On the New Golden Age of African Fashion

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African fashion has never received as much attention as it has in recent years. Previously absent from international fashion circles, it blazed its way into the official fashion week schedules in Paris, Milan, and New York. Majestic kente cloth by Cameroonian Imane Ayissi; aso-oke fabric woven in effusive rainbow colors by Nigerian Kenneth Ize; boldly poetic and politicized womenswear by South African Thebe Magugu, winner of the 2019 LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers; and the joyful intermingling of batik and indigo by Ghanaian Studio One Eighty Nine were all avidly received.

This new wave sweeping the world today is born not only out of an ebullient creativity in Africa, but also out of a powerful force, a singular voice that is rising up and opening a new chapter in fashion, as was the case with the Japanese designers and the Antwerp Six1 in the 1980s. In her coverage of Imane Ayissi’s first Paris Haute Couture show, French journalist Sophie Fontanel writes, “It refreshes the eye and exalts the spirit.”

Although Africa has long inspired Western fashion, African designers are now weaving a new aesthetic that reflects a continent-wide demand—for cultural reappropriation and the invention of a language exclusive to Africa. From Cape Town to Abidjan, and from Marrakech to Kigali, designers, photographers, visual artists, and bloggers are shaping what Senegalese sociologist Alioune Sall, in his prescient book Africa 2025: What Possible Futures for Sub-Saharan Africa?, calls “a cultural renaissance.”

In the most optimistic of the four scenarios presented in 2003 by the founder and executive director of the African Futures Institute, Sall writes that this renaissance “allows African societies to look back at their past in a positive light. It allows Africans to mark their territory. It allows them to invent themselves in the world of the twenty-first century.” This renaissance champions African cultures, emancipation of the African people, Pan-Africanism, and freedom of expression.

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