In search of the new; culture counts.
Discovering fashion across the globe : 10 fashion designers in 2019
Fashion is always about the new; new colours, new items, new names. Looking for a new city, outside the big four fashion weeks; New York, London, Milan, Paris, has become a familiar story, but at the same time the questions arise. What, where, who, why, and how, do we look at, when there are so many options and alternatives? Many fashion weeks are not aimed at international buyers, although obviously no one turns them away, but are often a specific showcase for the local industry.
At designer level from Copenhagen to San Paulo there is something for everybody. The intrinsic cultural influences provide both a strength and a flavour to much of fashion, which, when shown in situ surrounded by the scenery of the country, is obvious; transplanted it’s not always so clear. Yet, in recent years this has become less true, cultural heritage, designers origins and the honesty of cultural references has become more respected and accepted. Remember also that not everybody has the budget to show in one of the big four cities, or in some cases the desire.
Alongside our search for new places, we look for new faces, Edward Enninful became the first black male editor of British Vogue in 2017. Beverly Peele, Beverly Johnson, Pat Cleveland, Donyale Luna, Naomi Simms and Imam were the beginnings of diversity in model casting from the 1960’s onwards. Now through Alek Wek to Jourdan Dunn or Liya Kebede and today’s models which includes Pat Cleveland’s daughter, Anna Cleveland amongst the faces, this diversity continues.
Multiculturalism should be a given in fashion, from designers to models, editors and photographers, and fashion today comes from almost every corner of the world. Where and how those in the fashion business formulate their creativity is often based on a range of factors, from birthplace or parentage through to haphazard circumstances. The London born tailor Oswald Boateng, once told me all his colour sense came from his mother’s Ghanaian background. Scandinavian drama, Swedish Ikea, and Japanese Uniqlo are all part of our lives and also all keep their cultural aesthetic as the heart of what they offer the world.
If we think about it, designers have always been fascinating in how, by tracing or knowing their cultural origins, we can observe the effects on their creativity. Schiaparelli was Italian, Yves Saint Laurent was born in Algeria and lived there until he was seventeen, Balenciaga, in spite of thirty years in France, remained resolutely Spanish in his aesthetic, we embraced Issey Miyake, Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto because of their Japanese views of fashion.
Today designers from, and in, India, many of whom show across the globe, also come from across their own vast continent. Sabyasachi hails from Kolkata, Rahul Mishra was born near Kanpur and Manish Arora hails from Mumbai; Naeem Khan, born in Bareilly, is truly Indian being twenty before he moved to America, and Ashish was born in Delhi, yet their culture is embedded in their work and their respect and love for Indian tradition is obvious. Craft and the garments of their culture are embedded in their creative work. India also has many fashion weeks, including Lakme and LMIFW held across the country.
All Belgian designers seem to have a specific aesthetic, which is truly celebrated and loved, by their devotees. It covers a broad spectrum of menswear and women’s wear, and the heart of their mood always seems to be drenched with a hint of romantic melancholy about it. This Belgian invasion into the global fashion arena includes Dries van Noten, Martin Margiela, Olivier Theyskens, Dirk Bikkembergs, Dirk van Saene, Ann Demeulemeester, Raf Simons, and many others all of whom remain resolutely Belgian. The Lebanon designers, especially those from Beirut, adore special occasion and evening wear, and excel at it, with Zuhair Murad, Elie Saab, Tony Ward, Georges Hobeika, George Chakra, Reem Akra, and many others, are always enchanting us with embroideries, sparkle and glamour.
Viktor & Rolf are Dutch, Talbot Runhof are German, Akris, with wonderful designer Albert Kriemler at its helm, is Swiss with Swiss fabric at the heart of the house. Yet, we know all this mixing of cultures is not new, it has been true across so many seasons, Xuly Bet comes from Bamako in Mali, Azzedine Alaia was from Tunis, therefore Tunisian, Helmut Lang is Viennese.
The big shift is that even those designers who show in other cities know that the clients who understand their ethos’s aesthetic and cultural references best are often from associated backgrounds. However diluted or subliminal, thousands of years of heritage cannot be erased, nor would anyone wish it to be. Vogue Arabia and Vogue India demonstrate the need to link fashion with culture and heritage; politics, religion, and tradition cannot be ignored. At the present moment the search for new fashion weeks and new faces is casting its eye across the world. It’s complex because it is not simply about black designers in Africa and Africa as a single fashion source.
American born Virgil Abloh (now creative director menswear at Louis Vuitton) has Ghanaian parents, Pyer Moss designer Kerby Jean-Raymond is Haitian American, London born Duro Olowu is Nigerian, and Suzy Menkes had just chaired the Condé Nast International (CNI) Luxury Conference in South Africa with designers coming from a wide range of countries within the African continent. Rushemy Botter and Lisi Herrebrugh have both their own label, Rushemy Botter, and are now designers at Nina Ricci in Paris.
These two exemplify the mix; Botter was born in Curaçao and is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and Amsterdam Fashion Institute which Herrebrugh also attended, and she divides her time between the Netherlands and the Dominican Republic. Curaçao, Haiti and the Dominican Republic are closer to South America than Africa, and of course the great writer Alexandre Dumas was born in Haiti, which was then French speaking, which confuses things even further. I will avoid here delving into the complexities of African, Latin, Hispanic and all variations of terminology, it is outside this pieces purpose. There are times when history muddles rather than clarifies; in fashion it’s about the new and the next.
Let us close with a quote from the New York Times article on Kerby Jean-Raymond of Pyer Moss. First let us note “His role models are Martin Margiela(Belgian) Rick Owens (American with a Mexican mother), Dries Van Noten (Belgian) and Yohji Yamamoto (Japanese)” certainly a fascinating selection. He also said “In the beginning of Pyer Moss, I didn’t want people to know I was black because I knew they would make all these assumptions, now I fully embrace who I am. I’m black. I’m here. And I’m really good.”
Haiti, Africa, Ghana, New York, London, or wherever they’re from, the strength of purpose of these designers points the way to a new fashion movement. I repeat the words “A label concerned with building a narrative that speaks about heritage and activism.”