Fashiony: Exploring African and Asian Fashion at Bumbershoot

Fresh fashion from African designers

OK, it’s officially time to talk about Bumbershoot, which, with the addition of Fashiony, an exhibit curated by the imminently fashionable Erika Dalya Massaquoi, really does have something for everyone this year. (But I also just want to mention that since we’re officially talking about Bumbershoot, it means that summer is over.)

Now on to the good news:

Fashiony is a workroom-style exhibit with a focus on African and Asian fashion, featuring “three galleries of tear sheets, visual materials, and video” meant to give viewers a birds eye view of emerging trends in street style, Africana and illustration It’s an exciting, vibrant fashion world. It's happening all weekend-long at Bumbershoot in the Fisher Pavilion and includes work from local designer Emeka Alams—whose line, Gold Coast Trading Co, is one to watch (as is the rumored collab with the most amazing Faris Du Graf), illustrator Izzie Klingels and a flower installation from Marigold and Mint. I can’t wait for this exhibit, and Seattle mag is extremely proud to be a media sponsor of both Fashiony and Bumbershoot at large. Below: an illustration by Klingels:


In addition to the Fashiony, Massaquoi is bringing Helen Jennings to Seattle for a special night at Elliott Bay Books on August 29. Jennings is a fashion journalist (and editor of Arise magazine, a prominent journal of African fashion), whose book, New African Fashion, is a must-read for those of us interested in the international style scene. New African Fashion also includes a chapter on Alams.

We had a chance to chat with Jennings recently about the state of African fashion. Read on for the result:

Ali Brownrigg: Are you still based in the UK?
Helen Jennings: Yes, I live in London, which is of course a very multi-cultural city and also a convenient one from which to travel to most places around the world.

AB: Have you been to Seattle before?
HJ: No I haven’t. I go to NYC a lot but this is my first time in the Northwest. I was a total grunge girl when I was a young teenager so I will be going on a Mudhoney pilgrimage! I'm also looking forward to all of the delights of Bumbershoot.

AB: Do you notice a difference between how Americans respond to African fashion compared to other western countries?
HJ: African Americans obviously respond well to African fashion and use it as a means to connect to the motherland. More broadly though, America is a hard market to break for any emerging designer or fashion scene, as it is just so large, commercial and competitive. Several African designers do well here however and there are events popping up such as Africa Fashion Week New York and Africa Fashion Week Los Angeles. It’s encouraging.

AB: How did Emeka Alams hit your radar?
HJ: Arise magazine featured his previous collective 21MC in our very first issue in 2008 and I have keep an eye on his work ever since. I really like the aesthetic vision he developed for the Gold Coast Trading Co, infusing casual items with social messages about African heritage. It’s as thought provoking as it is wearable. I have given over a chapter of my book to his work. Coming to Seattle and doing the talk together at The Elliot Bay Book Company will be the first time we have actually met. Below: a tee shirt by Alams.


AB: Do you think Duro Olowo's stint at JCPenny helped get African fashion more on the mind of the American public?

HJ: Absolutely. I went to Duro’s launch for the line at NYFW, which was a huge success because he is one of the most established and respected designers of African origin in the USA and the collection sums up the essence of his brand: colourful, feminine, joyful and now price-wise, accessible. His eye for and use of prints is very African without being over powering and he took the range right through apparel, accessories and home wares so there really was something for everyone. I also liked the fact that his campaign girl was the Nigerian supermodel Oluchi Onweagba. Duro is a pioneer for African fashion and with this JCPenny collaboration he brought African fashion to the mainstream in the most tasteful of ways.

AB: Who are some of your current fave African designers?
HJ: There are so many but to name just three, I love Maki Oh for her beautiful adire silks and intelligent concepts; Laurenceairline for her ethical approach to striking menswear; and Mimi Plange for her theatrical, intricate tailoring.

AB: We featured Erika in a skirt by South African line Kaela Kay in the mag are you familiar with this designer? Thoughts? (I'm in love with her stuff).
HJ: I wasn’t familiar with Kaela Kay but from what I can see on her website, her line looks like lovely stuff—flattering, fun and modern women’s wear.

AB: In addition to Arise, are you working on any new projects?
HJ: Yes, quite a few actually. I’m managing editor for a new website and series of fashion events called Afro-Polis. The concept brings together editorial, fashion week showrooms and cultural happenings that promote modern Africa. I’m also one of the directors of a new festival to launch in Senegal in 2015 called Nataal. And I’m co-curating the Knokke-Heist Photo Festival 2014, a Belgian biennial that next year will focus on African art.

Hope to see you at Fashiony this weekend, and keep your ears open for more interesting work from Massaquoi, particularly with the Seattle Art Museum in 2015.