WASHINGTON — Magenta, yellow, coral, gold, kente, stripes, peacock, mesh, cheetah, red, black and green. Rarely have I witnessed this myriad of colors and prints in the same place at the same time and liked it. But this time it was different. This time it was rich and beautiful. This time it was deep and vibrant. This time it was Africa.
On Saturday September 15th I headed to the French Embassy in Washington DC to attend Runway Africa – an international fashion show with a humanitarian base. The official title of the event was Inspiration Africa, LLC partnered with The South African Embassy, presents RUNWAY AFRICA 2007, presented by Amarula Cream Liqueur, but I think I’ll stick with “Runway Africa.” It’s simple. I walked into the gratuitously lit embassy and was greeted by photographers, a mini red carpet, international fashionistas, diverse hues, and eclectic music. I sauntered around for a bit scanning people’s outfits and looking for the press room – the press conference was scheduled for 6pm and I had a load of questions to ask: what is Runway Africa? Who are the designers? Where are the proceeds going? What is Africhic? The press conference, however, was cancelled which gave me, my friend Simone, and photographer Andrea a good two hours before the runway show to search for answers on our own. This should be interesting…
I first noticed a series of “I AM AFRICAN” posters along the wall – all part of Keep A Child Alive – the recipient of the evening’s proceeds. Iman, David Bowie, Seal, Heidi Klum, Sarah Jessica Parker and other celebrities adorned in tribal paint and jewelry – all to make the symbolic point that Africa’s issues are our issues…it’s amazing what a celebrity nod will do for exposure and coverage. I admired the posters, yet wondered if this campaign would gain as much attention and support using a regular person like me for the artistic ads. The marriage of celebrity and humanitarianism simultaneously excite and concern me. Excite because it’s amazing when an individual uses his or her celebrity for the benefit of a critical cause such as AIDS in Africa; concern because using celebrity for a cause is all too often the cool thing to do – a fad. And we all know that AIDS in Africa is not a fad. I found myself getting a little off track with my thoughts so I peeled myself away from the posters and continued on…
I strolled around more – people-watching, taking mental notes, and looking for a place to sit because my high heels had a one-hour standing limit. As soon as I found a seat and got comfortable, five models strutted out of a room and walked around the lounge area. They arranged themselves in a line and displayed their ensembles: a canary yellow halter dress, kente print leg warmers, a baby-doll printed dress, gold jewelry, and more – all items from various designers submitted for the silent auction. I thought to myself, ‘If this is just a taste of what is yet to come, I can’t wait for the runway show!’
Eight o’clock rolled around, the seating process began, the room filled-up, and the anticipation for the show heightened…
Demain, demain, demain
Si il reste un lendemain
Demain, demain, demain
Je le veux en paix pour les miens
Les Nubians, the French/Cameroonian Afropean Hip/Hop and R&B duo, was blasting on the speakers, setting the tone for the pan-African show that was soon to begin…
A series of organizers, sponsors and supporters got up on stage to explain their roles in the program. With each speaker I understood the unique significance of Runway Africa and the notion of Africhic more and more: humanitarianism, responsibility, creativity, kindness. Elizabeth Santiso, the Vice President and Director of Communications of Keep A Child Alive, read statistics on AIDS in Africa like The World Health Report: Shocking, disheartening, yet truthful. She left the audience with one vital charge of empowerment: “We want you to help save your people in your way.” Yes. How important it is to heal from the inside out.
Perhaps the most lasting words were voiced by Tyrone Marc Gunnie, the Second Secretary of Public Diplomacy at the Embassy of the Republic of South Africa.
“[Runway Africa] allows a platform to present the wonderful tapestries we have on the continent…it presents us with an opportunity to carve-out opportunities for ourselves…,” he said.
And that was the true essence of the evening – a display of Africa’s talents, skills, artistic abilities, and culture – which all have the potential to open-up doors for other considerable opportunities such as economic development, healthcare access, and community empowerment. Gunnie went on to discuss the importance of creating niche markets and not waiting on the government to do so. Was I at a fashion show or a rally? It was a little bit of both and it was the perfect pair.
Clarissa Abban, a young and spirited Ghanaian-American and Creative Director & Producer of Runway Africa, clearly poured her heart into this project; for it is one that she had envisioned for years.
“I just wanted to manifest the beauty of Africa…We have so much to offer…beyond AIDS and poverty. Take it all in. I’m sure you will all love it,” she passionately explained.
And love it folks did!
Independent and agency models worked the runway in various African-inspired designs. The show commenced with designs by Sika. Strutting to Jay-Z’s “Show Me What You Got,” the models presented Sika’s Wonderland line: baby doll dresses, jeans and blazers – all with Afrocentric designs. Sika, created by Phyllis Taylor of London, used her rich Ghanaian roots for inspiration and labor – she has all of her clothes manufactured in Ghana by skilled seamstresses and tailors.
Next up was South African lingerie and accessories line Ruby, designed by Robyn Lidsky. And as part of an initiative to create more jobs, Ruby employs 30 women from Cape Town (known as “The Ruby Beading Circle”) to handcraft the beaded jewelry. So where does one go for fun and funk? Harriet’s Alter Ego. Designers Ngozi Odita and Hekima Hapa brought their Brooklyn-based label to the runway with denim, tie-dyes, embroidery, and Kente prints – a taste of tradition with a foundation of flair. In the future, Harriet’s Alter Ego hopes to open a sewing cooperative or factory in Nigeria. Fashion with a cause…I was beginning to see a pattern.
Khaki leisure suits, modern designs, and evening gowns…all with serious panache…or shall I say, Africhic? These pieces, which were part of Teddy Legbedion and Patrick Osaghae’s Blokes “N” Divas label, delivered style and edginess. But jaws dropped and hands clapped when Angela Asare, Ms.Universe Ghana, stepped out in a colorful peacock dress capturing the beautiful essence of Africa in just a few graceful strides. The evening ended with the African and Asian-inspired designs of Bezemymailan of Paris – perhaps a symbolic message of where we must go to truly progress collectively. With the “I am African” tribal designs on their faces, the models marched-out to Soul II Soul’s 1989 hit “Back to Life.” It was as though every single culture on the planet was represented in the eclectic designs. I could identify several different cultures in one outfit alone – perhaps another attribute of Africhic.
At the end of the fashion show, I flipped through the program to read more about the designers, their influences, and their goals. A quote from Aba Kwawu of The Aba Agency piqued my attention: “Africhic is a term that’s used to describe African textile and design, but it’s more than that, it’s the style and grace with which Africans carry themselves.” And it all came together – Africhic is a way of life. Africhic is wearing bold colors and African prints with pride. Africhic is using creativity and style in your daily life to bring creativity and style to others. Africhic is heeding the responsibility of healing your African roots. Runway Africa is Africhic.
Africa is not just a continent in need of international attention. It’s in need of appreciation. Culturally, creatively, economically and artistically it has so much to offer the rest of the world – and this is proven through the African influences we witness internationally in music, food, fashion, culture, and more. Take notice – pretty soon you may see the presence of Africhic all over the world. You will certainly see it at Runway Africa 2008.
For more information on Inspiration Africa, LLC, Runway Africa and future events click here.