Growing up in a West African home you learn quickly that tradition and culture are at the center of everything. Questioning why something is often leads to an intriguing debate, we like to debate, but tends to be irrelevant, it just is what it is. You learn to appreciate tradition and not fight it. Tradition permeates everything from family structure to clothes. As a kid nothing excited me more than relatives coming to visit because they often came bearing gifts of clothes in vibrant fabrics and prints. But one thing stayed the same, the silhouette. Even as a child I knew that a scoop neck square top and straight ankle length skirt with a slit in the rear wasn't the most flattering to our shape. As I grew older I began to understand that traditional West African fabrics were often stiff and not always easy to work with.
These days "African Inspired" prints are everywhere. From runways to street style I guarantee you will see some influence of traditional West African fabrics and prints. Mainstream designers seem to have a love affair with the vibrancy of these prints. But what you will find is that over time the interpretation of African Inspired has become well, mundane. I mean really, how many peplum tribal print tops can you have in one collection?
Fast forward to Africa Fashion Week 2013. Curated by the audacious and insightful Ms. Adiat Disu. In 2009, she saw a need in the market to showcase African designers who wanted the right platform for their work. When I was asked to attend Africa Fashion Week this year I was beyond elated. I wanted to see how young designers were re-interpreting 'African Inspired'.
The designer that immediately caught my eye was Reuben Reuel of De-Mes'Tiks NYC. His ability to shape fabric to fit the curves of a woman's body is something many well established designers often struggle to achieve. Each of his pieces flowed down the runway seamlessly. The movement in each garment fascinated me. At the end of the show I made my way to the back to grab a quick interview with Reuben. After short introductions I blurted out with no real segue, How did you do it? How did you take a traditionally stiff fabric and give it a flow similar to that of a chiffon? He began to explain that he created curves in the fabric itself to give it movement. As we chatted more he also noted that his pieces range in sizes from a traditional sample size to plus size. His forward thinking and insight is that of a design veteran. In my opinion, he has mastered this idea of meshing a non-traditional shape with a traditional West African print. I appreciate his thoughtfulness and creativity as a designer and am anxious to see how his future collections will fare among the myriad of designers looking to achieve what I believe he already has, a re-interpretation of African inspired.