While Toronto Fashion Week announced shutting down earlier this summer, African Fashion Week Toronto (AFWT) continues to gain momentum. Isaac Ansah and Anita Aboagye are the Co-Founders of AFWT. The duo had a vision to create a platform that would showcase the work of emerging and established designers from Africa and the diaspora. Since 2012 the pair have been doing just that and getting bigger and stronger each year. In mid-August, designers presented their latest collections at the Design Exchange in Toronto.
When people think of African designers, the brilliance of African patterns and traditional prints is the first thing that comes to mind. The reality is the continent of Africa has a blend of so many different styles. From the east to west, north to south, each region has its distinctive details and it doesn’t end there. Those in the diaspora show a connection and often create work that references the roots of their heritage. Designers from the Caribbean, South America, The UK, Europe, The U.S. and more are all part of that diaspora giving rise to African talents.
One common thread today, is the way designers bring together contemporary design with cultural tradition. The world is standing up to take notice of what African fashion is really about. Many high end designers have taken inspiration from the continent which is why events like AFWT are so important. It gives a platform for designers to show what they are doing and how they are representing the creativity that comes from Africa and beyond.
There were so many designers that put on a great show including some of the emerging talents in the student runway competition. Design talents like Kwesiya, Cannon Ball Diva, House of Poplyn, Soro’Bis, House of Ruth and many more were featured.
Award-winning designer Kaela Kay is always a favourite. Over the years the label has mastered the art of designing with a west African flavour and creating contemporary style that can be worn at the office or for an evening out. Originally from Ghana, Catherine Addai is the creative force behind the Toronto-based brand. Her work has gained international attention and has been spotted on celebrities like Model Tomiko Fraser Hines and Actress Teyonah Parris. I love how she uses different patterns with contrasting colours to create unique and interesting pieces.
Her latest collection stayed true to what she represents. A kaleidoscope of the modern woman by showing different sides of her personality. You can be everything from the professional to the playful or sophisticated woman.
Helmer Joseph, known as Helmer, was one of the highlights of AFWT with his collection presented like an art installation rather than traditional runway show.
Models posed like living mannequins and attendees were invited to climb up on stage and experience the designer’s work by interacting with his crearions by touching the fabrics, feeling the textures and taking close up photos. It was like bringing art to life.
With over 20 years experience in haute couture, Helmer travels between Montreal, Paris and Haiti for all his design work. He has worked for design houses in Paris and is known for his attention to detail and a high level of craftsmanship. I was impressed with how he incorporated African printed textiles into some of these artistic pieces. Like mixed media art, Helmer uses an array of woven fabrics, textures and lace to create some of his masterpieces. His level of excellence is proof at the kind of talent that exists in designers from the African diaspora.
Ofuure was the winner of the student design competition this year and it was no surprise to those in attendance. She already has a big following on social media and is constantly filling orders through her online shopping page on Etsy.com and on Zuvaa all while still doing her studies. The judges chose her because of her attention to detail and the cohesiveness of her entire collection.
After a strong showing last year, Pereira was back with another collection that balanced sophistication with a subtle sense of sex appeal. It was called the ‘Liberated Modern Woman’. There were white dresses with small floral details showing plenty of leg or revealing the body’s curves through mesh panel details. Models occasionally stopped on the runway and snapped a selfie. In a funny way it was just like an ode to today’s modern woman.
Eaden Myles and We Are Kings were both menswear collections shown that proved men want well tailored clothing while having their own sense of style. When we see artists like Jidenna regularly wearing clothes that have a hint of Africa through bold colours and patterns, it’s proof that mainstream menswear is craving something different.
You don’t have to be a man from African descent to appreciate the use of traditional prints in trousers, blazers or a vest. Simple details like a contrasting collar, belt or tie are sometimes the small touch needed to be more fashion forward.
St.Lucian-born, Kyle Gervacy has evolved and grown as a designer since his start when he won the student designer competition a few years ago. A self-described ‘cutting edge’ designer, he has earned his own loyal following. His clients love the asymmetrical hemlines, futuristic cuts and the way he pieces his garments together like an architect. He has a more avant-garde aesthetic that seems to be a reflection of his creative spirit.
Miss Beida had one of the most regal collections inspired by the richness of African traditional patterns. The dashiki print, was prevalent throughout the collection and was the thread of cohesiveness throughout. One of the few designers who had both men’s and ladieswear, she also had children’s clothing.
Watching the men and women strutting down the runway was like taking a peek into the lives of Kings and Queens at some royal ceremony. All her details were in order and everyone loved the show.
Zna K is another label that often has a strong African design aesthetic. The Cameroonian designer, whose name is Zeena Kay, was the winner of the 2o13 student designer award for AFWT and has since proven her skill with a successful brand in which she creates both men’s and ladies ready to wear. She also makes custom clothing and bridal gowns.
Her latest collection is dubbed ‘the Cinderella Collection’ and features floor-length gowns in bold rich colours. Many pieces are made with a mix of ankara prints and tulle fabric creating that airy princess feel just like Cinderella going to the ball.
Montreal-based design duo Cocody was back with another well tailored collection. The husband and wife hail from Ivory Coast and Haiti and do a great job of working together and collaborating to create collections that are balanced and compliment each other’s cultural heritage.
Their collection this season had more tailored pieces with accents of African print on collars, necklines and as belts. One of my favourite pieces was the men’s fitted sweater with the African pattern as the contrast detail front panel. Perfect during the cooler autumn season when many ankara fabrics don’t stand up to the cold temperatures.
One of my favourites from last year’s AFWT returned with another amazing collection. Originally from Ivory Coast, Issa Sorongo is the designer for Soro’Bis. Currently based in the U.S., he grew up around fashion because his father was a sought after tailor in Ivory Coast. Sorongo actually started as a model having worked the runways in Paris for many years before finally going into design.
When I spoke with him he talked about the inspiration behind his latest collection and why it was so important. He said he was compelled to find a way to use fashion to make a statement about what’s happening in the world. With all the violence and hatred he wanted to speak to people by creating something that could provide peace and balance. That’s why he chose to use white as the main foundation for most of the pieces. It was powerful and angelic.
The final night of AFWT featured the 3rd Annual African Fashion Industry Awards (AFIA). I was honoured to be the Host of this awards night for the third time. It’s such a wonderful part of the event because it gives recognition to those working hard at their craft. Giving praise to the influencers and the new emerging talent is critical because they all have a role to play. Sometimes being nominated or awarded is the reminder that people are watching and the hard work has not gone unnoticed.
Adebayo Jones’ ‘liquid gold’ collection was the show-stopping finale that capped off the four-day event closing out the awards night. Known as the ‘King of couture’, the Nigerian designer is based in the U.K and has over three decades of experience in the fashion business. His collection was one masterpiece after another that I referred to as heaven on the runway.
He’s one of Nigeria’s best fashion designers and represents a design aesthetic that not every designer learns to master in their career. It was amazing to see him showing again at AFWT. I hope we see him again next year.
Overall AFWT 2016 was a success. I look forward to next year and seeing even more amazing talent showcasing their work.