freedom to curate their designs and truly show the world their stage and runway. The shows should push the designers to go bigger and bolder.
This is already being attempted as we witnessed the showcase of a Nigerian based fashion designer Maxivive at the LFDW who was quite innovative and original in his creations. From the models in formation on the runway to the designs, exceptional.
In Africa today, there’s a downplay of content being put out by designers, as a larger percentage seek solely to make gains and neglect creativity, designing majorly for the elite community and whatever suits their needs.
There’s an upsurge for creative content particularly among the millennials; they want a brand that reflects their culture, a culture brought forth by the emergence of the Internet, a culture that takes risk, a culture of being one with the world moving through the sectors with ease and tools that help you keep the culture going in real time with accessible tools and an ever growing catalogue of information.
We are the remarkable ones, the minds that dream, the minds that care about their environment, the minds not trapped by identity, form or state. Not even your tradition should be a singular feeling, we can understand the differences now.
What’s in store for us?
Our generation brought forth the new age of artistic consciousness, it’s in the music we listen to, we have a growing food culture in Nigeria right now, there’s a gaming industry in Ghana, and a skating culture by a skate group in Nigeria, WAFFLES AND CREAM which might I add had their video on Hypebeats sometime this year.
The aim is for this creative field/ medium to feed off each other, growing as they do. We want to see a PITH collaborative abstraction with rising artists like Økuntakinte, Anthony makwogu(tonero), Odunsi and the likes. We want fashion brands to actually take the culture from the Africans who will actually wear with, the Africans who’s influence is gotten from its global awareness of things around him, a world that needs to be given reasons of identity, clothes that don’t just showcase our heritage of being vibrant but talks about other issues, addresses other timelines of our growth and showcases the innovation and craft of our take on personal style, fashion and how we reflect it as an identity and form.
There’s a culture that brand which curates street wear credible fashion, JEUNESSE, spoke to the C/O Taiwo Ayodeji and he had this to say about the brand ”Jeunesse as a street wear brand is a glorification of the new culture the youths have become, still taking in from the freedom of being even more expressive as a the global culture has become part of the street culture too. A form of saying you can be identified as a youth, and still be respected for what you are, what you have to offer, your dreams and opinions are enlisted on the path of curating a new future. We feel that’s what the new culture of the youths represents now, putting this identity on pieces of clothes and accessories, we can identify with the youths and create a verbal communication”.
We project to see our fashion industry grow faster should we delve into the idea of e-commerce.
African fashion has blossomed and been at reach to the world using online stores and Instagram; e-commerce platforms as a channel for distribution.
“Africa is too big, too creative and too dynamic not to play a major part in the international cultural scene. Anyone who ignores the continent is going to miss out in a major way,” says Nigerian-born Kolade Adeyemo, who along with Akin Adebowale has launched Oxosi, a premium e-commerce platform delivering luxury African fashion brands to the world.
Growing, we can refine what a physical store means to the world, create a new culture for the world to learn from rather than traditional physical market which is somewhat being reinvented around the world. We can take advantage of being a fashion industry booming in the internet age, take advantage of the tools we’re being born into as we grow on the global scene, using this we can not only clearly advance what the African aesthetic is but we can use this to push our new global audience into any direction we please as well as being able to reach them wherever they might be, crossing across cultures, fusing and explaining our variations and aesthetics with whatever topic our audience understands. We’re all connected now.
The world at large is focused on Africa and it’s potential, seemingly, we(millennials) are focused on Africa. BOF recently released an article which highly implied that there’ll come a time(nearest future) when the preference of apparel made by designers outside Africa will become ‘old school’.
“I think it is going to get to a point where African artists will think it’s uncool to wear European brands on the red carpet,” says Adebowale of Oxosi. “It’s already more forward-thinking to be wearing a label that has shown at Lagos Fashion Week than something by Louis Vuitton.”
A time where Africans will want to be dressed in only African brands cause they are on a the scale of any other brand. Articles like this and others point to one direction, African fashion has a voice and it needs to be heard by all as a global player in the business and art of fashion.
We are the ones headlining that future.
The African aesthetic is free form now. We can break free from our normal constraints that has kept us in form of being just “vibrant and singular.” The African aesthetic is one of freedom, freedom to create.