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African Inspiration

Posted on August 05 2016

Len and I decided to take a much needed weekend off, and decided to do a double date weekend with our friends Paul and Samantha.  Where to?  To Philadelphia, the city of brotherly love and cheesesteaks!  And a wonderful place for art.  From the mosaics of Isaiah Zagar to the hundreds of sculptures scattered throughout the city, to the Philadelphia Museum of Art... and that is where my inspiration hit.  The museum is hosting  "Creative Africa", a season devoted to African art and design, including the exhibition "Vlisco: African Fashion on a Global Stage".  Fashion!!!  Serendipity!!!  

I fluttered about, taking photo after photo, Len trailing along and pointing out things I may have missed (because my husband is amazing like that), and my head just filled up with ideas and more ideas for new pieces.

Much of this inspiration comes from the history of the fabrics, the prints that are used in their fashions.  

Some examples...

The Mama Benzes are the traders who sell the cloth in open-air markets.  They are, in fact, essential to the success (or failure) of a design.  They bestow names upon each pattern, usually based on something about the culture of the place they are sold, the politics, current events, religion, or proverbs.  The more popular prints can have different names and stories attributed to it throughout the different cultures.  These women are nicknamed Mama Benz after the fancy cars they often buy with their earnings.  They are well-respected, powerful businesswoman in their communities.  (Check out the Mercedes Benz logo in this design)

(from left to right) These patterns by Tonnie Wouda and Marjan de Groot are of swallows, sometimes a symbol of good luck or asking for a favor (like the hand of a woman).  In Ghana, it means "money flies like a bird", a bit of wisdom, yes?

I love these patterns by Cor van den Boogaard!  The first represents the woman's dilemma - does she go towards love or money, or something else entirely?  The second is one with many names (like Love Bomb and Dynamite).  In Togo, it is called Wounded Heart, representing the broken heart of a woman who knows her husband is a cheating bastard.  Can you imagine wearing a dress with this pattern, telling your story without saying a word?

 

Ah, the eye is a powerful symbol.  A pretty universal thing, yes?  It can be a symbol of protection, like the Eye of Horus, or a warning, like in this "Eye of My Rival" pattern, meant to put a woman's co-wife on alert, or a general bit of advice, like "Hwe yie" (be careful), written under the eye.  It can even, in it's Bull's Eye, or Lustful Eye, incarnation, be worn by a woman to let a man know she desires him.  

Like subliminal messages, one can wear her story.  How exciting is it to know there is a message in the very fabric you are wearing, even if you are the only one who knows?  

Another thing I loved about these fabrics were the bold motifs, singular gigantic elements that made up the entire pattern, like the giant tassels in the fabric of the gala dress below, strategically placed along the lines of the skirt.  Beautiful!

 

So, bold motifs.  Check.  AND mixing patterns?  Isn't that against some fashion law?  Well, forget that.  These African designers are fearless and it works.  I love this combo below, a jacket with a giant yarn motif over a dress in a classic print called "The Family".

 

I can only think of one word.

Fearless.  

And that is more inspiration.  

I can't help but think of Andy Warhol when I look at these fabrics.  It is not only their use of oversized representations of common items as pattern, but also their use of multiple visual interpretations of the same print, with different color schemes or printed on different textiles.  Like the little video below...

Reminiscent of Warhol's Mao and Marilyn Monroe series, right???

In the end, we had a wonderful weekend in Philly, with lots of quality husband/wife time, and yes, lucky me, I came home relaxed and rejuvenated, with tons of new ideas for fashion, so get ready!  I can't wait to find new ways to add some surprise hints of contrast and color into a pattern, or mix some prints up and see what happens!  

Now I just remind myself... There are no limits.  Be bold.  Be fearless.  To the drawing board I go!  

Thanks for reading!

Debbie

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