Embracing Fashion

Inspired By Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s March 2014 Article in Elle Magazine Titled

“Why Can’t A Smart Woman Enjoy Fashion”

  • Written By Korantemaa Larbi & Edwin Otu

  • April 28, 2014
  • |Arts

Echoing the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie in her March 2014 Elle magazine article “I Invest in appearance”…and I embrace color. As an African woman in the United States, I started out like Chimamanda, quite afraid to express myself through my clothing. I was quite discouraged by the overwhelming presence of western styled clothing in a context that very well celebrated diversity as a hallmark of advancement. In this milieu, the pressure to assimilate, not to put lightly, was inevitable. In my quest for acceptance, I consciously, but rather uncomfortably, embarked on a project to fit in. In the wintery months, and enveloped by snow, the desire to put on “African colors” was, to put it literally, rendered nearly impossible. Thus nature [the wintery climate] combined with culture [in this sense the reception of designs emblazoned with African hands in the US] among other factors muddled my fashion tastes .

“Whether layering on summer clothes in the winter so to appear cheery and flavorful in the dull weather, painting my lips and nails with whatever colors catch my fancy, I have with time, learnt to embrace the love of wearing and essentially, decking myself in colors that transform winter into colors. I am elated, then, to shelve the view that I am not afraid to stand out.”

Growing up, I have always had a genuine passion and taste for fashion. This personal attribute, at once inspired my how I was brought up and my burgeoning interest in how designs and colors interfaced, informed my understanding of being stylistic. It is therefore not random that my oldest sister called me a fashionista. She arrived at this conclusion after observing the manner in which I sketched designs for clothing in my infant years. Those early years were marked by the creation of assorted designs, which ranged from classic-oriented to racy numbers, to trendy styles that had, to use Taiye Selassie’s term,  “Afropolitan” traces. This was also the moment that the gift to be able to grasp  the intricacies of different fabrics and textures, and how they blended to produce impeccable, immaculate, and well-spruced garbs, was conceived.

Dreams of having my designs on the runway have always animated my imagination. My attention in the past years has remarkably gravitated towards bringing what I call the African style, touch, and taste to the rather fashion-policed terrain of the west. Of course, some designers may have already begun this project, but the design ideas I bring to the table are fixated on intertwining, combining and weaving styles from the continent with the erratic climates that impress the west. This desire has in part been inspired by my stint in northeastern US, where inclement weather conditions form part of our daily lives. My experience with winter in particular, which, I should say, has been quite dreary (an opinion I am not afraid to share), now drives me to consider the colorful and rather “flavorful” fabrics and prints that dot the textile landscape of Ghana in particular and Africa in general.

Ghanaians and Africans love their prints. We love color, and as Chimamanda puts it, “a woman’s seriousness is not incompatible with her appearance. Just because a woman puts effort into what she wears, her hair and nails does not discredit her professionalism or intellect. This is not dismissing the inner substance but I believe it is synonymous to the outside.” My oldest sister once told me, “You never know who will meet when you step outside, so I always step out prepared.

 Like Chimamanda, my first couple of months into living and studying in the United States while marked with excitement also had its moments of confusion and befuddlement. Confusion over who I was, how I fitted into this new society, the casual approach to dressing for class presentations and social gatherings. However, sometimes confusion breeds innovation. And, indeed, like the adage goes, “necessity is the mother of invention.” In my state of confusion, I found the energy to embrace my African heritage and fashion consciousness. Whether layering on summer clothes in the winter so to appear cheery and flavorful in the dull weather, painting my lips and nails with whatever colors catch my fancy, I have with time, learnt to embrace the love of wearing and essentially, decking myself in colors that transform winter into colors. I am elated, then, to shelve the view of myself as being afraid to stand out.

 

“If Africa, and the cultures that inform the rich tapestry that constitute it, must be accorded recognition, then Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora have the rather unflinching responsibility to re-mould existing perceptions about African designs, perceptions that are often inflated with denigration and degeneration. Styles and designs emanating from contemporary Africa, which are both an elaborate pastiche of the past, present, and the future, puts African designers on a stage that equips them with the capacity to take-off.”

I am more in love with African fashion than ever before and ever so excited to be part of this era of flourishing fashion on the continent. The likes of local designers in Ghana, for example, who are yet to explode both in the domains of the local and the international are those whose artistic tastes inspire me. Drawing on such innovative and contemporary reinterpretations of traditional clothing accessories with Kente, Ankara prints, Dutch wax and beads, present endless possibilities for clothing and accessories, whether for special occasions or casual encounters. Adding to this, I seek to recycle the modern and the traditional, the local and the contemporary, in a world that is increasingly flattened by fashion.

Another significant feat that deserves pursuit is the redefinition of Adinkra designs in the realm of fashion. Here, I believe that locating Adinkra, not only as a cultural mark of Ghana, but a trademark symbolizing some cultures of West Africa will go a long way in emblematizing the rich and textured cultures dotting the cultural landscapes of Africa. If Africa, and the cultures that inform the rich tapestry that constitute it, must be accorded recognition, then Africans both on the continent and in the diaspora have the rather unflinching responsibility to re-mould existing perceptions about African designs, perceptions that are often inflated with denigration and degeneration. Styles and designs emanating from contemporary Africa, which are both an elaborate pastiche of the past, present, and the future, puts African designers on a stage that equips them with the capacity to take-off.

Having these intents in mind, I am looking forward to expanding my wardrobe to include more Duaba Serwa gowns, a KUA purse, an Alternatives brooch and an Aya Morrison swimsuit; in fact, the list remains endless. Like Chimamanda, we all have that brilliant seamstress or tailor we brave the heat and traffic of African cities to get to during that trip back home…or mail our measurements to if we cannot travel for that kaba and slit or boubou. And then there are, what I call the Street Boutiques, thinking of Osu and Adum in Ghana, with the sellers on the sidewalks peddling colorful one-size-fits-all African print dresses. Even more exciting are the Africana fashion lines with online shops which allow you to make purchases wherever you are. To my fellow professional African women in the Diaspora, do not be afraid to find your hidden self, and I would say be filled with the burst of energy to rock that African print dress and red stilletos to work to complete yourself. And the next time you are out shopping, do not be hesitant to pick those vibrant pieces that are ‘stylishly you. And, oh, it is really okay to be smart… and stylish, colorful, elegant, suave, swag, and most importantly, look perfectly spruced. Yeah!!!


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