Talks and Walks
It’s the most deliciously distinguished date of distinction on London’s August calendar – the Capital’s not-so-quiet summer month. The largest annual African fashion event in Europe. Yes, for one weekend Freemasons’ Hall Covent Garden plays architectural host to catwalk shows and exhibitions complemented by an African souk and food village. Welcome to the Grand Temple of African Style! A new addition this year is the Business Fashion Forum powered by EPG Media. Insightful talks and informative panel discussions feature guest speakers from the Mayor of London’s Office, Department of Trade UK and the V+A Museum not forgetting British perfume sensation Azzi Glasser.
Princess Ronke Ademiluyi is the esteemed founder and owner of Africa Fashion Week London and Nigeria. Known informally as “Rukkies”, she is a London trained lawyer. So how did she gracefully make the transition from Suits (law) to suits (fashion)? Her Royal Highness: “When I was in the university whatever I wore to school used to get a lot of compliments. At some point I thought why not make a business out of it? I often bought stuff for some of my fellow students, dressed them up and styled them. That is how the whole fashion thing came about.”
Both London and Nigeria have been absolute runaway successes. Princess Ronke reveals, “Africa Fashion Week Nigeria has by the grace of God become the biggest driver in Nigeria for emerging brands. The London event is very mainstream in the sense we have a lot of mainstream media, fashion buyers and organisations who attend to see the latest coming out of Africa because it involves the 54 African countries. It is still promoting our culture as well because our fashion is our culture – it translates our cultural identity.”
Joseph Farodoye, CEO of EPG Media announces, “This is a moment in history. We are an amazing bunch of people – beautiful, resilient! My mother says, ‘If you know better do better!’ Africa Fashion Week London has celebrated over 900 designers. When Ronke set it up it was for aspiring designers who are now established designers. “It’s now the largest and longest running culturally diverse fashion and trade exhibition in Europe. Let’s begin to change the narrative of the landscape – we are a vibrant people!” There’s liquid refreshment too seeping through all this glamour: Amarula. This drink is made from the Marula fruit of Sub Equatorial Africa. The Marula spirit is distilled and aged in French oak for two years then blended with a velvety cream to create the smooth taste of Amarula. Yesterday’s dream.
South African fashion designer Vanessa Gounden believes in merging creativity and business to be sustainable. “My husband and I are activists involved in the liberation. I’ve always had a passion for fashion!” she exclaims. “What is my actual USP? It’s an activist expression of wearable art – the very essence of how we can be more feminine and responsible. I’ve created an integrated atelier proud of ‘Made in South Africa’ goods that can compete in the international luxury market.” Vanessa Gounden is now open in Soho London’s Ham Yard Village. Today’s fashion; tomorrow’s vintage.
Elisabeth Murray, Curator of Modern Fashion at the V+A, says the museum is “an amazing resource for designers and makers”, adding, “there are around 80,000 fashion and textiles objects”. Janet Browne, Senior Producer of Audience Development at the V+A Learning Academy, predominantly works with black audiences at the museum. Her aim is to “celebrate difference and tell the difference through narratives in the collections”. There are around 4,500 objects from Africa and its diaspora. Janet confides, “My favourite is the bust of a black youth made in the 18th century which stands proudly in the Europe Gallery. He has no collar so he wasn’t enslaved. We believe he was probably a gondolier who worked for himself in Italy. The bust is made of marble with glass buttons. I love him!”
Africa Fashion Week London is packed with other fashionable dignitaries taking part. To name just a few: Her Royal Highness Queen Diambi Kabatusuila Tshiyoyo Muata of the Democratic Republic of Congo; Her Excellency Erelu Bisi Fayemi, First Lady of Ekiti State, Nigeria; and Her Excellency Mrs Olufolake Abdulrazaq, First Lady of Kwara State, Nigeria. August isn’t August isn’t august without Africa Fashion Week London. And Christmas isn’t complete without Africa Fashion Week Nigeria. As for the First Lady of Fashion, Mary Martin, after triumphantly showcasing her premier menswear collection at Africa Fashion Week London she’s flying off to present the highlights of her show at Africa Fashion and Cultural Week, Malabo, Equatorial Guinea.