Being advocates of diversity and inclusion of black, African creatives in fashion – especially amongst the designers spotlighted – we’re always holding each Fashion Week instalment accountable for how much (or how little) it does in progressing the variety of backgrounds, stories and storytellers on show each season. Paris Fashion Week is not immune from this scrutiny. Of course, it does always warm our hearts to see Adut Akech’s flawless skin and signature stare grace every show. Not forgetting Olivier Rouisteng holding the fort and bearing the flag at Balmain. But more can be done in 2021.
As prestigious as the Parisian cherry of the fashion world’s cake is, this week’s Paris Fashion Week phygital offerings were not as diverse in its spotlighting of black designers as we’d hoped for. There are, however, two notable mentions that keep our hope alive.
The undoubtedly talented rising star hailing from Nigeria, Kenneth Ize – who recently featured in our 2020 end of year celebration of the top 10 creative wins for Africa – showed out and represented for AW21. Being that this season is only Kenneth’s second time showing under the Parisian roster, he holds his own well, gradually peeling the layers to his craft back like any seasoned veteran of a heritage fashion house. Ize’s presentation this time around offered a much subtler, demure – yet equally as elegant and nuanced as before – representation of his creativity. Speaking to the current times, the injustices and innocent bloodshed at home in Nigeria, and Ize’s own bouts of depression, the fittingly titled “The Circle of Rebirth and Death” reflects the sobriety and fragility associated with both stages of reality’s cycle.
And the pieces hint at that oxymoron, the symbiotic yet opposite “duality” of the two: life – or renewal of life in all its forms – and death. Take the half white, half black shoes worn by one model. He wears this along with a trouser of two parts: the upper part made of what seems to be a simpler version of Ize’s signature textured, hand weaved material aso-oke, the bottom part camouflaged and concealed by sleek black material. This dichotomy almost gives the effect of his legs fading into the black, perhaps a play on our limited time in this thing called life. Or a life-like expression of the saying “where one ends the other begins”. Innovative, regardless. Then there’s the monochromatic sets: worn by both a male and female model, created with a pigmented earthy, brown material, akin to African soil or one of many skin tones. It’s funny too, that both skin and earth are vital in rebirth; with their healing, protective and self-restorative purposes. Ize’s sets take the shape of loosely-fitted traditional african attire, which traditionally give more prestige to an outfit, just as it broadens and widens the presence of the one wearing it. On both sides of the shirt are matching motifs and symbols written with traditional Ethopian paint.
Kenneth Ize’s fashion journey and recent show is testament to the phases of life. His transitions and truths in design are an accurate representation of the peaks and troughs of life being experienced in real-time these days, on a macrocosmic scale. Through his design, he’s matched his personal ideas with the public shared ideas, traditional ideas of death and rebirth with current hopes for restoration and prevention of death across the globe. Ize story and designs are the perfect embodiment of hope.
On another branch of the tree of black creativity at PFW, Thebe Magugu, a South-African born designer hopes his design fruits speak for themselves, as beautiful as his storytelling may be. The pieces on offer this season – and the models donning them – perfectly encapsulate both self-empowered and liberated women. Magugu’s creative direction – from the journey reflected in the accompanying short-film to the imagery where the ladies wield swords and nunchucks in fighter stance – give off a soulful, well-researched and engagingly animated narrative, much like a Tarantino movie. Taking great inspiration from the intense ukuthwasa spiritual journey natives like himself are immersed into, it is apparent he’s expressing a fight to find one’s self, as old ideals and the new conflict each other to eventually bring about a matured and well-developed harmony. Something every African child – living and growing in their parents custody and then branching off into independence – would know about. Magugu has gone all in with his AW21 presentation, especially as he prepares to submit some of the pieces for the Woolmark prize.
Highlights of the collection include a pink, short-sleeved turtle-neck dress, tasseled with fringe at the hem, with a matching pink bralet. Also, an ombre feather-fringed shawl dress, Then, there’s the militant black shawled shirt dress, with a waist belt, leather boots and unconventionally shaped bag. Plus, a contrasting white suit, shawled on the same right arm. Accessories include wide-brimmed and elongated crown straw hats, and embellished round hats that could easily pass as ones from some sort of regiment or noble rank. Thebe Magugu is uncompromisingly having fun in his creative approach and it shows.