The Victoria and Albert Museum showcases the ‘collective power’ of African fashion

Written Tom Bushier-Hayes, CNNLondon

The exhibition “African Fashion” at the prestigious Victoria and Albert Museum in London caused a special stir.

The event, which opens on July 2 and spans two floors, is a fascinating mix of fashion from the mid-20th century to the present, told through photographs, films, magazines and mannequins.

It features the work of 45 designers from over 20 countries and features over 250 objects, 70 of which are new acquisitions. From a period when many African countries declared independence, the exhibition explores the role of fashion in the cultural renaissance of the continent.

More than 50 mannequins were dressed in exquisite outfits, showcasing the creative spirit of Africa. It’s colorful and fun, but there’s a purpose.

“I think for us, fashion is a kind of catalyst through which we can give people a glimpse into the myriad stories and cultures of the continent,” said Kristin Chechinska, lead curator. “It’s also something that we hope people will take away – just the thrill and enjoyment of the potential of African creativity.”

“There is a real sense of collective power and a sense of pan-Africanism despite differences,” she added.

The exhibition features the work of some of the most important names in the development of African fashion, including Folashade “Shadow” Thomas-Pham, who is often referred to as Nigeria’s first contemporary designer.

Designed by Folashade “Shadow” by Thomas-Pham, 1970s. Credit: Victoria and Albert Museum

After studying fashion in London in the 1950s, Thomas-Pham returned to Nigeria and became famous for her use of traditional fabrics in her work. Her early forays into fashion came at the same time that independence movements were springing up across the continent.

“In the 50s and 60s, there was a kind of confusion about our identity,” she told CNN last year. “Everything western was praised and no one seemed interested in our own locally produced materials. I just never felt it.”

Achievements Archive

What really stands out, however, is the work of new and innovative designers. Among the many contemporary designers on display at the show is Nigerian Lisa Folawiyo, who launched her own label 17 years ago. Speaking from Lagos, she said she was very happy to have been asked to participate.

“We have seen that all over the world what we do has been well received and it is being worn all over the world and I really feel it is time for people to realize that African fashion goes beyond (the continent). It’s just fashion for everyone and everywhere. “

These works by Lisa Folavillo, presented at the exhibition, are characterized by a combination of contrasting patterns and colors.

These works by Lisa Folavillo, presented at the exhibition, are characterized by a combination of contrasting patterns and colors. Credit: Chelsea Lee

Her work is on display on the first floor of the exhibition, next to the work of award-winning South African designer Lujanio Mdinga. “It’s no secret that the Victoria and Albert Museum is one of the most revered and respected museums in the entire world, and being part of an exhibition that is truly dedicated to African designers is fantastic,” he said from his studio in Cape Town.

He added that the exhibition would be a valuable testament to the achievements in African craft and storytelling.

“It’s important that African designers and artists be honored in an exhibition like this one, because in the long run, this is where there are archives that people can go back to and see, ‘that’s what happened at that time.'”

African fashion will last until April 16, 2023.

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