From Senegal to Nigeria, Mali to Ghana, the African continent has been home to a long and varied history of cloth. Yet until today, African fashion has been largely absent or on the mainstream global fashion stage.
However, in the past 50 years, the light of recognition is finally being shed on Africa's boundless pool of vibrant creators that fashion history has mostly, callously, ignored.
It is deeply shocking to discover that up until now, there hasn’t been a single exhibition in the UK retracing African fashion from an African perspective, and telling the stories of its creators and makers. For that reason alone, this V&A exhibition is ground-breaking.
Trying to sum up African fashion is no small task: the diversity and richness of its influences, creativity, savoir-faire and craftsmanship are as wide as the continent itself.
More than 250 objects are on display, with the stories behind them alongside personal insights from the designers, together with sketches, editorial spreads, photographs, film and catwalk footage.
The exhibition follows a chronological order starting with mid-twentieth century influential designers promoting African fashion on a global scale, to contemporary fashion creatives who are breaking from the past.
It is a delight to be able to see Chris Seydou’s famous bògòlanfini suit — marrying traditional cotton and wool cloth dyed with fermented mud with a western cut — which became a hit on the European runway in the 90s.
Chris Seydou’s bògòlanfini suit
The Kuba raffia dress created by Malian designer Alphadi is both an aesthetic marvel and a feat of technical prowess.
Amongst contemporary creatives, fashion is a way to break with historical codes and begin a dialogue about the future. ‘My work focuses on decolonising the mind’ says Congolese designer IAMISIGO. His outfits always carry meaning — some of them combine ancient materials, techniques and symbolic references of the likes of Nkondi Nkissithe protective Congolese figurine.
Moroccan fashion creative Artsi Ifrach joins two symbolic outfits, the trench coat and the burka, to create a dreamy futurist dress. For him, ’the piece is a dialogue, a journey between cultures.’
While cultural heritage and local savoir-faire are very much at the core of what African contemporary designers create, there is also a quest for a sustainable future. Textile designer Awa Meité looks at supporting local cotton processing to provide higher incomes to local communities.
Awa Meité design
The exhibition is not only utterly gorgeous, it tells the stories of an African future.
‘African fashion is the future. African fashion is now,’ says Omoyemi Akerele, founder and director of Lagos Fashion Week. ‘Fashion that’s created by our people for our people and for the benefit of growing and developing our economy.’
‘We hope this exhibition will spark a renegotiation of the geography of fashion and become a game-changer for the field’ says V&A Senior Curator Christine Checinska.
We hope so too.
|What||A hymn to African fashion, finally|
|Where||V&A, South Kensington, Cromwell Road, London, SW7 2RL | MAP|
|Nearest tube||South Kensington (underground)|
02 Jul 22 – 26 Apr 23, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Website||Please click here for more information|