Feb 11, 2021
Art and fashion have long been intertwined. Designers including Yves Saint Laurent, Versace,
Vera Wang, and several others have been known to turn to classic and contemporary artwork
alike for inspiration. Before them, in 1937, Parisian Haute Couturier Elsa Schiaparelli’s unveiling
of a floor length, white organza dress upon which an enormous lobster had been painted by
Salvador Dali arguably pioneered a different way for both artist and designer to thrive: collaboration.
Since then, there have been plenty of iconic partnerships in this space; Alexander McQueen and Damien Hirst teamed up in 2013 for a Dante’s Inferno-inspired collection, while 2008 saw Louis Vuitton and American painter and photographer, James Prince, produce a collection that featured stylish riffs on nurses’ uniforms. There was also the aforementioned brand’s 2003 collaboration with Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, which, with its illustration-adorned accessories and iconic multicolor monogram pieces, is arguably one of the most successful fashion-art collaborations to date. And now, even as there is no shortage of foreign designers turning to African artists for a little inspiration, creatives from the continent are also turning to each other to produce memorable sartorial offerings. Here, five notable African art-meets-fashion moments.
Dior Homme in collaboration with Amoako Boafo. Photo: Jackie Nickerson, Vogue
Amoako Boafo X DIOR homme
Based in Vienna, Austria but originally from Ghana, portraiture and figurative painter Amoako Boafo has become a darling of the contemporary art scene: in just over a year, he went from unknown artist to an industry star, showing his pieces at Miami’s Art Basel and commanding thousands of dollars for a single painting (last year, his piece titled The Lemon Bathing Suit sold for an astounding $881,432). And it’s no wonder—Boafo’s portraits are mesmerizing. The skin of the figures he paints is rendered in swirling, earthy shades, large brushstrokes creating an almost abstract effect. Director of Dior Homme, Kim Jones, has clearly also found Boafo’s work captivating, as he invited the artist to collaborate on a collection for which his paintings would serve as the foundation. Titled Portrait of An Artist, Jones’ and Boafo’s SS'21 collection for Dior Homme is an eye-catching blend of prints and colors featuring tailored sweaters printed with Boafo’s art and other sartorial interpretations of his imagery. “In many ways,” Boafo told Vogue, “the fashion and art worlds are similar. They convey genuine messages about being, and self-worth, much of which aligns with why I create—to elevate individuals and to define oneself.”
Lady Dior in collaboration with Athi-Patra Ruga. Photo: Courtesy of Dior
Athi Patra Ruga X The House of Dior
One of South Africa’s most acclaimed visual and performance artists, Athi-Patra Ruga creates fantastical narratives that inhabit both his ornate tapestries and performances, interpreting rich stories of imagined matriarchal kingdoms and claiming witness to cultural shifts through his ambitious and elaborate pieces. One of his most famous works, The Future White Women of Azania, saw the artist take to the South African streets clad in bright pink tights and red stiletto heels, an assortment of brightly colored balloons obscuring his body. For his 2019 collaboration with the House of Dior, Ruga (who has formal training in fashion design) transferred that sense of theatricality and color straight onto the luxe exterior of two one-of-a-kind handbags. Festooned with colored beads (“I’m a fiend for colors,” Ruga stated in an interview. “Because... whether in my work, or in the world, I find that color has an ability to open everyone’s heart up.”), pearls, crystals, striking golden charms, and embroidered flowers, both pieces are the embodiment of high craftsmanship and unbridled creativity.
Carol Bouwer Bags in collaboration with Esther Mahlangu. Photo: Courtesy of Atmosphere
Esther Mahlangu X Carol Bouwer
The inimitable Dr Esther Mahlangu is a South African icon, a formidable figure and force of nature who has dedicated her life to putting the patterns and traditions of the Ndebele people—an ethnic group native to the north-east of South Africa—on the map through her beadwork, murals, and canvases. Reds, yellows, blues, greens and pinks, the traditional colors of Ndebele painting, burst forth from Mahlangu’s pieces, the shapes, symbols and shades conveying a reverence for her own culture. And though the now 85-year-old painter has lent her artistic talents to brand collaborations before (a BMW Individual 7 series car she painted for the German automotive company was exhibited at 2016’s Frieze Art Fair), her more recent partnership with South African luxury handbag line, Carol Bouwer Bags, connected fashion, art, and luxury in the most organic way. Crafted from locally and ethically sourced python, ostrich, and crocodile skin, the limited edition of 50 circular shaped purses is emblazoned with what’s become Mahlangu’s signature, colorful style, and serves as a testament to Africa’s knack for innovation that honors tradition.
Hermès' "Lilanga" Silk Scarf, in collaboration with George Lilanga. Photo: Courtesy of Heritage Auctions
George Lilanga X Hermès
Characterised by bold shades, a sharp sense of humor, and imaginative, cartoon-like drawings of Makonde shetani (malevolent spirits of East African mythology), the works of the late Tanzanian artist George Lilanga embody a spirit of unruly energy and joy. Having begun as a wood carver and sculpturist, he would go on to pioneer an enamel painting technique that made the material easier to paint on. And though Lilanga passed away in 2005, many are deeply inspired by the artist's meticulous oil-on-canvas creations, including designers at french fashion house, Hermès, who released a collection of silk scarves emblazoned with etchings from the artist’s catalogue in 2010. A classic piece for the french brand and a collector’s item that represents a celebration of Makonde mythology and visual traditions, the scarf was given a new lease on life via the warm yet vivid shades and busy imagery of Lilanga’s works of art.
Catty Bucket Hat from the "Running Errands" collection. Photo: Via @rich_mnisi
Karabo Poppy X Rich Mnisi
With a body of work that defies convention, popular South African illustrator, graphic designer, and street artist, Karabo Poppy Moletsane’s aesthetic is unmistakable. An energetic blend of strong line work, brilliant colors, offbeat font, and singularly South African inspirations, her pieces are a portrayal of a contemporary Africa that’s youthful and brimming with potential. It's a sensibility that’s perfectly aligned with that of designer Rich Mnisi. The two creatives’ love for their homeland and out-of-the-box design practices come together beautifully in their 2020 collaborative capsule collection named "Running Errands". And if you thought that name was but a metaphor, think again, because that’s the precise purpose for which Mnisi and Moletsane created this collection: running errands. Containing comfortable and casual everyday pieces—including a hooded sweatshirt, cropped joggers, and bucket hat—the collection embodies an effortlessly cool, laid back aesthetic, one that Moletsane states “combines different artistic styles intersecting multiple identities, just as complex as our country with diverse people and cultures puzzled together.”
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