Adorned with thousands of beads, Nigerian designer Lisa Folawiyo’s clothes shimmer under the lights.
The prints on these fabrics may echo traditional African designs, but there is a distinctive modern twist.
These are on display at the new ‘Africa Fashion’ exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
It traces clothing from the liberation years of the 1950s and 60s, when 24 African nations broke free from colonial rule, to modern designers.
It is billed as the largest African fashion exhibition ever in the UK.
“We really see fashion as a catalyst for telling deeper, richer and broader stories about the myriad of histories and cultures across the continent,” said exhibition curator Dr Christine Checinska. .
“And so we hope that our visitors come away inspired, and maybe some of the assumptions could be challenged as well. So it’s a space where you can think about African fashion, you can experience the buzz of the fashion scene African fashion, and you can leave inspired, we hope, to find out more.”
More than 250 objects are exhibited, including 70 new acquisitions for the museum.
This is part of a wider push by the V&A to increase its collection of work by African designers and the African Diaspora.
There are clothes from 40 contemporary designers in the lounge.
The exhibition wants to highlight the impact they have on the fashion industry at large.
“It was really important and in fact vital to have this exhibition at this time, because we see that it is African creatives who are changing the landscape of global fashion. That is how important their impact is in this moment. So they demand to be seen. They demand to be heard. And we see their impact spreading across global fashions,” says Checinska.
Nigeria-based Nkwo Onwuka’s outfits are made from recycled denim and nod to the West African country’s culture with the traditional gele headband.
This shimmering purple suit from South African brand Nao Serati fuses femininity and masculinity in a celebration of gender fluidity.
And from the far north of Africa, Moroccan fashion house Maison ARTC has created something especially for this exhibition.
“My piece is based on the two clothes that come from two different cultures. The first is the British culture, which is the trench coat. And the second is the burqa which is also very deep in Morocco, and in all Arab countries … In Morocco, as far as we know, it’s North Africa. And I decided to have a dialogue between the two and to give respect to the two countries”, explains designer Artsi Ifrach.
The reverse is printed with the poem “Our Deepest Fears”.
It’s a call to strive to be the best version of ourselves, despite our fear of failure or the judgment of others.
It’s a profound message and for Ifrach, fashion is always more than clothes.
“African fashion means to me: Africa. There is no fashion in Africa, there is a culture which, over the course of evolution, becomes fashion and inspires many designers all over the world. But it t was a place where the culture became so deep and so strong and we had to dress ourselves in beautiful clothes and beautiful craftsmen,” he says.
Africa Fashion opens on July 2 and will run until April 16, 2023.