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3 Reinventing Local Forms: African Fashion, Indigenous Style

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

I was drawn to everything that was African.

—Chris Seydou, Malian fashion designer, Bamako, 6 March 1993

The traditional and the contemporary with a touch of originality. These are the three elements of creativity.

—Salah Barka, Tunisian fashion designer, Paris, 19 June 2010

Sun Goddess harvests stories and images of South African traditions. These stories look back to our heritage and its relevance to the past, present and future.

—Vanya and Thando Mangaliso, South African fashion designers, Sun Goddess website, 1 February 2011

We need to preserve indigenous, traditional techniques by making them modern.

—Aboubakar Fofana, Malian artist and designer, Bamako, 25 June 2009

I want to take from the past and take it with me into the future.

—Laduma Ngxokolo, South African fashion designer, Port Elizabeth, 2 June 2012

In his autobiographical novel L’Enfant Noir (The Dark Child), Guinean writer Camara Laye used clothing to make a powerful statement about the shifting incarnations of tradition. Recalling the rituals by which life was ordered during his childhood, Laye described how people in his community continued to embrace practices that had been detached from the meanings that once inspired them. Now, these practices simply evoke the idea of tradition: “Sometimes only the spirit of a tradition survives; sometimes only its form. Its outer garments, as it were, remain.”1 Clothing here stands in for the residue of tradition, a remnant of practices no longer integral to people’s lives. It may also refer to vaguely remembered histories. Importantly, Laye does not express this shifting meaning as loss, but rather as a source of comfort in the certainty that these rituals (or the garments that are their residue) still have meaning. Writing of a harvest ritual whose origins are lost to memory, Laye notes: “Yet, like all our customs, this one had its significance.”2

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5 Litigating the Revolution

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

Fashion has had a legal side for centuries. Powerful rulers once set limits on who could or could not wear certain finery and decreed that colors, badges, or hats be used to set certain groups of people apart as “others”—Jews, for example, who were required to wear yellow badges or pointed hats in parts of thirteenth-century Europe.1 The umbrella term for these edicts is “sumptuary laws”; one of my favorites, from medieval Spain, begins with “the king may wear anything he wishes.” Sumptuary laws reveal a great deal about a society—for example, which goods are highly valued (and therefore reserved for the élites) and also which groups may be considered a threat to the status quo. Amid the social turbulence of the Renaissance, wealthy merchants and their wives were often singled out as needing to be reminded of their inferiority to their high-born betters. Economist Thorstein Veblen observed in 1899 that in modern capitalism, wealth could be freely displayed by nearly everyone who has it, as a sign of socioeconomic superiority. But we still face restrictions in the form of dress codes, usually in schools or in the workplace, that attempt to enforce a uniform appearance or suppress potentially disruptive elements. These modern regulations have elements of social class (public schools with uniform dress codes tend to be in poorer districts), race (local ordinances against “saggy pants”), or gender (laws against cross-dressing and public indecency, dress codes that enforce gender stereotypes). Sumptuary laws don’t come from out of the blue: they are a reaction by the powerful to undesirable behavior from their “inferiors.” The rampant and dramatic changes in gender expression that emerged in the 1960s met with just such resistance, leading in some cases to the courtroom and sometimes even to prison. The litigious heat generated by long hair, short skirts, and women in pants is strong evidence that these were far from trivial issues for the parties involved. The fact that we are still arguing about the same principles, though in different clothing, is part of the ongoing legacy of the 1960s.

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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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1 Festive Spirit Carnival Costume in Brazil

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

AT THE POINT WHERE LATIN AMERICA AND AFRICA COME CLOSEST, Portuguese explorers landed on the shores of Bahia in 1500. Within half a century they had established Brazil’s first colonial capital in the port city of Salvador and brought enslaved people from Africa to work the land. A Catholic country with the largest African population in the diaspora, Brazil has more people of African descent than any country except Nigeria, the most populated of the African nations.1 The slave trade was officially abolished in Brazil as late as 1888, resulting in a large population of formerly enslaved and recently arrived people who entered the country largely through Salvador da Bahia. Intermingling in the New World, people of astonishing cultural diversity created the Candomblé religion: a syncretic mix of African and European faiths, gods, and practices. Yoruba orixás—many of them deified ancestors—became the African gods most often worshipped in Brazil, each one closely associated with a Catholic saint. The complex Afro-Brazilian identity—at once Catholic, African, and Brazilian—is on display in the public events of Salvador. Identity, history, race, religion, and political and social affiliations are all communicated visually by the clothing worn in festivals and by the costumes of carnival.

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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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