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Conclusion: What Fashion Shows

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

Fashion is cultural identity.

—Abdoulaye Tembely, writer, Coura magazine, Bamako, 30 July 2008

I look for materials that have a story, passion, a soul.

—Anna Getaneh, designer, organizer of African Mosaïque fashion shows, Johannesburg, 20 May 2008

Anyone looking for a few masks or leopard spots will be disappointed.

—Duro Olowu, Nigerian designer 1

African fashion offers abundant insights into cultures, both close to home and distant, real and imagined. Through garments, designers tell stories about history, heritage, and global networks of style, as well as the perpetuation or revival of local dress practices. Fashion also provides a medium for portraying or inventing other peoples’ cultures, offering a highly visible forum for projecting impressions and preconceptions. This concluding chapter reiterates and expands on these stories through two media that make African fashion, and fashion everywhere, widely visible far beyond the limited number of consumers who can afford to purchase designer clothing: fashion shows and fashion magazines. It also returns to cosmopolitanism—and the closely related concept of Afropolitanism—as frameworks for elucidating Africa’s fashion manifestations, exploring how dress practices both illustrate and complicate these notions.

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Acknowledgments

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

MY AIM IN WRITING THIS BOOK WAS TO UNDERSTAND HOW COSTUME enables individuals to perform identities that are not expressed through daily dress. As a folklorist, I conducted case studies using ethnographic methods to show how costume functions to express identity in contexts full of intention and meaning. During this project, which began in 2007, I have accumulated debts to many individuals who have taught me about the significance of costume.

My first debt is to the people who furthered my intellectual pursuit by providing me with hours of recorded interviews and allowing me to observe, photograph, and understand costumes in use, both abroad and here in the United States. Two people in particular gave me much support and encouragement at the project’s beginning—Ellen Adair and Kersti Jobs-Björklöf. Both Ellen and Kersti spent many hours talking to me about the nuanced ways in which costume functions: Ellen on how costumes communicate on the professional theater stage and Kersti on how folk costumes express identity and heritage in contemporary Sweden. Ellen and Kersti not only shared their expertise with me; they also led me to other people to interview.

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4 Conceptual Fashion: Evocations of Africa

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

A runway in New York, 1998: Models wearing garments that range from sheath-like dresses made of loosely knitted yarn to denim jackets with large fake fur collars stride the runway to the strains of Jimi Hendrix, and then suddenly to no soundtrack at all. Loose threads dangle from the seams of some garments; others have labels sewn outside their collars.

A loading dock in Johannesburg, 2003: At an event planned by two fashion designers, attendees stand on concrete floors in an industrial building in a gritty downtown neighborhood. They watch as performers wearing large plastic bags dance and interact, pantomiming a story of trials and perseverance. The two designers work behind the scenes, holding the lanterns that illuminate the space and manipulating shadow puppets.

A workshop in Paris, 2007: Women from the Goutte d’Or, a neighborhood known for its large African population, participate in training programs led by a designer from the Comoros. They learn sewing techniques that will help them find employment. The designer and a group of participants create an exhibition at the Musée du Petit Palais that features the garments they have produced, which are made of recycled clothing, displayed on mannequins along with bales of used clothing.1

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2 Nubia in Paris: African Style in French Fashion

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

Our natives, adopting the manners and habits of Europeans, are beginning more and more, especially in important urban centers, to dress in the European manner—in short, to follow our fashions.

—“La soie artificielle et nos colonies,” pamphlet promoting the French Syndicate of Artificial Textile Manufacturers, Exposition Coloniale Internationale, Paris, 1931

It seems to us that [these African fabrics] can provide, each and every one, useful sources of inspiration. In every era, designers have turned to the Orient to revitalize their enthusiasm. Didn’t Rabelais write (after Pliny): ‘There is always something new out of Africa’?

—Henri Clouzot, Tissus Nègres, Paris, 1931

Far from Mali’s Inland Niger Delta, European dress innovators have produced garments we might call African-esque fashion, part of a long history of European involvement with both real and imagined Africas. Just as the dress innovators who produced distinctive styles of Malian embroidery incorporated forms rooted in North Africa or South Asia, so too have European designers sought inspiration beyond the familiar. Although Malian migrant laborers and pious embroiderers may seem a world away from Parisian fashion designers, all are driven by the same impulse to create dress styles that reflect changing influences and new ideas. Both during and after the colonial era, Africa has been a key source of imagery, drawn from actual African forms or from Western imaginings of Africa. These designers’ “Africanisms” are an important element of the story of African fashion, for they both reflect and actively shape the perceptions—and misperceptions—that undergird representations of Africa in international contexts. This construction of an imagined Africa through dress continues into the present, maintaining surprising consistency across decades of political and cultural change. Thus, these invented Africas contribute an important subplot to the story of African fashion.

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1. Body Art in Banaras

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

EVERY ONE OF US gets dressed in the morning, every day of our lives. Clothing is one of the principal ways by which we express at once our personal identities and our culture. Dress, along with architecture and food, fulfills basic human needs for protection and creativity, while responding to environmental and social conditions. Since all people engage in these shared mediums of expression, one way to understand and compare cultures—and to see regional, local, and personal differences within cultures—is to examine specific modes of clothing, housing, and feeding the body. Schools and museums often utilize this basic triad in introducing children to the diversity of the world’s populations.1 But in contrast to the study of vernacular architecture, and, to a lesser extent, the study of foodways, the examination of everyday clothing is not yet fully developed. Surveys of national dress tend to generalize, homogenize, and anonymize individuals, discounting personal interpretations of social norms. Other books focus on extreme cases—the counter-cultural young with their tattoos, the economic elite with their enthusiasm for high fashion. It is my aim to provide a study of the clothing choices made by ordinary people, in keeping with the theoretical premises of my discipline, folklore, which, to begin, I will define as the study of creativity in everyday life.2

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