New York, NY – Fashion is classically considered a European pursuit, although American designers surely have given European designers a run for their money in recent years as witnessed by the more than 100 designers who showcased their creativity during Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, which ended on Thursday.
A refreshing surprise was a group of seven designers hailing from Africa who were presented via a spectacular show at Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center courtesy of the popular large-format African style magazine, Arise. This presentation marked the fourth time that group chairman and editor-in-chief Nduka Obaigbena has brought African designers to America to introduce talent to this international marketplace.
Earlier this year Arise hosted a contest to identify the continent’s most promising designers. According to Penny McDonald, the magazine’s international managing director, 500 designers signed up for the contest, 50 were selected in the preliminary edit, and 7 made it across the waters.
For those who witnessed the show it was definitely an eye-opener. While there were some traditional African fabrics, most of the designs were refreshingly modern. Even those using traditional cloth engineered it with a new twist, in particular Jewel by Lisa who says she “re-engineered Ankara,” a fabric she says every mother and grandmother has worn in Nigeria for generations. All of the season’s trends were present – vivid colors, asymmetrical shapes, detailed embroidery, vibrant prints, black and white graphics and white on white.
The presenting designers included: Pierre-Antoine Vetterello (Ivory Coast/France/Belgium), Jewel by Lisa (Lisa Folawiyo/Nigeria), Bunmi Koko (Bunmi Olaye and Francis Udom/Nigeria/UK) — who has designed for Michelle Obama, Kate Middleton and Nelson Mandela’s granddaughter, Asibelua (Nigeria), Lanre da Silva Ajayi (Nigeria), Tsemaye Binitie (Nigeria/UK), Klut CGDT (Malcolm Kluk and Christiaan Gabriel du Toit (South Africa).
While none of the designers’ collections are currently sold in the American market, the collective hope is that this presentation will entice buyers to open the doors to international trade with them. Without question, the clothing presented was competitive with other designers who showed this week.
And, by the way, the show was arguably one of the largest during Fashion Week. In attendance were the regulars along with quite a few celebrities, including Tyson Beckford, Bethann Hardison, Terry McMillan, Omarion, Illyasah Shabazz, Miss J Alexander (from America’s Next Top Model), celebrity stylist June Ambrose and Rebecca King-Crews (BET’s “The Family Crews”).