Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sorta African ELLE

Africa is everywhere in the collections of many designers this season. It seems like every other page in this month's Elle magazine is layered with influence of the motherland. Model Christy Turlington wears a Ndebele style ring necklace* in current Escada ads while other designers like Max Osterweis and Junya Watanabe, reference African inspired textiles on the runway.

Elle also lauds Frenchwoman Lydia Courteille's turn to to a more "primitive style for spring" in the jewelry news section. The artists "African" collection features mask rings that mimic African busts and sculpture, combining them with precious jewels like turquoise, diamonds and pearls. Says Courteille, "It's incredible that now the trend in fashion is Africa, because I've been working on this idea for two or three years."

In spite of the efforts by publications like Arise to publicize African artists and designers, in the fashion world, their contributions are rarely acknowledged in the mainstream fashion world. It kind of reminds me of all the press actress Bo Derek received for wearing cornrows in the movie "10" even though black women had been wearing the style for ages.

The fashion world doesn't seem to take notice of uniquely African styles and trends unless the persons delivering them are non-Africans.

Hopefully magazines like Arise will make homegrown African talent household names. I'm hoping to get a copy soon. Which reminds me, does anyone know if Uzuri, Haute, and Clam are still being published?

* This style of ring necklace is also worn by the Kayan tribe in Thailand.


model liberation said...

I was flipping through Elle today, and my stomach started to hurt. The magazine's homage to Africa doesn't seem genuine. You hit the nail on the head with this.

Chic Noir said...

"primitive style for spring" The quote above as well as those rings made me think of you as I was reading Elle. I can't believe the writer used primitive when talking about Africa in 2009. Don't they have any Black proofreaders? Stuff like this enters into that gray(ignorance) zone of raicsm where it isn't intended but done/said/written all the same.

Chic Noir said...

One more thing, I've also seen the ring necklace worn by a group of women in Asia. Every so often Marie Claire writes about them. The Keynan women are the Masai.

Brigitte said...

@One more thing, I've also seen the ring necklace worn by a group of women in Asia

I mentioned that in the post. They're worn by Kayan tribe women in Thailand.

Divalocity said...

I remember when the movie, Ten came out and Cicely Tyson was one of the more prominent African-American women wearing her hair in a beautiful braided style. My friend and I were wearing our hair braided for the longest because we honored our African heritage.

The way the media projected that as if Bo Derek created the style. And would you believe more AA women started wearing the style because of her.

The west has been referring to the continent as one being primitive, exotic, mysterious and barbaric for centuries. There is nothing primitive or barbaric about Africa.
Beautiful, yes but not what they describe about Africa and of it's people.

You may like this web link:

Brigitte said...

@Divalocity - Thanks for that link!

Naturally Sophia said...

Primitive= my stomach churns. Why is Anglo culture set on being condescending to the rest of the world. There is a difference between discovering a people and colonizing them.

I really like many of the items I see. I would have purchased them at a Black expo or African Arts Fair. However, these things aren't being sold by Africans and the $ from the purchases aren't even benefiting African causes. The least they could do is feature Black models and give some of the proceeds to African causes (water wells, orphanages, and diseases in Africa come to mind like Malaria and AIDS).

Brigitte said...

@Naturally Sophia

Max Osterweis, if you follow the link in the text, at least makes an effort. His line is made in Kenya so some of the money trickles back.

Still, I'm bothered that actual Africans don't ever seem to get any of the credit for their own style.

Style Noir said...

The overlap between Southeast Asian and "African" adornment is quite charming. Although I probably just think so because I am of Southeast Asian and African descent.

Anyway, I copped some gorgeous beaded necklaces from a market in the Philippines about five years ago; when I return from Liberia at the end of the month, I will pass off said necklaces as having been acquired in the Motherland, and no one-- no one-- will know the difference.

Anonymous said...

"It's incredible that now the trend in fashion is Africa, because I've been working on this idea for two or three years." Africa as an "idea". How novel! But notice how every couple of years Africa heavily influences fashion? SMDH! Brigette, I can't emphasis enough how much I appreciate your vigilant contribution to highlight the racial disparities in fashion. I know it's a tireless job. Keep up the excellent work!

mellowyel said...

erm... ew, is all i can say about that. after the new york times editorial about African fashion, I gave up on Western fashion ever really taking African style seriously. They tried to make amends with another photo article, but the foot's still in the mouth.

Clam comes out only twice a year - I think the next one will be published this summer. But you should check out PopAfricana ( if you haven't already - they're trying to move to print and have the first two issues out this summer. So excited!