• Friday, May 24, 2024
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Hommage à l’Art: In praise of craftsmanship


Balogun area of Lagos is a flurry of activity on a hot afternoon in May. The stalls on this stretch of road are all open for business, and beautiful piles of African prints adorn their frontage.

Balogun Market, situated close to Lagos’ commercial centre, Broad Street and Marina, on Lagos Island, is perhaps the largest market in Nigeria and indeed West Africa. It’s a sprawling market that spreads across many streets on the Island. It’s a favourite spot for retailers and tailors to get great bargains on different fabrics such as laces, Ankara, office wears and shoes. This market is best explored with someone who knows the way around and has a good bargaining power.

Truly, it is a place where most fashion designers who are taking the Ankara fabric to another level get the best prices. Their renewed interest in taking Ankara fabric to a new level on the continent and outside it is very visible on both local and international runways. Not only that, boardrooms are gradually joining the train. The traditional black, navy blue, grey coloured suits for females may soon be shown the way out.

Today, it is common to see female executive adorn in dresses made of Ankara fabric embellished with precious stones or sequins, or animal prints used for collars on bespoke suits. Simply put, traditional African prints are moving with the times.

What has been the attraction for most people who love African fabric is the design, the asymmetric patterns. A great deal of craftsmanship goes into the making of Ankara, Adire, Kente, among others. Often, the patterns are a celebration of the very best of Africa’s iconic design and cultural heritage.

Vlisco is one of those rare African print manufacturers that has shown a great deal of creativity and craftsmanship in their designs.

Adaeze Alilonu, Vlisco’s channel activation manager, says Vlisco puts its iconic designs in the spotlight with a new fabric collection that celebrates Africa’s rich design heritage. “Our fabrics have long been known for their expressive designs,” she says, noting that “it’s just one of the things that make our brand so unique and beloved by our consumers. The Hommage à l’Art collection pays tribute to Vlisco’s designs in a number of ways; from the feminine florals that draw on our Indonesian batik heritage to hand-drawn abstract designs and our beloved heritage designs.”

Some of the unique and interesting design include a cleverly created collage of cut-outs of heritage designs such as the Jumping Horse, Fan and Eyes. Shadows, visible stitching, pen markings and sewing paraphernalia such as pin boxes and scissors bring the designs to life, and add an unfinished edge and a touch of humour to the four scarves.

“Our design is a tribute to our past, so it was only natural that our designers and colour house went looking for colour ideas from our rich heritage,” adds Alilonu. The collection‘s calm colour palette was inspired by a pile of fabrics found in our archives. These once belonged to a trader who approached Vlisco many years ago with the request to create fabrics in these colours.”

Also as a break from tradition, the Da Viva designers have created Limited Edition Expression by Da Viva, consisting of three bold designs for elegant ladies wear, the party collection in Ultimate by Da Viva, six colourful and fun designs for parties, the male collection in expression by Da Viva, four designs created with the trendy man in mind.

“In 2012,” says Carol Ahere, Da Viva’s communication manager, “saw Da Viva introduce co-ordinate designs where a base design is also printed with a little more detail to create a complementary look, these have been a hit with customers who have already given this style the name His ‘n’ Hers.”

African fabrics have been embraced by African women and men within and outside the continent. Well designed Ankara has become rooted in African fashion and culture. And some of these designed have been personalised and named by the consumers, rather than their creators. “People often give their own names and symbolism to our fabrics,” says Alilonu, “and many of our designs have different meanings across different countries, regions or even families. People often pass these names and their personal stories along, from generation to generation.”