The V&A Museum is one of the most multi-cultural and diverse galleries in London, spanning an array of religions and heritages on display. Now, they have opened their doors to a special exhibition amongst the already vast cultures and ancient relics they have to offer.
With an appreciation of art, textiles and fashion in history, the V&A presents the Africa Fashion exhibition. Expect two floors of traditional to modern work from fashion designers across the continent.
Traditional styles and mixing patterns
The beginning of the display on African fashion starts with the traditional cloths of different countries. The kente cloth from Ghana is aside a chitenge with Nelson Mandela adorned across the face of the material. In other glass displays, traditional headwraps can be seen on the models and outfits for men and womxn notably from Nigeria, Ghana, Mali and South Africa.
To accompany the clothing from original fashion designers around the 1960’s when the pride of being African exploded onto the scene post-colonialism, are moving images and videos to listen in to telling the story behind the overlooked designers. Down the path are black and white photographs that continue to fashion in full colour, showing the vibrancy and unapologetically loud designs and looks across the continent.
The men’s fashion on display is crisp, modern and proud. The woolskins from West and South Africa adorn full body clothing and modern coats for men, designed in present day from 2020. Clothing from Rwanda shows darker palettes for matching tops and bottoms with patterned hemlines. There is no plain, lack-lustre outfit in sight with a black velvet blazer patchworked with glowing gold lion heads.
Burna Boy’s Grammy Awards debut outfit is also on display upstairs, with the loud patterned suit and overcoat all in tow. Portraits of colourful, present day photographs show men’s fashion move towards the progressive starting with print t-shirts enboldening radical feminism.
The LGBTQ+ community in Africa is acknowledged through the boldness of later fashion designers creating men’s pieces to be more experimental and gender fluid. Sheer tops, knitted asymetrical skirts and feminine-cut hemlines embody a look to the future. Some designers have used the colour palette for the transgender pride flag to continue the vision for self-expression.
Women’s modern fashion
The modern transformation of womxn’s fashion has certainly evolved just as the men’s. The womxn can reclaim her agency in the re-imagined power dressing that particular designers from Ghana create. Bold colours, bold suits with cut-outs, patterns emphasising the chest and shoulders with nipped-in waists alongside flattering, full dresses shown in my favourites in the last two slides.
Africa Jewellery and accessories
The jewellery on display and magnificent body pieces mostly hail from Nairobi, Kenya. One of my favourite pieces, however, the lafalise dion, is made in Cote d’Ivorie. They cleverly use cowrie shells because of the symbolic meaning to fertility and womxnhood from their curved outlines that are compared to an expectant mother. These shells were previously a form of currency in West Africa. Giant, manificent necklaces are also on display and can be bought for around £240 from the end of the gallery in the exhibition’s gift shop.
Glittering, Egyptian purses also sparkle and shimmer behind the glass with clasps on each item. Moroccan footwear spins a new takes on Louis Vuitton and Nike designs, touching on parody items and creating them in a traditional design.
Africa Fashion is an ongoing exhibition until April 2023, located at the V&A Museum in South Kensington, opposite to the National History Museum.
All images are own