Beyond the Continent and Back: African-Print’s Globalization of Style

 By Branna Calloway

October 9, 2018

October’s shaping up to be quite the fashionable month, thanks in part to Mint Museum Randolph’s vivid new exhibit that’s both traditional, yet contemporary. Guest curated by Suzanne Gott with Kristyne S. Loughram, Betsy D. Quick, and Leslie W. Rabine, African-Print Fashion Now! A Story of Taste, Globalization, and Style showcases the interesting journey of the distinctive cloths that comprise African-print textiles. Originally inspired by Indonesia’s batik (wax-resist) cloth, a dense web of influence hailing from Europe, Africa, and Asia settled into the vibrant colors and designs that stock open-air markets and cloth shops across the African continent.

During a four-day preview, media and museum members were able to meet and interact with two young designers featured in the exhibition: Titi Ademola and Alexis Temomanin. Ghanaian/Nigerian designer Titi Ademola went from interning with designer Betsey Johnson to founding KIKI Clothing, a Ghanaian-based fashion house that creates African-inspired collections. “My inspiration, in a way, is Africa. It’s about showcasing the positive sides of Africa, the vibrancy, the color, the culture, the history; all is intertwined in the prints, in the fabrics,” said Ademola. KIKI has been featured in major fashion magazines including a shoot by famed photographer Mario Testino. Her popular handkerchief hem dress was even worn by Academy Award-winning actress Lupita Nyong’o.

Alexis Temomanin is the British-Ivorian designer behind the luxury menswear brand, Dent de Man. Dent de Man incorporates vintage fabrics, ancient printing techniques and classic tailoring to create bold, empowering pieces that tell stories. Temomanin’s own story inspired his push into fashion, a memory of his mother wearing African-print after they were separated when he was still a child, never to be reunited. The fabric serves as a canvas for his storytelling, sometimes personal, sometimes topical, always “esthétique.”

Organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA in association with Vlisco Netherlands B.V., African Print Now! demonstrates the vital role that African-print has played in the expression of beauty, fashion and heritage, while creating transcultural connections across Africa and beyond. The exhibition, which represents the Mint’s mission to explore the meaning of fashion in a global 21st century context, is structured into four sections: “It All Starts with Cloth,” “Portraits in Print,” “Regional Styles, Fashion Preferences,” and “New Directions.” Collectively, the installation includes dozens of tailored fashions, nearly 100 archival and contemporary cloths, approximately 20 black and white studio portrait photographs from the ‘60s and ‘70s, a series of runway videos, and several works by visual artists. Perhaps you will recognize the work of Kyemah McEntyre, the New Jersey designer whose 2015 artwork masquerading as a prom dress went viral after she posted it on Instagram. McEntyre went on to design dresses for Tyra Banks, Power’s Naturi Naughton and her designs were featured in Janet Jackson’s “Made For Now” music video.

African-Print Fashion Now! A Story Of Taste, Globalization, And Style will run through April 28, 2019 at Mint Museum Randolph, 2730 Randolph Road.

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