Nigerian fashion designer Emmanuel Okoro took first place in the inaugural release of Africa Fashion Up, a platform for African designers, with his Emmy Kasbit people’s collection constructed using traditional West African weaving techniques.
Okoro was one of five originators chosen for the event in Paris, which was organized by the Share Africa stage in collaboration with Balenciaga, who will mentor the finalists for six months.
Guy Fabrice Sullivan, the Ivorian designer behind the Zaady brand, joined him; Zak Koné, also from Ivory Coast, was the organizer of eveningwear brand Pelebe; Baay Sooley and Laure Tarot, the designers behind Senegalese streetwear brand Bull Doff; and Natasha Jaume and Carina Louw, the designers behind South African ladies’ wear brand Erre.
In addition to attending masterclasses with members of Balenciaga’s chief advisory group, the finalists met buyers from Galeries Lafayette and visited the studio of Imane Ayissi, the first Sub-Saharan designer to show on the official couture schedule in Paris and benefactor of the event, which concluded with a fashion show at a hotel.
The competition was open to architects under the age of 40 with a brand that is at least two years old and has created at least two ready-to-wear collections. Okoro, who took home the 2018 Fashion Focus Fund prize at Lagos Fashion Week, wowed the judges with his crisp fitting and use of Akwete fabric in a variety of citrus colors.
Martina Tiefenthaler, chief imaginative official of Balenciaga; Vanessa Moungar, chief variety and incorporation official at LVMH Mot Hennessy Louis Vuitton; and Maryse Mbonyumutwa Gallagher, chief and co-proprietor of item of clothing manufacturer C&D Pink Mango Rwanda were among the jury members.
Emmanuelle Courrèges, creator of the LAGO54 show area for African architects and author of the forthcoming book “Africa: The Fashion Continent,” and Marie-Jeanne Serbin-Thomas, proofreader in chief of Brune magazine, were also on the board.
Former model Valérie Ka, a major supporter and creative overseer of Share Africa, stated that Africa Fashion Up was created to assist African fashioners, many of whom are self-educated, in gaining momentum on the worldwide market.
“I found it a little disheartening that these designers frequently display throughout Europe and Africa, but then nothing occurs. As a model, I am aware of their difficulties. That is why I requested the Balenciaga team to assist us, not just to put on a performance, but also to train them and provide them with the required tools,” she explained.
Ayissi stated that Africa Fashion Up, which also featured guest fashioners Karim Tassi, Martial Tapolo, Eric Raisina, Soraya da Piedade, and Anjali Borkhataria, addressed a critical opportunity. “This is an important event for the entire Black continent,” he remarked. “There is a lot of potential in Africa, and the luxury business frequently overlooks Africa.”
However, he advised young fashion designers to first establish a domestic presence before attempting to display abroad. “It’s always better to build a name at home before spreading your wings and doing work elsewhere,” he says. “First and foremost, we Africans and friends of Africa must celebrate Africa.”
Laurence Thouin, secretary general of Share Africa, stated that the organization hopes to hold the fashion show in other locations, possibly on the African continent.
“Unlike traditional fashion weeks, this event will be part of a calendar with a genuine educational, artistic, and, why not, political purpose, even though the phrase frightens some people. “It’s all about showcasing the best of Africa to the rest of the world,” she explained.
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