Runway Fashion Days is helping to put Ivorian fashion on the map
The number of guests seldom exceeded 30, and only a couple of photographers shot the models as they solemnly descended the winding staircase inside the Bushman café, a-one-of -a-kind, hip hotel-cum-restaurant-cum art gallery in the Riviera neighbourhood of Abidjan. The event was the second edition of Runway Fashion Days, a four-day affair in September that aims to elevate Ivory Coast's fashion industry, a sector plagued, notably, by lack of organisation.
This fashion week was created in 2016 by Patrick Kitan, who is also founder of the Btendance webzine. Realising that fashion shows were largely perceived locally as mere entertainment spectacles, he came up with this select event aimed at invited guests, journalists and buyers, who were all given the opportunity to buy the paraded clothes in an adjoining room, right after the shows. The selected designers were given this forum for free, with a proviso: they needed to have a consistent ready-to-wear production that could satisfy potential buyers. The organisers then took a percentage of the sales.
Runway Fashion Days reflects a new generation of creatives bringing an infectious energy to this bustling city. Model agencies such as DSD and Special Agency are sprouting up and helping to feed the industry, as are concept stores including Le Comptoir des Artisans and Dozo, which attract the local cool crowd. Meanwhile great photographers like Dadi (Nuits Balnéaires) and Kader Diaby are producing dreamy images that capture something of this special scene.
The varied highlights of Runway Fashion Days shows ranged from Nackissa's Lacroix-esque creations, which included vivid colours and bold polka-dot patterns; through to the laid-back coolness of Obadjan, who irresistibly paired a long wax dress with sneakers. The week's standouts included Olooh, Kente Gentlemen and Mewe, whose clothes we shot right after their presentations.
Born and raised in Ivory Coast, Aristide Loua moved to the United States for his studies. A wax shirt gift in 2013 sparked in him an interest in African garb, and after researching it, he discovered that wax print cotton cloth did not originally come from Africa. He decided to launch his brand, Kente Gentlemen, in April 2017, with a focus on handwoven fabric from craftsmen near the Ivorian cities of Yamoussoukroa and Korogho. His men's tailoring draws a sharp, modern silhouette with just the right dose of panache, courtesy of pink or blue vertical stripes.
Olooh's debut show was one of the most anticipated moments of the week. This menswear brand was founded by Kader Diaby, an auditor at an international firm in Abidjan, who also moonlights as a photographer, and whose work was recently exhibited at the Unseen art fair in Amsterdam. The poetry of his pictures was mirrored in his line-up of men wearing spencer jackets with loose pants, their heads topped with capacious, wide-brimmed wicker hats, their feet in leather sandals, all produced by local craftsmen. The silhouette expressed his idea of a farmer in the North of Ivory Coast, and signalled a strong talent to watch. A special project with Vlisco will be unveiled soon.
A former nurse, Mathilde Mewe dipped into the fashion pond a few years ago, a move made easy by the fact that she was constantly surrounded by creative friends. Her sensual, made-in-France floor length jersey dresses in Yves Klein Blue had an irresistible, classic beauty.
Special thanks to Patrick Kitan, Bushman café, and all the model agencies