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8 Recent Times Luxury Fashion Brands Used African Designs Without Including Africans

Western labels have been stealing African aesthetics for years, here are just eight recent examples.

Yesterday, luxury fashion label, Stella McCartney came under fire for, once again, copying traditionally African designs, without even the slightest acknowledgment of the source.


They debuted items from their new Summer/Spring 2018 collection during Paris Fashion Week, which featured a number of dresses tops, and jumpsuits with ankara material. Upon seeing the clothes, many Africans on social media took note of how similar they looked to things we've all seen our moms and aunts wear for years. They showcased these "African-inspired" items on a group of mostly white models.

It was quite obvious that there was little to no regard for the origins of these designs, which Stella McCartney will undoubtedly profit generously from.

As we all know, this is not a new, or even, rare occurrence—white folks have been shamelessly stealing culture from us since, well, forever. While we could list countless examples of this, we really don't have all day. Below we list just eight recent times white designers have used African designs and failed in every aspect.

Who knows, revisiting such occurrences and examining their implications, might help to reignite a fire in us and bring us closer to exploring real ways to protect our cultural property.


1. Marc Jacobs' Dreaded Runway

Marc Jacobs is one of the fashion world's repeat offenders. Last year, the designer came under fire for sending white models down the runway with colorful dreadlocks during his Spring 2017 show. This was around the same time that the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled it legal to ban the wearing of dreadlocks in the workplace. Jacobs responded to the backlash on Instagram, “I respect and am inspired by people and how they look. I don't see color or race—I see people." After being dragged for his "all lives matter-esque" statement, he apologized "for the lack of sensitivity unintentionally expressed by my brevity. Of course I do 'see' color, but I DO NOT discriminate. THAT IS A FACT!"

2. Marc Jacob white-washes headwraps

That wasn't enough for Jacobs, though. He made headlines again last month, during New York Fashion Week after putting headwraps on white models during his Spring 2018 show.

3. Louis Vuitton's exorbitant Basotho blankets

Earlier this year, the famous brand debuted a line of colorful, printed blankets as part of their menswear collection. The blankets, which carbon copies of Basotho blankets—which possess deep cultural meaning for Basotho people—sold for R33,000. While the same items are commonly sold locally for under R1,000. The blankets ended up selling out in South Africa, leading many Basotho to call out the brand for capitalizing off of their culture without involving Basotho citizens.

4. Louis Vuitton's Bootleg Maasai Collection

Louis Vuitton is not new to this either, the label also released a range of Maasai-inspired clothing in 2012, called Maasai. As you probably guessed, Maasai people were neither consulted nor compensated for this designs.

5. Mass fashion retailers make "Ghana Must Go Bags" a streetwear trend for privileged fashion elite.

In fall 2013, luxury fashion houses like Stella McCartney, Céline and Louis Vuitton unveiled new tops, skirts and bags which featured simple plaid designs that channeled the highly recognizable plastic tote bags, commonly referred to as "Ghana Must Go Bags" in parts of West Africa. The design was considered the "must have pattern of the season." Major retailers like TopShop and Zara also began selling these items on their site. The generally inexpensive bags, manufactured in China, became part of a distasteful trend known as "China Town Chic" or "Migrant Worker Chic."

6. Valentio does "primitive, tribal" wear

In 2015, a Valentino show sparked controversy for its collection inspired by "wild, tribal Africa," as the label put it. “Primitive, tribal, spiritual, yet regal," was also used to describe the line that was supposed to represent a “journey to the beginning of time & the essential of primitive nature." Basically, it was an insensitive, negative trope-filled fiasco. The show, once, again featured majority white models who wore their hair in cornrows and dreadlocks.

7. Burberry Denies African Influence

Burberry's 2012 collection featured designs that drew heavily on East African kitenge textiles. However, when asked about the inspiration behind the clothing, Burberry's chief designer, Christopher Bailey, denied any African influence, claiming that the pieces were inspired, instead, by British sculptor Henry Moore. After a quick google search, we were unable to find any images of Moore rocking such prints, but that's neither here nor there. Bailey's statement came off as an attempt to avoid potential conflict, in-turn robbing Africans of acknowledgment.

8. Matthew Williamson Takes Credit for Habesha Culture

In 2007, the Ethiopian Intellectual Property Office requested royalties from British fashion designer Matthew Williamson, for copying the Habesha kemis traditionally worn by Ethiopian woman. "We are very unhappy with the actions of Mr Williamson," said the group. "These are the dresses of our mothers and grandmothers. They symbolise our identity, faith and national pride. Nobody has the right to claim these designs as their own."

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This Afro-Feminist Marching Band Is Challenging Negative Stereotypes of Black Women In Paris

30 Nuances de Noires is fighting the erasure of black women in public spaces one march at a time.

If you stroll through the streets of Paris and its suburbs and stumble across a parade of black women wearing shiny outfits, singing and dancing, consider yourself lucky: you've just come across the Afro-feminist marching band '30 Nuances de Noires' (30 Shades of Black).

The band was created by dancer and choreographer Sandra Rose Fanchine. Tired of the erasure of black women in the public space and of the negative stereotypes associated with them, Fanchine has brought women (and a few men) together in this project. Professional and amateur singers, dancers and musicians, they have all accepted to embark on this journey and use their talents to launch this much-needed conversation in France.

Sandra Rose FanchinePhoto by SEKA photography

The band's musical coordinator, Célia Wa, is a flautist, singer and composer. When Fanchine invited her to take part in the project, she was very enthusiastic to have the opportunity to play alongside other black female musicians and take part in something that portrays black women in a positive light and in a flamboyant way. She was also keen to play alongside other black female musicians and coordinate them, outside, in the public space, where music is accessible to everyone. But it wasn't easy going. "It's hard to find women who play wind instruments" she explains. "But especially black women. So, we decided to incorporate a few black men musicians—men who understand the meaning of the project and support us. They don't try to dominate the space, they wear dresses and headwraps, they really blend into the group."

Célia WaPhoto by SEKA photography

Wa hopes the project will encourage many young girls to become professional musicians by showing them that being a fulfilled woman, having a music career and a family life, is possible.

Awori is the singer of the band Kamiawori, and a singer and dancer in the parade. She accepted Fanchine's invitation to join the band because she realized a brass band made of women—especially black women—was something unique that she wanted to be part of. "Throughout history, women had been forbidden to play wind instruments because blowing into those instruments was assimilated to a sexual act", says Kamiawori. "As a result, nowadays, the majority of people playing these instruments are men, so the fact that Sandra was looking for black women only was really appealing to me".

Earlier this year the band had the chance to travel to French Guiana to do a performance with black Guyanese women. This is the kind of future she wants for the project. "I want us to go to places in France where there aren't many black people, as well as to the former French colonies and the French overseas territories," she says. She hopes the project will start conversations everywhere, and empower black women to talk about their issues in their own words and organize their own emancipation.

AworiPhoto by SEKA photography

***

Read on for our conversation with Sandra Rose Fanchine. This interview has been edited for length and clarity

Can you tell us about yourself and your background?

I'm 51 years old, I was born in Martinique and grew up in Côte d'Ivoire. I'm a hip-hop dancer and choreographer. I first came to France 22 years ago to study graphic design but along the way, I found hip hop and started dancing out of passion. With my background in graphic design, I knew I was going to be a choreographer eventually, I was convinced I could use hip hop beyond its performance aspect, bringing my visual artist's knowledge to it and using it to promote a narrative. So, when the age of maturity came, I became a choreographer. My first work considered the social construction of femininity, and I then created a piece which dealt with the memory of the black body. 30 Nuances de Noires is my third choreographic work.

Where did the idea of "30 Nuances de Noires" come from?

It came from my professional frustration as a black woman. When I was looking for a job after my studies, my graphic design work was very culturally influenced by my life in Martinique and Côte d'Ivoire. I was proud to show the aesthetics and the colors, to me it was beautiful but it wasn't seen as such, it was seen as something unworthy and my work was always devalued.

I also had to face that devaluation in my personal life. I wanted to partner up with a black man, but I could see that black men didn't value me, didn't give me space and in general chose to have solid relationships with white women. I am light-skinned so I used to pass black men's colorist filters, but this privilege stopped as soon as commitment was mentioned. I looked around me and saw a pattern in the way black men treated black women, in the way people in general treated black women, how we were looked down upon. I wanted to create something about that topic.

Photo by SEKA Photography

Why did you choose that name?

I chose that name to criticize the movie 50 shades of Grey, which from a feminist point of view is a sexist and misogynist movie, that glamorizes violence against women. Moreover, black women, in the global conception related to sexuality and sentiments, are continually eroticized in a very specific way: animalization, exotification and fetishization. I chose to reclaim these stigmas, just as Audre Lorde writes about in the chapter of her book Sister Outsider named "the use of eroticism, and the use of anger: the response of women to racism."

How did the people around you react to this project?

At first, I wanted to do a piece about sexuality, love and the neocolonial aspects of interracial unions but I faced a backlash from people in the cultural institutions and people in the hip hop industry. Whenever I talked about my project I was completely shut down and called a racist.

After all that rejection and denigration, I went back to university and studied gender studies for two years, and around the same time I became an Afro-feminist activist. In the meantime, the project evolved. I used to work at festivals where there were many brass brands and I already wanted to create a marching band with hip hop dancers so I just mixed the two ideas: highlighting black women's issues and creating a marching band.

After equipping myself with the relevant intellectual tools, surrounding myself with other black women and realizing we were all going through the same things, I was capable of demonstrating the systemic nature of what I was talking about and the barriers fell. I was finally in the right place at the right time. I found the artists very easily, the first musicians I met brought other musicians, the first dancers brought other dancers, it all happened very organically.

Photo by SEKA Photography

What type of women were you looking for?

I was looking for women who were strong enough to embody and address those issues unapologetically. They had to be capable of dancing on the streets with an attitude that says "I am standing up straight, I am black, I am glowing, I am shining and you will look at me and ask yourself how you really see me because I am not all those stereotypes you believe I am." Naturally, it first attracted feminists, women who were already aware of those issues. The women who later joined us and weren't aware of those issues are now more conscious and politicized.

What are the musical and aesthetic inspirations behind the project?

I really wanted visuals inspired by the aesthetics of the 70s and 80s because the dances present in the parade—locking and waacking—emerged at that time. For the musical aspect, I looked for songs that talked about black women and their issues: sorority, colorism, equality and resilience.

Photo by SEKA Photography

How do you see the project evolving in the future?

I want to do a world tour, I want us to dance with Beyoncé and Solange, I want to take this message of empowerment everywhere there are black women who need to exist, shine, go outside and assert their presence in the public space. Because of harassment, sexism and prejudice, it's still pretty complicated for women to simply exist. I consider myself lucky because I can see that the band does what I wanted it to do: it really empowers black women and seeing that happening gives me a lot of strength to take it further.

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Seyi Shay. Image provided by the artist.

Seyi Shay's 'Electric Package' EP Is All About Love & Positive Vibes

We talk to Seyi Shay about her new EP, an intimate mix of different afrobeats blends topped off by Gqom.

Talented Nigerian singer and songwriter Seyi Shay recently dropped her brand new music project, the Electric Package EP Vol. 1.

It's her first project in three years, since the release of her debut album, Seyi or Shay, in 2015. The EP, an intimate mix of different blends of afrobeats, contains six tracks, topped off at the end by the Gqom brand of South African house music.

The project features artists from different corners of Africa, including rising singer King Promise from Ghana, Afropop songstress Vanessa Mdee from Tanzania, and rapper and producer Anatii from South Africa, giving it a pan-African outlook.

However, she didn't forget her fellow Nigerian acts, as seasoned highlife singer Flavour, young Afropop superstar Kiss Daniel, and fresh act Slimcase are also on the bill.

Several DJs were also involved in the project, hosting different songs in mixtape fashion; DJ Spinall, DJ Consequence, DJ Neptune, and DJ Cuppy from Nigeria, Vision DJ from Ghana, and DJ Tira from South Africa. The songs were produced by Killertunes, DJ Coublon, Krizz Beat, Lush Beat, Anatii, and Chopstix.

We caught up with the singer to discuss Electric Package. Read our conversation below.

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Photo courtesy of Nike.

OkayAfrica & Nike Present: Naija Worldwide

We're linking up with Nike to celebrate Nike's fire Nigeria kits and to send Team Nigeria off to the 2018 World Cup with style.

Partner content from Nike

We've teamed up with Nike to bring the Naija spirit to the world with "Naija Worldwide," an epic bash to celebrate Nike's triumphant Nigeria kits as we send Team Nigeria off to the 2018 World Cup with style!

Join us on Saturday, June 2, from 3:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at The Well in Brooklyn as we mark the occasion with music by DJ Tunez, DJ Moma and DJ Moniki. The vibe also includes art by Laolu Senbanjo, Nigerian cuisine, and a surprise performance by one of Afrobeats' finest.

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