Imane Ayissi is West Africa’s darling of Haute-Couture. 

He lives in Paris but travels back and forth regularly to Yaounde, his original home in Cameroon, mainly for work purposes.  

I had the pleasure of meeting him in person for the first time earlier this year. Despite arriving at his studio with popsicle toes because of the (unusually) inclement weather.  Worsened by a 30 minute delay zig-zagging the streets of the 10th arrondissement because my personal navigation system failed me (Read: my sense of direction sucks) and I was briefly kind of lost…and on the verge of panicky.

Nevertheless, I arrived. Safely. 

And instantly warmed by the welcoming greetings from Imane and his Business Manager Jean-Marc Chauve, not to mention the fashion conversation that ensued and the tea.

 The studio has an intimate ambience, filled to the brim with a quiet creative energy, swirling all a-round. It has the aura of what I would imagine a magical closet to have. And that in itself makes me feel a bit like Alice in Wonderland. 

Before entering the fashion design world Imane was a dancer, most famously in the ballet of Patrick Dupont traveling around the world and a model for the likes of Cardin, Givenchy and Yves Saint Laurent. He has not lost the physique of either, still tall and skinny-lean. And supremely well-poised in demeanor and posture.

Our conversation is wide-ranging, often punctuated with a show and tell where Imane jumps up to pick certain items from the multiple rails that hold samples and past collections to make a point. It’s quite a feast for my eyes and mind. 

What strikes me during our three way conversation, (Imane does not speak enough English as much as I don’t speak enough French, so Jean-Marc graciously plays the role of interpreter and translator) is the adept manner in which African heritage and textile is effortlessly transformed into a contemporary ‘haute’ narrative. 

In all of the collections and specific pieces we touch on there is a sincerity and honesty that speaks silently about the diverse richness, beauty and pure royalty residing in Africa. 

This is pretty clearly evidenced in the most recent collection, inspired by Namibia’s Herero womens’ victorian patchwork dress style.  And prior to this, in the reinterpretation of Kente cloth and patterns.  

On inspiration: The inspiration for the collection was driven by the Herero peoples of Namibia, and more precisely by Jim Naughten’s book, Conflict and Costume. 

The Herero women are admired for their Victorian patchwork dresses made of hundreds of pieces of fabric, just like Haute Couture dresses. 

         

This theatrical way of dressing hides a tragic story. 

In 1905, the Herero were the victims of the first genocide of the ‘20’s which was organized by a German colonizer. 

Further Insight: “What was striking is that the (Herero) woman’s style and way of dressing is a reinterpretation of their enemy’s closet – that of their settler. Sometimes the victims become the heroes in the story.” 

On the collection:  It was created to be the costumes of African super heroes. This collection includes seven winter outfits, couture outfits – some of which are made from 238 pieces of fabric, and a few ready-to-wear outfits. All made to finish with the highest quality workmanship.

On fabric: Some fabrics were produced and dyed by hand in Cameroon and China, while others come from French and Italian weavers. Many of the fabrics are organic, including the hemp and cotton. 

Shop the collection: on www.lagos54.com 

Follow Imane Ayissi on Instagram

Look Out: for the new collection showing during Paris Haute-Couture week, July 1-4 2018.

 

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