As she unveils her SS16 collection, Loza Maléombho discusses Alien Edits, Abidjan and the art of the selfie
When I need some Instagram inspiration my first search is always Loza Maléombho. The designer has become a social media sensation thanks to her beautifully curated visual diary bringing together historical references, lookbook, still life, travel and street style. But what makes it special is her awe-inspiring selfies. She has turned the trend into an art form, an act of social commentary and method of group therapy with her ongoing Alien Edits series.
“My aim is to raise awareness of things I believe in and let other people express their beliefs too,” Maléombho explains. “It started after Ferguson. I was in New York and felt a wave of deep frustration and depression. Those events were degrading for me on a personal level. I had to do something positive that would cultivate pride in order to stop those feelings from eating me up. My first selfie was of me wearing a crown of flowers, which evoked a sense of royalty and elegance." In no time it had 70,000 notes on Tumblr, which she admits was "mind blowing.”
She developed the idea into a series of images drawing on cultural references and figures, posing as queen Nefertiti, goddess Amalthea and wearing a Senufo helmet. The concept took off and fans and friends have since created their own Alien Edits in droves. Meanwhile Maléombho continues to push boundaries by perching various meaningful loads on her head from laptops and books to teapots and calabashes. And here she’s done three exclusive Alien Edits for Nataal:
This young designer has taken the same socially engaged approach to everything in life thanks to her multi-cultural upbringing. She was born in Brazil and grew up between Abidjan and Maryland. She graduated in Fine Art and Animation from the University of the Arts of Philadelphia in 2006 and then moved to New York where she worked for Jill Stuart, Yigal Azrouel and Cynthia Rowley. But by 2009 she quit the US for her mother’s homeland. “I wanted to create something meaningful that would have a social impact in Côte d'Ivoire. So I moved to back to develop my first collection,” she recalls. “My intention was to create clothes with authenticity incorporating a mix of modern and traditional elements that women from around the world could identify with it.”
Mission accomplished, her star has been rising ever since. She won Emerging Designer of The Year at ARISE Magazine Fashion Week 2012 for her AW12 collection, for which she took inspiration from the Touareg to create low slung trousers, wide skirts and her now signature rope-detailed, highly structured jackets.
More recently her AW15 collection drew on Zouli masquerade dancers, Baoulé wedding traditions and the everyday attire of Ivorian men to create a series of androgynous pieces from burlap, kente, wax print and organza. Frilly white shirts, boyish grey suits, long shapely dresses and button down shirts were fringed with raffia and tied together with extensions representing the knot of marriage.
“I wanted to create something meaningful that would have a social impact in Côte d'Ivoire”
And this week she unveils her SS16 collection, which further examines the Zaouli people, who hail from the northern region of Côte d'Ivoire. Their dances and masks celebrate Djela Lou Zaouli, a Guro princess much desired for her beauty and grace. Long, fringed dresses offer daring flashes of hips, wide skirts are split to the thigh and sweetheart necklines celebrate the female form. Sky blue, leaf green and orange are offset by black and white, making this a truly joyful offering.
Each collection is made in her Abidjan workshop where she trains and employs young women from difficult backgrounds. She also collaborates with local artisans to create her best-selling sandals and Akan-inspired jewellery. “I believe in female empowerment through socio-economic trade. I provide jobs in the textile and manufacturing sectors while my silhouettes lean toward a sharpness and structure that exudes confidence.”
Although the Ivorian fashion scene is small, she leads the way alongside Laurence Chauvin-Buthaud of menswear label Laurenceairline, established designer Gilles Touré and stylist Louis Philippe de Gagoue. “The scene is beginning to thrive and I’m seeing a few young designers who look interesting,” she says. “But my clients don’t tend to be local. They are well travelled women who aren’t afraid to make a statement with their clothes.”
Women like Solange Knowles, who spied her on Instagram and became one of her biggest fans. She’s also been identified by Vogue Italia’s Scouting for Africa initiative, participated in H&M’s Closing The Loop recycling campaign and is stocked at concept stores around the world including Sincerely Tommy in New York, Alara in Lagos and Merchants On Long in Cape Town. What’s next? “I want to do an Alien Edits exhibition, a coffee table book and expand my workshop. But I like that everything is happening at an organically pace. Everything is still considered, I’m being discovered, and that feels great.”
Words Helen Jennings
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