Ankara is so uncompromisingly vibrant. No, we’re not talking about the capital of Turkey (although we’re sure it’s true of that city too). Rather, the traditional wax-print fabric, known also as Dutch wax print, chitenje, kitenge, khanga, among other names depending on where you are on the vast and varied continent of Africa, and used to make garments for all occasions.
Many African cultures have integrated Ankara fabric and created shapes and silhouettes that give them a distinct identity, adapted to suit the local taste – a traditional Ankara print dress in Ghana for instance will be very different to a Zambian or Ugandan one – and yet the common thread remains – the fabric itself’.
But let’s stop here before we get carried away waxing on about the geneology of Ankara (yes that was an intended pun – but only for those of you still paying attention). We’re actually bringing you a feature all about Ankara (the fabric, not the city) soon. But for now, here’s a taster of some of the exciting cross-cultural appearances we’ve spotted Ankara making in the fashion world, proving just how versatile it is not only across Africa, but way beyond.
NOH NEE: Bavaria meets Ankara
We love the boldness of NOH NEE, the German label that combines the structured feminine Bavarian Dirndl dress with the most exciting and colourful Ankara fabrics, often combining two or more prints to create irresistible pieces that we just want to get our hands on.
Ankara in the East
Crossing over into Asia, when you think about it, it’s makes complete sense that Oriental traditional fashion would pair up wonderfully with African textiles. After all, Japanese dress for instance is expressive and colourful, holding nothing back in the use of colour to express opulence, serenity, femininity and a host of other messages to the observer – which is not very different to African fashion. So why wouldn’t fusion of the two combine well? And here’s evidence of how well it works. Nkwo, the popular UK-based designer who’s been using African prints to create bold, eye-catching styles for a few years now, borrowed some Japanese inspiration to produce this Kimono-style top, to great effect.
And this is what Cameroon born industrial designer, Serge Mouangue has to say about his innovative Kimono designs in African print fabric.
“They may appear different on the surface but they do share some cultural similarities. Both societies are very tribal and have a respect for hierarchy and an appreciation of the power of silence. And then there are the differences, In Japan there is no improvisation. Here, improvisation can mean trouble, shame, difficulties. But in Africa, it means life, renewal, health and spirit. The kimono is an icon of Japan, I’m fascinated by the cut and the attitude and poise it creates among women when they wear them.”
On the Streets of London
It goes without saying that Western fashion has been playing around with African prints from all corners of the continent, not only Ankara. The catwalks each season bear testament to that, as do the high streets, increasingly. But we couldn’t help but smile, very broadly, when an institution of conservative British fashion, an icon that has stood alongside the bowler hat and Wellington boots as symbols of British attire, was given the Ankara treatment this year – the Macintosh as redesigned by Burberry Prorsum. And it looked good too! We’re pleased Vogue’s Anna Wintour shares that view – and if you needed proof that African print fashion has made it into the critical eyes of those in the know, well here it is.