This young designer takes inspiration from her family’s Congolese style for her graduate collection


Recent Haute Ecole d'Art et de Design (HEAD) alumnus Tara Mabiala has channelled her heritage, travels and desire to define a new African menswear aesthetic into her impressive graduate collection. Born in Switzerland to a Swiss mother and Congolese father, she grew up between there, the UK and Tanzania and visited her family in DRC often. “I have fond memories of my first trip to Lubumbashi and experiencing these incredible feelings of being where I belonged,” Mabiala recalls. “I spent a lot of time on these visits observing the way aunts and uncles, street children, sapeurs and even sorcerers would make a piece of clothing their own. This touched me deeply.”

Mabiala mastered the sewing machine aged 12 and enjoyed customising looks for her friends but it wasn’t until 2006, when she had some clothes made by a seamstress in Lubumbashi, that she realised her calling. Her time at HEAD helped hone her vision and ideas around Afrofuturism. “For me, Afrofuturism is about making my own narratives about things that exist but are always half told,” she says. “Having so many cultural references, simply by virtue my upbringing, gives me a specific view on things. How can I take all of these possibilities and turn them into something real?”

“My ostentatious king wears mostly white, multiple collars and cuffs and golden buttons everywhere”

For her final collection she returned to her attraction to Congolese street style. “The main thing is the magic. It all seems dreamlike. Did I really just see that topless boy wearing a furry hood? The sapeurs make up their own languages and the street children their own worlds. I love that it is free - so free that it may seem absurd but for them it holds a real meaning, reason and cause.”

She began by researching second hand clothing and gathering pieces from her family and deconstructing them to formulate her own sartorial rules. Each resulting garment conjures up a character through her use of volume and surface detailing. Seemingly everyday shapes like a jersey tracksuit or wool tailored suit transform into a comment upon self-obsession. “The key silhouette is my ostentatious king. He wears mostly white, multiple collars and cuffs (because, I mean, the more you have the better, right?) and golden buttons everywhere. The inside of his trousers are so beautiful and full of rhythm that he wears them inside out.” And on his feet are fine leather shoes, saved from the streets by being worn inside sandals.

Mabiala shot the collection on her family to express its multi-faceted nature in terms of age and gender, as well as her original close to home inspirations. She now looks forward to continuing her fashion journey in London. “I believe strongly in ethical and sustainable fashion and am aiming to contribute to that however I can. Coming out of school, the possibilities I have in front of me are endless and the prospect of that is quite dizzying!”

Photography Elsa Guillet
Design and styling Tara Mabiala
Models Isabelle, Mak's, Lila, Hannya Mabiala, Annie V, Bayron and Mayleen
Lookbook model Nathan Tutonda
Assistance Steven Schlosser

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Published on 25/08/2017