Words Helen Jennings
Dakar Fashion Week celebrated its 10th anniversary by inviting Alphadi and Oumou Sy, the king and queen of francophone African fashion, to crown this year’s line-up of over 20 designers. The five-day event in June featured evening shows around the capital city where talents from across the continent joined DFW organiser Adama Ndiaye aka Adama Paris in a colourful festival of fashion.
The Los Angeles-based designer, who I originally met when she showed at ARISE Magazine Fashion Week 2012, founded DFW in 2002 as a way to give back to Senegal. “Living abroad, it was important for me to do something for my country and gain recognition here,” Ndiaye explains. “There was no proper fashion industry in 2002 yet Senegalese women are beautiful and love fashion, so I thought, ‘Let’s do this’.” The first DFW, two days long and featuring Pathé'O and the YSL muse Katoucha Niane, was well attended and it has gone from strength to strength ever since. “It’s not easy, the government does not help, but this year has been beautiful. We did our first free-for-all show outdoors in a poor neighbourhood and people came from all around. It’s been a lot of work but it’s worth it. I want DFW to become bigger and bigger.”
There are no formal model agencies in Dakar yet Ndiaye has models from as far away as Ghana, Gabon and Côte d’Ivoire coming to walk at DFW and it’s here that the now internationally renowned Kinée Diouf made her catwalk debut. Ndiaye also invites Senegalese music stars to perform at DFW, this year including hip hop mainstay Didier Awadi, octogenarian drummer Doudou Ndiaye Rose and sabar enthusiast Sada Diallo.
Catwalk highlights abounded. Imane Ayissi’s bias cut silk and draped tops and dresses in shades of coral, sand and chocolate transformed backs into elegantly revealed erogenous zones. Sidy Counda’s bogolanfini caftans and paint-splattered jeans were aimed at the urban nomad. Karim Tassi’s souk safari styles featured shrunken sequined djellabas. And Oumou Sy focused on traditional Senegalese robes inspired by “the world of royalty.”
Elie Kuame, from Côte d’Ivoire and Lebanon, won Designer Of The Year at the final night’s Trophées de la Mode Africaine awards ceremony for his theatrical creations which included a lace gown covered in zip up jewellery, pastel coloured tulle prom dress and golden column dress dripping in black beads. “I design for women who love elegance,” Kuame says. “I use the shape of the body as my structure and then create volume and movement around it. I also reference both African and Oriental infuences as a respect to both of my cultures.”
Alphadi, famed for his FIMA shows in Niger, dedicated his collection of grand bubus and corseted dresses to helping the people of war torn Mali. “I made everything in Timbuktu using Malian tie dye and embroideries and the jewellery is from the Touaregs,” he says. “I want to promote local artisans and show the ways in which fashion can promote peace. For me that’s very important. Proceeds from my work over the next six months will benefit Mali and its refugees.”
Likewise Awa Meite, a Malian designer currently living in Dakar to escape the unrest at home, presented a thought provoking collection of simple separates with knotted cotton adornments and intricately woven leather bags and belts. “The organic cotton I use is hand woven by women in a Mali village so I hope to elevate their work as well as leather techniques not seen in the West,” she says. “Dakar is becoming the centre of West African francophone fashion because of the stability and democracy here. In Mali it was like that then everything fell… but fashion and the world around helping people dream and to work.”
Her moving sentiments are surely fit for such a heart-felt, friends and family run fashion week.