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Xuly.Bët’s Lamine Badian Kouyaté Talks Moving to New York and Fashion in Africa

Lamine Badian Kouyaté of Xuly.Bët updates Okayafrica on the state of fashion today, his plans to return to New York and more.

In the background, 1970s reggae blasts through speakers. Lamine Badian Kouyaté, the Malian-born fashion designer known for his unconventional fashion shows and street-influenced couture, chuckles and lowers the volume.


“I really like that bass,” he says.

Since launching his label Xuly.Bët in the early 1990s in front of a Jean Paul Gaultier tent, Kouyaté’s been designing his collections while living in Paris. He lives at the heart of the 18th arrondissement, the district of Paris that American media frequently depicts as a “no-go zone,” since nearly 20 percent of its residents are immigrants.

“There are a lot of artists and Arab and African people here,” Kouyaté says to Okayafrica. “As you can imagine the family life here is dynamic!”

Recently however, the award-winning designer has plans to relocate to New York.

With help from the popular fashion publicist Kelly Cutrone, Kouyaté made headlines again during New York Fashion Week in February, and hinted that he might be opening a location here for the second time, after closing his first New York boutique on Orchard Street in the late 1990s. “Orchard’s so cool now, though,” Kouyaté says. “Even Brooklyn is civilized now. Back in the day, you couldn’t get a cab to go anywhere near Brooklyn!”

But Brooklyn is still too far from the eclectic Downtown Manhattan neighborhoods, which are also arguably the epicenter of cool. He’s looking at spots on the Lower East Side, Chinatown, and the Bowery for now, wherever grit and grime is still present. But regardless of where he lands, this time it won’t be a simple boutique.

“That’s boring,” Kouyaté says. “If I do something, it’s going to be more open. I want it to be a point where people can come and hang around.”

Photo by Alex Mahieu.

The designer says he wants to exhibit art shows, promote contemporary African culture and possibly bring in live reggae bands to “bump it up.” It’s meant to be a creative space where different types of people can mingle. This concept isn’t new to the fashion industry—or even to Kouyaté—but the designer hopes it’ll push him back into a world where he can move between design, performance, art and music.

Part of the motivation behind the move is a general air of malaise with the luxury fashion industry and its current direction. Fashion at the moment is “more boring than ever.” He’s upset about how commercialism has taken over the industry, and its toll on the environment and the countries it affects. This is the core of Kouyaté’s designer identity, as the first pieces he cut were from recycled garments that he carefully rearranged into something new and provocative.

Most recently, Kouyaté worked with the French supermarket chain E.Leclerc to launch a limited line of Mali-grown, fair trade cotton tops and bottoms. “I really wanted to support the fashion industry in Africa,” Kouyaté says. Though it was successful for three years, sustaining the business turned out to be a challenge. “The factories would need to modernize to support larger orders. I’d really enjoy it if we could do it in Mali, since many of the farmers there prepare their own seeds and don’t use a lot of chemicals, since they don’t have much money. But, it’s the best thing that it’s not grown by Monsanto.”

Fashion is never easy, especially for Kouyaté—who's always been a figure outside of the established houses, even if critics and other designers welcomed him. His use of fabrics and his particular draping and cut can’t be found in other designers’ work, but his signature style also singles him out. Because of the colorful cloths Kouyaté uses, his pieces are often deemed “clubby.” But, he says the color and the exterior is the last thing he thinks about when designing them.

“With the clothes, I’m creating a space that someone can move in,” Kouyaté says. “All the colors and all the planes, they come after. I care more about people and want them to be able to move. Especially for women, I don’t want them to be restricted. I want them to be able to go out in the world and be strong and fight.” This thought process shouldn’t come as a surprise—Kouyaté studied architecture at the Strasbourg School of Architecture before starting Xuly.Bët. “Clothing and buildings are made to protect fragile human bodies,” Kouyaté says. "They’re meant to save us from our nakedness."

Check out the looks from the Xuly.Bët Fall 2016 collection below:

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Photo courtesy of Lamine Badian Kouyaté.

Though the new Xuly.Bët space is still to be determined for 2016, you can find his clothing at his online shop.

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Photo credit should read KELVIN IKPEA/AFP via Getty Images

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