Ami Doshi Shah, Cedric Mizero and Thebe Magugu discuss their participation in the International Fashion Showcase at LFW

A global expression of talent, the well established International Fashion Showcase is an annual platform allowing new designers from emerging markets to exhibit their work during London Fashion Week. A joint venture of Somerset House, the British Council, British Fashion Council, London College of Fashion and UAL, this year participants also benefited from a residency programme covering all aspects of business development by some of the UK’s leading fashion experts.

The 2019 programme has proved better and more cohesive than ever as 16 designers come together to present their collections as part of country specific, custom installations exploring ideas around sustainability, identity and heritage that give members of the public the chance to immerse themselves into the over arching theme of Brave New Worlds. Here we profile the three participating African designers.

Cedric Mizero - Rwanda

“I am very connected to nature, culture and people. My work tells stories of my everyday through visual, emotional and sensory experiences,” says Cedric Mizero. “My two main focuses are to bring people closer to rural areas, and to make art more accessible for everyone – regardless of their economic status, age or way of living. I want to speak about strength and resilience, but also of confusion and taboo.”

Born in Gishoma, a small village in rural Rwanda, the strong women that surrounded this self-taught designer have had a big impact on his outlook. “I have worked with different groups in Rwanda - and specially rural women - to create garments and installations that reflect the beauty of less advantaged people and their lives. Women make an incredible contribution to Rwandan society but we do not appreciate their hard work, love and compassion enough,” he says.

A multi-disciplinary artist, his work can be more akin to sculpture than clothing. His intricately constructed dresses have been made from countless beads, woven raffia and empty pill packets. “I love mixing disciplines in my work. I experiment with paint, textures, fabrics and still objects,” he enthuses. “That gives me the freedom I need to navigate through ideas and emotions to build the right stories... The most important goal for me is to design a collection that speaks for itself. I want to convey messages that are accessible to everyone, and generate a feeling of surprise.”

For this his first showing in Europe, Mizero presents the installation Dreaming My Memory. “This is about bringing awareness to the misuse of medication in rural areas and the objectivisation of women as well as the power of communities to create unity.” It’s this transformation of the everyday into something quite extraordinary that earned him a special mention for his curation. Speaking at the awards ceremony, the IFS judges said, “Cedric Mizero is without doubt a cultural changemaker for his country. His work has the ability to collapse the local and the global into a message that is universal and deeply human.”

Thebe Magugu – South Africa

“We are already living in a Brave New World by pure virtue of existing in South Africa post 1994,” states Thebe Magugu. “It’s brave to look forward to a burgeoning future, it’s brave to deal with an unforgivable past. I wanted to create an exhibition space that simply captures that.” Magugu has done just that and in doing so won the IFS Award this year. His foxy womenswear stood in a room set with a theatrical stage – intricately constructed from cardboard – that put South Africa’s post apartheid constitution front and centre. He was described as “a leader of his generation” by the judges, who also said that his installation “not only has striking visual impact but real clarity. It is a space which gives a sense of past, present and a bright future for Thebe and his country.”

Born in Kimberley, it was his mother who really encouraged his creativity and ever since then he’s put women at the heart of his work, designing pieces that are as striking as they are wearable. “My clothes are beautiful yet still highly-functional, to cater to the demands of the woman wearing them and their lives,” he reflects. Describing fashion as,“such an intelligent medium”, he uses it to create clothes that make you think. “All my collections are named after university subjects – from Geology SS17 to Art History SS19, these subjects are often linked to the mood I feel every season.”

Just two years after graduating from LISOF in Johannesburg, where he studied design, photography and media, he started his eponymous label and he’s since become a catwalk favourite for this cerebral collections. “South Africa is full of interesting juxtapositions, and my work often focuses on this. My clothes also explore the idea of heritage in a forward-looking way, like two worlds colliding.” And what’s to come from this fresh talent? “My next collection, titled African Studies, is about exploring classically South African motifs and symbols in very cross-referential ways.”

Ami Doshi Shah - Kenya

“The pieces look at salt’s dual, opposing abilities: to poison, erode and decay, using the process of patination, and conversely the material’s ability to create, rejuvenate and give life, via literal, physical crystallisation.” Kenyan jewellery designer Ami Doshi Shah is talking us through the stunning – and ever so slightly kinky – collection that she presents at IFS.

An arresting scene, her statement pieces have been crafted from brass that’s been corroded to a gorgeous green colour and suspended from the ceiling with ropes, some of which have been crystalised with salt. Some of the jewellery also has salt crystals on them, meaning that their state is an exquisite, albeit temporary one. “I got the verdigris pigment as the brass patina using salt itself, acetic acid and cupric nitrate. The patination is applied in such a way that it creates a cracked, mottled texture very similar to landscapes, like the surface of water or of the earth,” she adds.

Salt also acts as a metaphor for how Shah feels about her homeland. “Salt of the Earth has a direct relationship to living in Nairobi,” she reveals. “There’s a play on power and submission. The tense marriage of materiality and brutality, always in the presence of beauty, are a lot like what living in Kenya feels like at the moment.” In addition, salt speaks to the space that she is exhibiting in. “We wanted to root the installation to the space - the West Wing of Somerset House was home to the UK’s salt office for the majority of the 1700s.”

Born in Mombasa, Shah moved around a lot, living in Oman, the US, Kenya and the UK, where she studied at the Birmingham School of Jewellery. After a few years in advertising, she made the leap back into her original passion after entering a design competition for emerging designers in Nairobi. She’s now one of Kenya’s most respected contemporary accessory designers. “I source materials locally, using off cuts and remnants of the Kenyan mining industry to create sculptural pieces and wearable art,” she says. “Raw against industrial, texture next to clean lines – juxtaposing materials in unexpected ways underlines the brand’s design ethos. A little cerebral and sometimes very academic.”

And as for the IFS itself, how has that experience been? “Incredible, mind-blowing, tear-jerking and overwhelming. It’s allowed so many of us to hold a powerful mirror to ourselves, our work and the way we need to operate in a more conscious way. I’ve also had the chance to connect and build amazing friendships with 15 other designers from around the world.”

Brave New Worlds is on view until 24 February at Somerset House, London

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Published on 20/02/2019