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We’re taking a trip down memory lane and reliving all the year’s major wins for African creativity.

By Lindsay Samson

Dec 9, 2020

The sun is finally beginning to set on what could be described as one of the longest years in recent memory, one that saw many industries, including the fashion industry, forced to shift the way they think, communicate, and create. But despite the difficulties presented, for a substantial number of African brands and creators, 2020 became their moment to shine as they took on a rapidly changing fashion landscape with admirable assuredness and innovation. From snagging coveted awards to spearheading pioneering digital work, these projects took risks and pushed boundaries, each one demonstrating a fresh and creative approach to taking on such a bizarre period in history. Read on as we look back at the fashion moments that left us breathless this year, and discover more about the indisputable talent behind them.

1

Kenneth Ize and Thebe Magugu's Buzzed-about Debuts at Paris Fashion Week

February '20


The runways of Paris Fashion Week have to be some of the most legendary in the world. A grandiose display of theatrics fit for the fashion hall of fame, it is no wonder securing a spot on the program’s roster is the dream of many a designer. And for Nigeria’s Kenneth Ize and South Africa’s Thebe Magugu, both gaining recognition for making the LVMH Prize shortlist in 2019, 2020 was when that dream became reality. Making his inaugural appearance before COVID-19 was declared a worldwide pandemic, Ize sent a collection full of his signature colorful pieces rendered from Aso Oke fabric down the PFW FW‘20 catwalk, his penchant for classic men’s tailoring and androgynous cuts emerging in full force. His was a showing exuberant in spirit, the designer’s unisex suits, sleeveless dresses, flared trousers and other playful takes on classic styles demonstrating an energetic eschewing of the gender binary. The cherry on top of this pivotal moment? When none other than the original supermodel herself, Naomi Campbell came traipsing down the runway to close his show, lending her stamp of approval to Ize’s bold and eclectic work.

Making his much-anticipated debut a few days later, Magugu, winner of the prestigious LVMH prize in 2019, chose to reveal a collection that served as an homage to his hometown of Kimberly. Unlike the traditional runway show route taken by Ize though, Magugu chose to present his work via a photo exhibition staged at Paris’ Palais de Tokyo, one that consisted of large-scale, photographic portraits and a film shot in his home village. Entitled Ipopeng Ext, Magugu’s FW‘20 presentation was one steeped in both childhood memories and social issues; many of the unique prints emblazoned upon his garments were inspired by old photographs of family members or objects the designer associates with growing up, others—namely a polo shirt featuring an illustration of two women by Johannesburg-based artist Phathu Nembilwion—serving as political statement on the country’s rising femicide rate. Featuring vibrant hues of dusty pink, baby blue, and forest green, Magugu presented a sustainable collection that merged dramatic details with expert tailoring. It was a critically acclaimed showing that set the fashion community alight, even garnering a shoutout from the President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, who praised the “consciousness he brings to his artistry.”

Naomi Campbell walking Kenneth Ize FW‘20 at PFW. Photo: @KennethIze

Thebe Magugu FW'20 at PFW. Photo: Courtesy of Thebe Magugu

Political statements at Thebe Magugu FW'20. Photo: Courtesy of Thebe Magugu

2

Hanifa’s ‘Pink Label Congo’ Virtual Runway Show

May '20

At the beginning of the year, rumblings in the media about the spread of a new virus began, and once a pandemic was declared and stay-at-home orders issued, many business owners and creatives were left wondering what it would mean for their work. For the Congolese-born designer and founder of women’s apparel line, Hanifa, Anifa Mvuemba, it was the perfect opportunity to dive head first into the world of 3D technology, something she’d been interested in for years. In a boundary breaking demonstration of the creative possibilities afforded to us by 3D technology, Mvuemba presented Hanifa’s Pink Label Congo collection via Instagram live stream, her ultra-feminine creations hugging invisible figures that were created by a team of passionate animators. Appearing to walk themselves down the “runway”, striking pieces like a ribbed, backless dress in the colors of the Congolese flag were draped across ghostly 3D figures, their coordinated movements emphasizing the shape and cut of each garment. Following its premiere, the video went viral: Teen Vogue broke the story and every major publication followed suit. But Hanifa’s display wasn’t just a flash in the pan stunt; rather it was a powerful provocation for other designers and creatives to follow suit and explore the potential of technology to revolutionize the way they show their work. Taking their cue from Hanifa’s innovative online event, other fashion designers and platforms also began turning to Instagram and Youtube to present their new collections, including Ghanaian brand Christie Brown, who quickly hopped aboard the virtual train and presented her SS’20 collection via IGTV video, drawing in over 29,000 viewers. And though it remains to be seen whether virtual fashion shows are likely to become the standard convention post-COVID, Hanifa’s take certainly triggered a wave of emulators, presenting an alternative method of showcasing collections that has the potential to draw the eyes of thousands.

'Pink Label Congo' look on AI model. Photo: Courtesy of Hanifa

'Pink Label Congo' look. Photo: Courtesy of Hanifa

'Pink Label Congo' look on AI model. Photo: Courtesy of Hanifa

3

Karl Lagerfeld X Kenneth Ize Announce their Collaboration

July '20

The latest in a long list of unexpected collaborations for the Karl Lagerfeld brand (past years have seen them join forces with the likes of Vans, Puma, H&M, and even Coca-Cola Light), a capsule collection designed in tandem with Kenneth Ize was announced in July. The exciting news arrived on the heels of the designer’s 2019 LVMH prize finalist candidacy, an honor that placed him squarely in the glare of the international spotlight where he clearly caught the rapt attention of the Parisian fashion house. As of now, the range is set to be released around April 2021, meaning we’ll be holding our breath with anticipation for a while until it’s revealed, and with Ize’s irresistibly eccentric approach to traditional methods and a fondness for bright, optimistic colors, we can only imagine the kinds of playful experimentation and bold brilliance their collab might present. According to Karl Largerfeld CEO Pier Paolo Righi, both Ize and the late French designer share a vision for innovation, craftsmanship, quality and authenticity that will undoubtedly be echoed in the upcoming collection: a collection that will mark the first time in the brand’s history that it has collaborated with a black designer. “The breadth of Karl’s work has been very inspiring to me,” Ize had to say of the project in a statement, “and it’s an honor to be working with his namesake maison. Our vision is to combine Karl’s Parisian-chic aesthetic with elements of traditional African artistry.”

4

Emmy Kasbit and Rich Mnisi win Vogue Scouting for Africa

September '20

An initiative dedicated to the promotion and celebration of African creatives, Vogue Talents (Vogue Italia's fashion talent scouting arm) and the African Fashion Foundation (AFF)’s Scouting for Africa prize is an honor that presents its winner with a clear path toward the international stage. And this year, Nigerian designer Emmanuel Okoro (the man behind ready-to-wear label, Emmy Kasbit) and South Africa's Rich Mnisi took home top honors, beating out hundreds of other entrants with their distinct sartorial sensibilities and thoroughly wearable collections. Having lent their support to other African creatives over the years, including Laduma Ngxokolo, Kenneth Ize, and Thebe Magugu, Vogue Talents has proven an immensely valuable platform for some of the continent’s most successful designers, exposing them to audiences unfamiliar with their work, and providing them with unmatched educational opportunities and access to industry leaders and editors. As part of their prize, Okoro and Mnisi were invited to show their collections at this year’s virtual reimagining of Milan Fashion Week SS’21, an occasion they both used to deliver unforgettable collections in a manner that few before them have.

Turning to the magic of film, the two designers imagined alternative worlds for their collections to captivate and exist in, swapping the runway for the diverse landscapes and natural beauty of their own countries. Okoro elegantly exhibited the same timeless aesthetic and architectural silhouettes that Emmy Kasbit has become known for. His polished collection of double-breasted blazers, streamlined trousers, and softly hued frocks came alive against dilapidated brick structures and sparse greenery, the sweeping shots employed by digital artist Oladele Olaniyi capturing the designer’s fresh take on classic tailoring and love for unexpected detailing. Mnisi’s presentation on the other hand was filmed across three locations in South Africa—rural Limpopo, the Eastern Cape, and the Western Cape—a choice that added an element of cultural storytelling to the designer’s presentation of vibrant takes on closet staples. Titled Hiya Kaya, which means “going home” in Xitsonga, the ethereal collection served as an irreverent expression of his roots, and a physical embodiment of the spirit of homecoming. Directed by Ricardo Simal, the short film captures models clad in Mnisi’s elegantly cool and unexpectedly practical creations against an arresting natural backdrop, the final product delivering an energetic picture of refinement. 

Emmy Kasbit SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Emmy Kasbit

Rich Mnisi SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Rich Mnisi

Emmy Kasbit SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Emmy Kasbit

5

Sindiso Khumalo's Green Carpet Fashion Award

October '20

2020 proved to be one big moment for designer Sindiso Khumalo, who’s been a fixture on the South African fashion scene since 2015. First, she kicked the year off with an LVMH Prize nomination in February (an acknowledgement that placed her square on the radars of international editors and consumers), before making her debut in September at one of world’s foremost industry events, Milan Fashion Week. The designer then went on to wrap things up in spectacular fashion, taking home one of the most coveted prizes in the industry just last month: the inaugural Green Carpet Fashion Award (an honor that celebrates the commitment of fashion houses to sustainability) for Best Independent Designer. It’s a fitting distinction for Khumalo, who has long prioritized sustainability in all aspects of her work, including through the act of job creation; following her win, she told Women’s Wear Daily that it’s not just about material choices for her, but that she sees environmental issues and poverty alleviation as being intrinsically linked. In a virtual ceremony that also honored the likes of Zendaya and Italian clothing label Progetto Quid, Khumalo—who was introduced by actress Maisie Williams—accepted her GCF award, addressing a global audience and expressing her deep gratitude to event hosts Eco-Age and Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana for their continued support of her career. Recognized by the organization for her emphasis on natural materials, such as hemp, linen, and African cotton, the designer dedicated her win to the teams of artisans she works with across the continent, terming it a reaffirmation of her dream of creating conscious, luxury clothing that can ultimately change society for the better.

Sindiso Khumalo SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Sindiso Khumalo

Still of Sindiso Khumalo accepting the GCF Award via livestream.

Sindiso Khumalo SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Sindiso Khumalo

5

African Designers Shortlisted for the International Woolmark Prize

November '20

Concluding what’s been a momentous year for African fashion, this past November saw Kenneth Ize and Thebe Magugu snag spots on the list of finalists for the International Woolmark Prize. Besides being one of the longest standing and most prestigious prizes for emerging fashion designers, it’s also one of the most impactful honors within the industry. In 1954, none other than Karl Lagerfeld and Yves Saint Laurent walked away winners; Saint Laurent is said to have been snapped up by the House of Dior immediately following his victory, and Lagerfeld’s prize-winning wool coat went into production at Balmain following his hiring by the brand. Ize and Magugu’s selection is the final flourish on top of a spectacular year and now, the two designers (who were no doubt selected for their strong history of employing transparent, creative and socially responsible practices) are tasked with creating a sustainability-focused, Merino wool collection under the theme "Less Is More” that’s set to be judged by a group of esteemed experts put together by Woolmark. But their selection isn’t simply the opportunity to call an award held by some of the industry’s greatest theirs; it’s also confirmation that Magugu and Ize’s work lives within this elite league, and a chance to prove that the sustainability aspect of their designs is more than just lip service. With the results of the competition set to be announced early next year, the top winner will receive $200,000 AUD (approximately $146,000 USD) to invest in their business, while another designer will win the Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation and a prize of $100,000 AUD (approximately $73,000 USD).

Kenneth Ize SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

Thebe Magugu SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Thebe Magugu

Kenneth Ize SS'21. Photo: Courtesy of Kenneth Ize