The new exhibition at the Brighton Museum celebrates the diverse fashion designs coming from Casablanca in Morocco, Lagos in Nigeria, Nairobi in Kenya and Johannesburg in South Africa. Style choices from fashion designers, stylists, photographers and bloggers are represented.
Martin Pell, Fashion Curator, Brighton Museum visited the cities in 2005 accompanied by Africa fashion specialists Hannah Azieb Pool and Helen Jennings. The exhibition co-curator Helen Mears explained
There’s been a surge of interest in contemporary African art and design in Europe and the US in recent years, but this is the first major UK exhibition dedicated to contemporary African fashion.
The cities each have their own display areas featuring both established and emerging fashion designers. The exhibition design is creatively conceived using a range of multi-media devices to tell the story behind the fashion dress objects.
The different styles of clothing promote the indigenous techniques and traditional designs featured in African sub-cultures. The exhibition challenges the authenticity of stereotyping and gives a strong message about valuing diversity.
Inspiration for the fashion designs comes from the history of the countries, as well as their politics. Influences from media, tourism and the importation of second-hand clothing from charity foundations also plays a role in developing fashion designs.
Africa’s economy benefits from the new fashion designers, generating new jobs and creating social change (Dawson & Erwiah in Tamagni, 2015). Fashion designers often use fashion to draw attention to social issues, gaining attention through display and self-expression.
Dressing-up becomes an action in which one can acquire honour and recognition; whish is greatly beneficial to create social change. External signs of wealth and prosperity signify success and supports self-esteem.
As Darnellé Tamagni explains in her book Fashion Tribes, the South Africans from Johannesburg are communicating a message about freedom. Bill Cunningham, New York street-photographer explains in his film documentary
“Fashion is the armour to survive the reality of everyday life”
Marianne Fassler, at a recent talk given at Brighton Museum, explained that the exhibition would “open many eyes to the practice of fashion in Africa.”
Fassler opened her first store in South Africa in 1976 and is known for her use of authentic fabrics, engineered using sustainable design processes.
The inspiration for her designs comes from looking at what is happening around her, whilst building on her own design-handwriting – leopardfrock.co.za.
This fashion exhibition is highly recommended. It celebrates fashion designs with a narrative that incorporates the colourful myths surrounding African Culture.
- Tamagni, D. (2015) Fashion Tribes: Global Street Style, NY: ABRAMS.