Africa is a land of colours. Whether it is the arid landscape of the nearby desert, the green lushness of the jungle or the urban jungle of cities, colourful dresses and men's clothes stand out, full of bright colours and designs that cannot escape attention. Looking back, I can see the similarities between African designs and my doodles, and I find it exciting! I am a second generation Senegalese-born and raised, and I take pride in that fact. Growing up in Senegal was an amazing experience, and I will need many blog entries to describe it all. Senegal has to be one of the most hospitable countries on earth, where smiles and graciousness are everywhere to be seen. And there's the food, the music, the landscapes, the traditions, the different dialects that are rich with one of the most encompassing History in mankind.
But back to fashion. How mainstream has African fashion become? The answer is “very”. Everyone knows about “tribal” looks and how widely available they became starting around 2010. Even though many fashion designers “borrowed” a lot of authentic African fashion designs and forgot to give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, the results are still beautiful.
The beauty of African fashion is that it fights the landscapes and the most brutal weather trends: heat and plenty of sunshine. From the West Coast to the East Coast, from the North to the South, Africa is a giant continent of extremes: deserts, lush jungles, arid landscapes, green, luxuriant mountains and valleys, it has it all. In response to these extremes, African cultures have adapted their fashion sense and gave prominence to a large amount of colours and designs, exaggerated forms that fight sameness and predictability. The results are a feast for the eyes and the senses, making one almost dizzy looking at the variety and richness of African fashion.
Modern day African fashion using Batik fabrics
The main elements of African clothing are “pagnes” (loin cloths) for women and men, as well as “boubou”, which are long tunics worn over pants for men and long tunics worn over skirts or pagnes for women, with slits on the sides. The two main fabrics used in African fashion are Batik and Bazin, both made of cotton.
Batik is a wax and dye process that gives magnificent and highly colored fabrics such as the below examples:
Batik designs are a time intensive process that results in colorful fabrics. African women are proud of their clothes and like to make sure these garments reflect a mood, an occasion, a holiday or a celebration. Batiks help in eliciting their moods and the environment they are in.
Even the most mundane tasks do not stop African women from using colours and designs to express their tastes.
Senegalese women wearing Batik pagnes
Then there are celebrations in which the imagination runs wild and free spirited, resulting in beautiful clothing for women and men:
Distinctive African design with the short skirt emphasizing the waist
Men tend to favor the other celebrated fabric named Bazin. Bazin is a rich and very thick cotton that is worked and processed until it becomes this rich, shiny fabric with moiré effects. These two men wearing boubous made of Bazin are a very good example of what the fabric can do in terms of giving a distinctive look only enriched by a simple, effective design. Notice the sheen that is so distinctive of Bazin fabric, and is very similar to brocade.
The other important element is head covering. On a continent where sun and heat prevail, head coverings become necessary and therefore call for artistic expressions that render them fashionable and so pretty to look at. Women tend to have their head coverings match their outfit, and the results are always lovely:
Men’s head coverings are simpler, usually consisting either of knit caps or kufis. In Senegal and throughout most of West Africa, men are expert at crocheting and many sell their creations in the streets, on beaches and markets. Kufis are mostly worn by Muslims, but even African Christians have embraced the stylish and ornate look they have.
There is so much more to write about African fashion, and this only skims the surface. I will be covering more about the topic in the future. I want to highlight African fashion designers of today, as their talent is great and their future seems bright. Thank you for reading and until next time!
What could be better than Fashion meeting Art? Wearing beautiful clothes is just as important as wearing beautifully crafted clothes. No one really wants poorly stitched pieces of fabric, and we certainly don't want to be caught wearing bad looking clothes. Art in Fashion can reveal itself just about anywhere. From the sculptural pieces made by Rei Kawabuko (Comme des Garçons) to the explosion of colors and patterns mostly seen since the 1960s, Art and Fashion are merging like never seen before, confirming that indeed, Fashion is Art.
Rei Kawabuko/Comme des Garçons Art of the In-Between show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art
The rise of Fashion as an Art form is evidenced by the massive crowds at fashion exhibits. Yes, it helps that these exhibits are set up as amazing storytelling and dazzling displays. The bulk of the story remains that fashion is finally taking its long due place amongst the various forms of Art that we know of.
As head designer of Chloe Lambertin, I know first hand of the relationship that exists between these two forms of craft: I was raised by a fashion designer (aunt and godmother) who loved dressing me in the most amazing -sometimes outlandish- clothes she custom made for me. I attended the Dakar School of Fine Arts concurrently with regular school curriculum and loved drawing figures dressed in the most outrageous and colorful clothes. My art has been long influenced by fabric, whether it has been on oil paintings, or when I paint on silk.
And then, a delicious surprise is when my sense of fashion meets fashion. Here is a photo of art collector and businesswoman Cherine Magrabi in her Santa Monica home, and here are the blue Delft leggings I have in my permanent Chloe Lambertin collection of leggings.
Here is another example of Art meets Fashion, and High End Fashion meeting Chloe Lambertin's sense of Fashion:
What is interesting to me is that I don't get inspired by looking at photos of catwalks and fashion magazines. I let my inspiration speak for itself and start drawing until I am satisfied with what I have achieved. Picking up elements from the street, the current Art trends and Fashion trends is what makes it possible, proving how we are all influenced by the same occurrences in our lives.
In the meantime, happy Art meets Fashion shopping!
Halloween is just around the corner. Kids are back in school, temperatures are slowly cooling down, fall fashion is back in force, and soon, very soon, pumpkin fields will be filled with big yellow and orange gourds ready for pumpkin pies and carving.
How do you celebrate Halloween? When my daughters were young, they loved to carve pumpkins and a messy kitchen was the most probable result, but we had so much fun.
So much fun in coming up with Halloween costumes ideas! The excitement! The frenzy! If there is one day of the year where the outrageous can become normal and the normal may seem boring, it has to be Halloween.
What are your plans for Halloween this year? Will you be baking delicious cookies and pies? Will you go trick-or-treating? Wearing something spooky or dreamy? All comments are welcome.
In the meantime, I came up with new designs for the fall centered on Halloween. Thank you for taking time to look at them. Feedback is always welcome and encouraged.
Photo Credits: Rawpixel.com