The marquees are down and the ramps folded up, but for four days the Mercedes Benz African Fashion Week created a whirlwind of fabrics, textures, prints and beautiful people. With dozens of African designers converging on Johannesburg it’s hard to pick a favourite, but then again fashionistas didn’t have to because they were spoiled for choice.
Every designer certainly owned this season’s African print trend. The continents rich fabrics have been splashed all over European and American collections for at least three seasons. Back in Johannesburg it was exciting and heartening to see African designers own their heritage and repurpose it for Africans of a next generation.
Mozambican designer Taibo Bacar was singled out by Vanity Fair’s style and fashion editor Michael Roberts for his collection. “The clothes were beautifully made and had a modern take on Africanism. Print was used with restraint,” said Roberts. Dismayed by the endless cocktail parties, the American critic was less than enthused by South African fashion’s love of bling. With a quick sashay, South African designer David Tlale brushed aside Roberts’ criticism saying international critics just didn’t get Africa. Fresh from New York Fashion Week, Tlale relied on his love of black to bring the drama.
As Tlale and his contemporaries prove, African designers don’t only have prints to offer the world. Ivorian designer Elie Kuame also brought his elegant artistry. The young designer has made his mark in Paris in only a few years and his clever use of prints, from dramatic skirts to leotards, maintains a dedication to his Ivorian and Lebanese roots. Congolese Tina Lobondi was equally elegant – her prints were daring in tulip and peplum skirts while her white shift dresses were clean with a bold applique.
Still, younger designers played with prints. Tanzania-born Johannesburg based designer Anisa Mpungwe’s use of prints was fun in shorts and dresses, but it was her simple blacks and whites that really caught the eye. Cameroonian designer Kibenon also made a splash with prints. The New York City-based designer came to Johannesburg with the mission to corner the South African market. Ever the smart businesswoman, Kibenon hooked slots on local television and newspapers.
Established designers didn’t pass on the chance to showcase their work at the still fledgling African Fashion Week. Veteran Zimbabwean designer Joyce Chimanye also brought her eco-friendly label Zuvva to Johannesburg. Chimanye created Zuvva, meaning “Sun” in Shona in 1994 and continues to export her countries print to the world in a contemporary cut.
South Africa’s grand dame of fashion, Marianne Fassler has been doing leopard print long before the animal print made its return a few seasons ago. This time she added trendy neon’s to her signature spots. Fassler’s plastic and wool crochet was a striking nod to a traditional local method.
With two decades of design of under her trendy belt, Nigerian Deola Sagoe told her African story through cuts rather than prints. With bold metallic, Sagoe recreated the traditional Nigerian silhouette with billowing sleeves and narrow floor-length skirts.