Africa Fashion Week London is an enchanted cultural experience. A fearless celebration of all style and fashion that is African. A Haven for the curious to learn, observe and experience ancient techniques and traditions. Entering Freemasons Hall was truly riveting. The listed building was transformed into a luxurious 2-storey market with stalls spilling treasury hand-crafted accessories, clothing, skin care products and cuisine that could arouse even the finest of taste buds. Designers from all over the continent lined the corridors with displays of bold, kaleidoscopic prints and beading in dominating hues of greens, reds and yellows. Afrobeats and Dancehall rhythms pumped from giant speakers as guests entwined between each exhibitor, whilst mingling within the celebratory atmosphere.
Winding up the grand staircase and through the displays, I managed to stumble upon the Backstage area. Intricacy doesn’t stop at the garments as the hair and make up process was a show in itself. Tables were drenched in rainbow hair extensions and hair-care products in numbers that most Women of Colour can relate to shamelessly owning in their bathrooms cabinets. Day 2’s signature styles consisted of multihued cainrows to frame the models faces and finished with block coloured ponytails and neatly twisted buns. Androgynous, bleached, shaven hair also appeared popular on the runway and sometimes even crowned with beautifully wrapped headscarves. Abbie May‘s makeup team created a fun matching eye with a block coloured feline flick and vaseline-nude lips.
Traditionally, African fabrics are vibrantly printed and woven depending on the country they derive from. The symbolisms are often inherited from ancient African Proverbs and historically worn by specific tribes in homage to their beliefs and traditions.
“For creativity to grow, there needs to be a platform to support its growth”. Ronke Ademiluyi, AFW Founder.
Before the first show of the day, I was able to have a quick chat with Ronke (sometimes referred to as Princess Ronke or Auntie Ronke) who launched Africa Fashion Week in 2011. She created the platform in response to a lack of a podium that showcased and promoted African designers. She was able to guide me through to the AFWL office with staff bustling in the background, eating from plastic containers in their left hands and fork in the right as they enjoyed their downtime before the show.
Ronke agrees with me that representation within the industry has improved a lot in recent years and the world is inspired. “A lot of western designers are now drawing inspiration from the African prints, the creativity, the block colours, the tribal prints. We saw what Stella McCartney did with the Ankara fabric”. Despite the uproar this caused within the community, I believe this occurrence created the perfect opportunity for true African artisans to come forward and educate the world on their culture whilst we are all watching. This falls perfectly with Ronke’s current plans of branching AFW other continents. So far there are booked appearances in Jamaica, Brazil and Atlanta as she aims to “promote the African designers and ensuring they all get a sustainable living and to teach the business of fashion. Its not all about the glitz and glamour on the runway”.
Both male and female models, casted by Hassan Reese, Founder of DAM, strutted the catwalk whilst showcasing collections from 46 designers over the 2-days representing Nigeria, Ghana, Senegal, Tanzania, Angola, Ivory Coast, Cameroon and Uganda to name a few. Ethnic Revival opened the catwalk on Day 2. The duo presented a collection of glistening jacquard overcoats in hues of gold and red, accompanied by modest floor length gowns and hijabs. The brand is known for reviving traditional fabrics from all over the world into modern designs in a nod to ethnic diversity.
Zimbabwean designer Preline Martha of Prelim stole the limelight. She turned traditional patterns into modern and very marketable prints on floating silk kimonos, statement day dresses and jumpsuits. In homage to hotter climates, she paired swimsuits with matching knee high boots and retro sunglasses for the ultimate sassy look. Her geometrical prints beautifully blended into each other with natural yet popping shades of aqua, gold, bronze, black and white.
Jésù- Ségun London woo’d the crowds by presenting their bold, luxury footwear. Loafers encrusted with sparkling crystals, cowhide, and swaying tassels made their way down the runway on silver platters, served by topless male models who evidentially don’t miss out on ab-day. The brand, having only launched in 2016 has already caught the attention of royalty and sportsmen. Their bespoke requests sometimes entails 24 carat gold trimmings and exotic leather skins. They prove that no design is off-limits with a pair of brogues that have a hand painted masterpiece of the owner on the sole. Their shoes are the ultimate Show Time accessory.
My first Africa Fashion Week was an insightful experience. An exquisite display of fresh talent and opportunities. With the current sighting of more than 12 influential September issues showcasing women of colour on their covers – the most that has ever been published in history, proves that there is a huge market for cultural representation. Africa Fashion Week has immense potential for expansion as onlookers want to know more. Right now is a very exciting time for the platform to continue educating the world on all the amazing things Africa as a nation has to offer.