African fashion: three names to watch


Maki Oh

Maki Oh
Amaka Osakwe was raised in Lagos, studied fashion at the Arts University College, Bournemouth, and returned to Nigeria to launch Maki Oh for autumn/winter 2010/11. The collection of sheer tops, voluminous jumpsuits and baggy trousers was inspired by the Dipo ceremony of rural Ghana, which marks the transformation of girls into women; during the ceremony the young women are partially naked yet ornately adorned. While shapes were reminiscent of men's agbada suits (wide-sleeved robes), what made the pieces special was Osakwe's use of vintage aso-oke (a narrow loom-woven cloth) and adire, an indigo-dyed patterned fabric. Osakwe reinvented the method using silk instead of cotton and created her own prints. "I wanted to make Nigerians aware of their local handmade fabrics, which are infused with meanings that have been passed down through generations," she says.
Successive collections have seen her develop signature shapes – the button-up shirt, the high-waisted pantaloon and the long T-shirt dress. Her provocative spring/summer 2012 collection features skin-tight mesh minidresses with embroidery and velvet appliqué. Meanwhile, frilly Gypsy tops that threaten to fall down from shoulders and pencil skirts split to the thigh could be worn only by the most daring. "I was inspired by Matisse's paintings of primitive odalisques [female slaves] to take a fictional trip into the world of the Lagos 'reds' [prostitutes]," she says. "Everything's been done before, they say, but there's still so much about Africa to be explored."


Laurenceairline AW12
Laurence Chauvin Buthaud launched Laurenceairline in 2011 as a creative response to the humanitarian and political crisis facing her native Ivory Coast in the wake of the recent civil war. The menswear label focuses on shirts, scarves and shorts made from local vintage poplin, chambray and batik cloths that Chauvin Buthaud describes as "modern silhouettes with a tribal textile edge". Each design reflects a cultural odyssey through fashion. "Laurenceairline moves around the world creating a connection with Africa," says the designer, who studied political sciences and is based in Abidjan, Ivory Coast and Paris. "Colourful constructions and a playful use of materials outline the elegance of the brand. Fabrics evoke the various ports of call of a long voyage. The cosmopolitan map within a man's well-travelled wardrobe thus takes shape to complete the ideal look of a free-minded dandy."
Production is based in the studio in Koumassi, Abidjan, which employs local women and trains them in sewing, printing and tailoring. Chauvin Buthaud hopes to develop this into a more formal school. "In Ivory Coast, where education remains inaccessible to most, our workshop is becoming a centre for professional development. Profits are fully reinvested into the project."

Mimi Plange

Mimi Plange SS12
This Ghana-born, California-raised designer studied architecture and fashion before relocating to New York, where she cut her teeth working for stylist Patricia Field and designer Rachel Roy. Mimi Plange launched Boudoir D'Huitres in 2007 and became known for eschewing seasonal trends in favour of staying true to her twin influences – Victorian fashion and her African heritage. "They may seem like opposing forces but both have an old-world sense of craftsmanship and individuality," she says. She relaunched the label under her own name for autumn/winter 2011/12 – the same season US Vogue's André Leon Talley took Plange under his ample wing and helped edit her New York fashion week presentation. She has recently done a capsule shoe line with Manolo Blahnik, too.
For spring/summer 2012 the floral prints worn by the Herero women of present-day Namibia were her starting point for a collection of delicately tailored high-collared shirts, day dresses, maxi skirts and sequined trousers in pastel hues. Each features intricate stitching, which is her interpretation of the tribal scarification patterns found in Benin. "Before clothing, many Africans would scar their face and bodies as a method of tribal identification. It's a very painful process that shocks some people, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder," says Plange, whose mother (a former model) has one such scar on her cheek. "I like the idea of incorporating historical references into clothes that ultimately feel modern, understated and clean."

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