The semiannual Milan Fashion Week, one of the “Big Four” fashion weeks and trade shows, together with New York, Paris and London, which also hosts has a unique look recently, launched online this week due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and on Wednesday featured five African designers under the banner “We are Made in Italy.”
Joy Meribe, originally from Nigeria, started working in Italy as a cultural mediator. Fabiola Manirakiza came to Italy as a child from Burundi and was first trained as a doctor.
Moroccan-born Karim Daoudi grew up in a shoemaking town in northern Italy and eventually took up local crafts. Pape Macodou Fall arrived from Senegal at the age of 22, adopting his creative style as an actor, film producer, figurative painter and now, as an up-cycled clothing designer.
Only one in five, Gisele Claudia Ntsama from Cameroon, set her sights on Italy with the sole purpose of maturing into a fashion career.
“When I told my friends in Cameroon that I wanted to go to Italy to become a fashion designer, they said, ‘Why are you going to study fashion. You know you are Black? Which Italian fashion house will hire you?'” Said Ntsama in a video chat with The Associated Press (AP). “It’s always in people’s minds that fashion is for white people. No and no and no!”
The designers, nicknamed “The Fab Five,” are the first creations of creators to be fostered through a collaboration between the National Chamber of Italian Fashion and Black Lives Matter in the Italian Fashion movement. Italian-Haitian designer Stella Jean, Milan-based African American designer Edward Buchanan and founder of Afro Fashion Week Milano, Michelle Ngonmo launched the movement last summer.
The collaboration has grown from September, when the Fab Five collection hangs in showrooms, to a bona fide runway show with five appearances each for Milan Fashion Week, which takes place 99% online. For the fall-winter 2020-21 collections, designers work alongside suppliers and receive guidance from experts, all organized by the Italian fashion board, in an enhanced partnership that will allow them to take their creations to the next level.
A team of multi-ethnic stylists, hairdressers and make-up artists are ready for the runway show, and shoppers can visit the collection on the National Chamber of Italian Fashion website.
Meribe worked with silk from the Como-based textile company Taroni, revisiting some of the previous designs for its Modaf Design brand which were traditionally made from traditional African waxed textile cotton renderings. Buchanan helped set up and encouraged Meribe to change ideas at the last minute without being too stiff.
“This collection is the most luxurious I have ever made. For this capsule collection, I went beyond all possibilities,” said Meribe.
Daoudi worked with shoemaker Veneto Ballin, which produces footwear for Bottega Veneta, Chanel and Hermes, to create a collection of high-heeled sandals and boots. He said the association helped him come up with more challenging designs.
“I hope there are buyers,” he said, adding that the producer plans to help him fulfill the orders it receives.
Ntsama added knitwear to her swirling creations typical of hemp textiles. The artisanal look is the only piece fit for a celebrity red carpet and requires hours of handwork: She shapes hemp with kitchen utensils that she doesn’t like to identify and iron into place.
Fall, whose artist name is Mokodu, takes existing clothing and recycles it with hand-painted African-inspired images.
Manirakiza, whose Frida Kiza brand already has a following in Italy’s Marche region where he lives and in Rome, does not need outside financing for his collection inspired by Botticelli’s “Primavera”, which he means as a sign of hope after the pandemic.
The babydoll dress with neckline and cloak details is crafted from a black and white “Primavera” print that accentuates masterpiece floral elements. Manirakiza said holding a runway show was a “great experience” which he hopes will help expand his brand.
Ngonmo founded Afro Fashion Week Milano himself after failing to gain industry attention before the Black Lives Matter movement inspired black Italian creatives to draw attention to the boundaries they faced. He said it was imperative that the fashion world not only stop with incorporating African-born designer names into the fashion calendar but also provide them with material support for growth.
“It must have deeper roots. If we want to have true change, we need to offer the same opportunities that their colleagues have, giving them the same instruments and experiences, ” said Ngonmo. step.”