Romantic, feminine, elegant, unconventional, dreamy. You are about to enter another world. One of ghostly passageways and arresting narratives. One steeped in fantasy and subliminal presence. A demanding duchess? A languid lady? An actress, aristocrat or model? Maybe all three. You decide. Sometimes the moon rises above water, beyond the line of beauty. A vision emerges, a dress made in memory of Cecil the Lion.
In haute couture it is called “le mouvement”. In Afrobeats it is called “workin it”. Combine the two and what do you get? A piece of Mary Martin London. Everyone wants a piece of Mary these days. Heather Small, yeah lead singer of M People, got more than a piece when she posed in an MML powder blue puff ball skirt and skin tight power purple top. Yeah baby! Take a Mary Martin Fashion Show. Take two. Take it or love it. For a moment, a golden moment, a catwalk moment, fashion is frozen by the blinking shutter of a lens. Then the model more than struts her stuff. She dances. Rhythm has a dancer designer. It’s not a boast when Mary declares, “I’m a fashion artist!” There are more shades on a Mary Martin London front row than brise soleil on a Ralph Erskine development.
“Amazing! I love the articles and the images are fab! Thank you so much for all of you* coming down to the shows. We like to have fun and it’s such a celebration of African fashion, so thank you for your kind words. Come again next year!” So says Anna Marie Benedict, Press Director of Africa Fashion Week London. Yeah but what about the designer? “Mary is such a credit to her creative inspirations. She’s an amazing designer and we love having her every year.” Pieces of the present.
Lights! Cameras! Lots of action! Every mid August for the last seven years, Freemasons’ Hall Covent Garden has been transformed into Europe’s largest festival of African and African inspired design talent. Africa Fashion Week London brings the second largest continent’s burgeoning fashion industry to the international market. Upon arrival, we get lost in a kaleidoscopic exhibition full of the bold and brilliant, a bazaar in marble halls. Up the marble staircase, crossing the marble landing, we’re ushered into the grandest marble hall of them all.
There’s almost as much glamour off the catwalk as on it at this year’s Saturday evening show – helps we’ve front row seats for people watching. The fairy dust of royalty also helps. We’re sitting next to His Majesty the King of Nigeria. It’s the grand finale, the last of the catwalk shows and stars:
The music show begins. Actually make that music! Afrobeats reverberate off all the marble. It gets more dancey and trancey with Mary Martin: she’s mixed her own beats. Mary did, after all, work in the music industry before taking fashion by storm. The crowd goes wild! Her handpicked models stride down the catwalk – try the Alexander Technique to techno – amidst huge applause, dresses swirling, skirts burling, scarves whirling. At the fitting earlier, she’d told us, “My mother used to sew and I just picked it up naturally. I just had a gift for design and started off making my own outfits.” And the rest is history as it happens!
As the catwalk show draws to a close, Her Royal Highness Princess of the Congo rises to speak: “We can dress very well. But we also raise proceeds for charity in our industry. I sell clothes in New Orleans to raise funds for women with no health insurance in the US.” The crowd cheers hard. “Women – we love fashion! Men too! We royal families of Africa love fashion!” The crowd cheers harder. “We Africans love to party!” On that note, with a lot further ado, the whole hall erupts into dancing: models, designers, managers, guests and of course royals. Everyone spills onto the catwalk to work their moves. The lighting gets stronger! The music gets louder! The moves get wilder!
The tradition that began last year of unveiling a major new artwork continues with huge aplomb. “Performance is an immaterial form of art,” explains the Serbian painter turned performance artist Marina Abramović. She’s 72. “At this point of my life, facing mortality, I decided to capture my performance in a more permanent material than just film and photography. I chose alabaster based on its history and properties – luminosity, transparency… They have a hauntingly physical presence but, as you move around the pieces, they decompose into intricately carved ‘landscapes of alabaster’.” Presented by Factum Arte in collaboration with Lisson Gallery, Marina’s Five Stages of Maya Dance fuse performance, light and sculpture through a mist of condensation. The party continues into the night on Sloane Square. Such unleashed chutzpah!