Africa Fashion Week London will showcase the world’s hottest designers.

African fashion is booming.  A new generation of designers  are  gaining recognition – both  because of the sheer strength of their work and  as a result of  the continent’s rising fortunes.

Africa was once seen only as a source of inspiration for big brands – from  Yves Saint Laurent’s landmark collection of raffia beaded dresses in 1967 to  Burberry Prorsum’s wax prints for spring/summer 2012. But  African  designers are finding customers around the world and a thriving industry is  growing around them.

Africa Fashion Week London (AFWL) starts tomorrow. It’s in its second year  and was the idea of Nigerian entrepreneur Ronke Ademiluyi. ‘My aim is to create  more visibility for African designers and to create a one-stop shop for the  public,’ she says. ‘We were expecting 500 people last year and  almost  5,000 turned up. It was something people had clearly been waiting for.’

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This year AFWL showcases 60  designers, including Adebayo Jones, known  for his lavish evening and bridal wear, who will provide the gala finale. ‘As I  was inspired by Yves Saint Laurent, I hope my participation will inspire young  designers,’ he says. The best African designers balance global seasonal trends  with an intelligent  reimagining of indigenous fabrics and adornments.  Ghana’s Aisha Obuobi launched Christie Brown in 2008 and has become Accra’s  go-to girl for effortlessly feminine womenswear with detailing such as covered  buttons, feathers and fringing. ‘My work is about the beauty of simplicity,’ she  says.

Stiaan Louw creates menswear that reflects clashing cultures in his native  South Africa. His affinity for cut and construction has matured since he started  the brand in 2008 and his most recent Olympics-themed collection, Atletiek,  features slim, sporty suiting. ‘I want to shift perceptions about male   archetypes while creating a global African menswear aesthetic,’ he says. ‘Fashion has the power to  inspire and transcend boundaries.’

With her label Maki Oh, Nigerian designer Amaka Osakwe turns  indigenous  textiles into sensual pieces that evolve traditional dress practices. She  launched in 2010 and her latest collection focuses on body-conscious silhouettes  made from adire, an indigo-dyed patterned cloth. ‘I want to make Nigerians aware  of their own fabrics, which are infused with meanings that have been passed down  through generations,’ she says.

Jeffrey Kimathi, meanwhile, uses  fibres of the baobab tree for his  Jamhuri Wear luggage range.

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Celebrities are also catching on. Kelis has worn Lagos label Jewel By Lisa,  Solange Knowles is a fan of Maki Oh and Michelle Obama is regularly seen wearing  pieces by London-based Nigerian designer Duro Olowu.

Noisettes singer Shingai Shoniwa is an avid supporter of African fashion. ‘The rich colour palettes and  vibrant attitude fit well with where the  western world is at the  moment. People are turning towards emerging  markets. There’s a more confident generation taking risks,’ she says.

The African fashion industry still faces challenges. There’s a lack of formal  fashion education, which means there are problems from pattern-cutting and  styling to marketing and PR. There’s no continent-wide body to promote funding  and poor infrastructure slows production and raises costs.

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Olowu is optimistic. ‘The customer must have desire for the products on their  own merit and only then will they ask: “Oh, where was this made?”’ he says. ‘There are a lot of talented African designers showing potential and that’s why  the fashion world is looking very hard at Africa right now.’

Source: Metro UK


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