Architectural Digest (UAE)
In London, the V&A’s landmark exhibition offers a thrillingly novel perspective on African style
The first thing you see in the V&A’s new Africa Fashion exhibition is a joyous layered silk and raffia ensemble by Cameroon talent Imane Ayissi, which fuses traditional and modern, native and global, craft and couture. It sets the tone for this landmark show, the most extensive exploration of African style in the UK to date, and assures the viewer that any preconceptions about fashion from this vast continent are about to be blown away. As Dr Christine Checinska, the museum’s senior curator of African textiles and fashion, explains, the aim is to reveal the sheer diversity of sartorial flair on offer in the region, whether from 20th-century trailblazers or the contemporary creatives setting today’s fashion scene alight. Over 20 nations are represented. “We hope this exhibition sparks a renegotiation of the geography of fashion and becomes a game changer for the field,” she says.
The opening section of the show sets the scene with an exploration of the politically charged “liberation years” that began in the 1950s. It’s followed by a spotlight on indigenous cloths, including vibrant wax prints, Ghanaian kente and muddyed bògòlanfini from Mali. Together, these put into context what follows: an energetic tribute to 20th-century pioneers like Nigeria’s Shade Thomas-Fahm, who reinvents the traditional ìrò wrapped garment, and Ghana’s Kofi Ansah, who fuses an African aesthetic with European and Japanese influences.
Finally, the section on current fashion celebrates designers via clothing displays, sketches, magazine photography and catwalk footage. Buoyed up by social media and celebrity endorsement, they’re proof that African fashion has gone global: Sir David Adjaye’s wedding outfit, created by Ansah and featured in British Vogue, is testament to that.
Until April 16, 2023.