Welcome to the super natural
world of Senegalese fashion
designer Selly Raby Kane
Selly Raby Kane is the uncrowned queen of Petite Pierre (Small Stones), Dakar’s evolving collective of artists who are shaping the city’s young creative scene from their hub in Ouakam. “It’s an incubator for alternative voices,” says Kane, whose fashion designs are a far cry from the norm in Senegal. “I always felt like I was different so it was interesting for me to meet these likeminded people and become a whole sub culture.” Alongside co-founders Maya Varichon and Erwan Levigoureux, musician Ibaaku, writer Mamadou Diallo, Alioune Samb and designer Jahgal, Petite Pierre’s multidisciplinary happenings range from parties to urban interventions.
Born and bred in Dakar, she moved to Paris to study business, economics and law but her passion was for drawing. In 2008 these illustrations instinctively formed a collection, which she felt compelled to bring home and present to her peers by organising a fashion show. “The collection was spontaneous and innocent. I wasn’t self-conscious. There were no limits, no borders. It made a big impact and after that I knew I had to do it again.”
Kane swapped law for fashion and began to develop an avant-garde aesthetic that draws on disparate influences including sci-fi, surrealism and nature. Using wax print, bazin, fake hair, PVC, leather and denim, her challenging silhouettes go beyond style to invent her own fantastical alternate reality. “I start by writing the story of my collection and then collaborate with others to work out how people can experience it physically. We put a lot of effort into creating a universe, a golden box for each collection.”
In 2011 The Street Is Fashionable saw her lead a parade through Dakar’s medina. In 2013 her film Inner Cruise imagined the psychedelic Dakar of her dreams. And for her AW14 collection, Alien Cartoon, she transported Dakar’s old train station into the year 2244 during a UFO invasion. Over 2,000 guests were immersed into an environment filled with projections, music and giant creatures. A translucent octopus loomed down from the ceiling onto a catwalk where her show featured sculptural, padded and glow in the dark pieces. “My clothes are not what most women in Dakar would conventionally want to wear but that’s what makes it interesting. I’m challenging what is feminine, what is fashionable, and it’s beginning to make an impact.”
Her AW15 offering Dakar City of Birds continues Kane’s fascination with Afro futurism. A collage of wildlife imagery embellishes tomboy parkers, pencil skirts, kimonos and dungarees reminiscent of the patchwork wardrobes of the Baye Fall people. So what is her vision of this Dakar of the future? “I am still exploring this question. There are tonnes of possibilities. The city’s landscape changes every year,” she reflects. “Dakar is special to me. There is a new wind and so much going on right now for the young generation. It’s important for me to be here, produce here, and stay connected to the people.”
Kane has just shot a film for Alien Cartoon, is in the process of opening her own concept store and beginning to explore set design having recently collaborated with local hip hop legends Daara J. While her heart belongs to Dakar, she’s also keen to expand her tentacles across the continent. “I spoke in front of 4,000 people at Design Indaba in Cape Town this year. It was a positive slap in the face. I met all of these creative people from around the continent, which made me realise how much we all need to get together to build strong, lasting brands in Africa.” And therein does lie the future.