There’s a silk and raffia dress from Cameroon-born couturier Imane Ayissi and a re-imaging of the traditional Nigerian ìró by Shade Thomas-Fahm – known as Nigeria’s ‘first fashion designer’ – in fact, everywhere you look, there’s innovative creativity. Having opened this month (2 July – 16 April 2023), the Africa Fashion exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum is a milestone moment celebrating 45 designers from over 20 African countries.
The landmark show celebrates the global impact of contemporary African fashions and is the UK’s most extensive exhibition of African fashion to date. Celebrating the vitality and innovation of this vibrant scene, it is as dynamic and varied as the continent itself.
Over 250 objects are on display as part of the exhibition, with approximately half of these drawn from the museum’s own collection, including 70 new acquisitions. Many of the garments on show are from the personal archives of a selection of iconic mid-20th century African designers – Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah and Alphadi, marking the first time their work will be shown in a London museum. The exhibition also celebrates influential contemporary African fashion creatives including Imane Ayissi, IAMISIGO, Moshions, Thebe Magugu and Sindiso Khumalo.
Giving an in-depth back story, Africa Fashion showcases these pieces and the stories behind them, alongside personal insights from the designers, together with sketches, editorial spreads, photographs, film and catwalk footage.
In the accompanying Africa Fashion coffee-table book (£25; edited by Christine Checinska), Tristram Hunt, director of the V&A, writes: “The staging of Africa Fashion at the V&A coincides with a period when the need to reimagine the practice of the museum along more equitable and encompassing lines could not be more apparent… Today, we appreciate more and more how certain peoples’ histories have been hidden or misrepresented. The Africa Fashion exhibition and accompanying book reflect V&A’s broader commitment to focus on work by African and African diaspora creatives.”
From Amanda Gorman in kente cloth on the cover of American Vogue, to Michelle Obama’s outings in Duro Olowu, the fashion of Africa exerts a worldwide pull. Africa Fashion – the book – supports the exhibition in exploring how a radical post-independence creativity sparked a cultural renaissance across the continent, when designers such as Shade Thomas-Fahm, Chris Seydou, Kofi Ansah and Nina Gessous drew on past traditions and reinvented them. Now, a new generation, such as Nigerian fashion designer Lisa Folawiyo, Ghanaian woven bag maker AAKS, and Kenyan jeweller Ami Doshi Shah, show how diverse the African fashion scene is.