Paris's black fashion week aims to show a new face of Africa
Hot on the heels of Paris fashion week, the first "Black fashion week" in the French capital was staged last weekend. It was an important step in bringing African talent to a global audience.
Launched by Senegalese-born French fashion designer Adama Ndiaye of Adama Paris label fame, the show sought to showcase some of the African continent’s best designers, as well as some from Haiti and the US.
Participants rangied from established names like Alphadi from Niger to young designers showing their collections for the first time, for example Sophie Sy, who was born in Senegal and now live in New York.
"We invited buyers, big people in the fashion industry," says Ndiaye, "because I want them to consider just putting even one designer on their books. That would be nice."
She says fashion still isn’t seen as a real job in Africa and the continent lacks the big distribution networks that would allow designers to get access to global markets.
"My goal is to change that,” she adds.
Black Fashion Week was launched last year in Prague and the idea is to take it from city to city.
"I wanted it to be unique, a kind of stop-off in different cities around the world," says Ndiaye. "Paris is the capital of fashion, we just had to come here."
But this is France and the word "black" ruffles feathers, smacking of the kind of identity politics this country is wary of.
Ndiaye, who has lived in France since she was a young child, says it’s time to lighten up.
"French people have a big issue with the word black and noir, which is not my case. They say OK why can’t you wait and people are going to accept you. But I’m not going to wait for things to change, I have to change them. And I’m part of the change. We’re aiming really high and we’re going to do shows like everybody does. I want to show a new face of Africa."
Despite a decade’s experience running the Dakar Fashion Week, Ndiaye admits the Paris experience was not a smooth ride.
She struggled to get the finance -possible sources of cash wanted her to drop the word "black" from the name - several models dropped out when offered better-paid work and three designers from Mali, Senegal and Angola were refused visas, something Ndiaye deeply regrets.
But there’s no stopping this sleight but feisty designer.
She’ll be taking the show to Montreal in November and Brazil's Salvador de Bahia next March.
"These designs are not made by blacks for blacks," she says, "They’re for everybody."
And indeed they are. Whether your purse is deep enough is another matter. High quality fashion, whatever the colour, comes at a price.