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Designers aim to build international reputations for their stylish clothes.
ACCRA, Ghana — Calvin Klein, Armani and … Bayo Adegbe? African designers are working to make a name for themselves outside their countries, showing their collections around the world and bringing their unique styles to wider audiences.
At Ghana Fashion Weekend, more than 30 designers from around Africa rolled out their collections, featuring vibrant prints, chunky accessories and traditionally inspired forms. It was the largest fashion event in Ghana and drew audience members from beyond the continent.
“I love wearing the African wear on the runway because everyone is watching to see, ‘What new design?’ ‘What are they going to do with this fabric?’ ‘What’s next?’ ” said Accra resident, Sonia Ibrahim, a part-time model who walked the runway for designer Ouedraogo Usman of Burkina Faso. She sported a ruffled cream gown with a leather bodice, raffia tasseled fan, enormous bangles and bone accents, and a woven wicker mask that obscured her face. “Most people don’t understand, ‘Why is her face covered?’ But it’s traditional wear. And [wearing it] was fun.”
Some designers are ambitious and would like to see Africa’s creativity capture the spotlight on runways around the world. They argue that both Africans and Westerners will look to the continent for the colors, shapes and textures that will form part of their newest innovations in fashion and the arts. Earlier this year, African inspirations found their way onto the runways of Louis Vuitton and Dior.
“We have a lot of ideas that have not been tapped. We have a lot of things that have not been used,” said internationally recognized Nigerian designer, Bayo Adegbe, who runs the label Modela Couture.
Adegbe’s designs have won him a number of awards in Nigeria and beyond, as well as an all-expenses-paid internship with a design house in Paris. At Ghana Fashion Weekend, a troupe of male models showed off his line of Western suits made from richly textured batik fabric and popular African prints, ranging from orange and yellow geometric designs, leopard spots and pictures of chickens.
Adegbe’s collection also includes sparkling gowns, shorts and tops covered in silver and pastel sequins. He wanted to replicate the natural pattern of fish scales — he even started sewing the clothes with real fish scales from a market in Lagos. Those never lost their fishy smell and shriveled over time, so now he relies on flashy plastic sequins instead to achieve the same effect.