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    Alphadi, ‘Magician of the Desert’, Opens in NY

    Mali-born fashion designer Alphadi has earned the much-deserved title ‘The Magician of the Desert’. His regal haute couture creations have graced catwalks and received much critical acclaim from Paris to Dakar. His beautiful gowns pay homage to the traditional flowing robes and beautiful, bold colours of the land of his upbringing, Niger, whilst being firmly contemporary.

    Alphadi1

    Alphadi

     

    Alphadi, who trained in Paris and the USA, has boutiques in Paris, Cote d’Ivoire and Niger, but he has always had his eye on the Big Apple. The grand opening of his Brooklyn store (Classon Avenue near Brooklyn Museum for those of you lucky enough to be in the neighbourhood) in January 2013 was the realisation of that ambition.

     

    And the invitation-only event was heaving with well-wishers and fans, excited by the opportunity to buy ready-to-wear pieces from a designer whose haute couture garments price into the thousands of Pounds. And they weren’t disappointed by the range and depth of his opening collection.

    Alphadi mingling at his Brooklyn store launch

    Alphadi mingling at his Brooklyn store launch

    In an interview with the BBC, Alphadi explained that he wants to be an example for other African designers and to prove that African fashion is not just about the stereotypes we’ve all seen countless times, but that there are so many different facets to it: from unique prints, to leather working, embroidery, silks, hand-dyeing, and embellishing that make it original and beautiful.

    Alphadi's Dakar Fashion Week collection, June 2012

    A hand-dyed bazin gown and head wrap ensemble that’s reminiscent of Tuareg traditional costume, part of Alphadi’s Dakar Fashion Week collection, June 2012

    Alphadi has always been an advocate for peace in Mali, reinvesting earnings from his international fashion career back into his home under the banner ‘Fashion for Peace’. Alphadi was born in the fabled city of Timbuktu, an ancient trading hub, intellectual centre and popular metaphor for a mythical faraway place.

    But since jihadists stepped into a political vacuum following a coup, taking a stranglehold in the north of the country, tensions have escalated into the conflict that is currently raging.

    Model-Sachakara Alphadi

    Senegalese model Sachakara Dieng in Alphadi Pret-a-porter, featuring a hand-dyed bazin (or brocade) flowing jacket over a luxurious lace dress

    “The situation in Mali affects me deeply, I am Malian of origin, it cannot continue like this,” said Alphadi following his politically-relevant 2012 Dakar Fashion Week catwalk collection whose bright colours and occasional bare arms flouted the sharia law which has been enforced since the jihadists took power early last year.

    Like all who love the arts and culture, we applaud Alphadi’s efforts to raise awareness of the jihadists’ stifling of all forms of creativity and independence in the culturally-rich Mali, through his Fashion for Peace initiative, and we hope and pray for a quick resolution to the conflict.

    Dakar Fashion Week, June 2012

    Handwoven mudcloth influenced cowrie-shell embellished ensemble. Dakar Fashion Week

    Through Fashion for Peace, designs by Malian artisans and featuring hand-dyed polished cotton known as bazin, Alphadi wants to unveil Mali’s creativity which he says should not be stifled by sharia. Alphadi is also the founding president of the African Federation of Couture and the International Festival of African Fashion (FIMA) and is a fierce promoter of African fashion.

    ‘Our goal is to teach the young to love design and fashion, to stimulate black talent and to make black, yellow and white become one.’

    Now with a 200-strong workforce, and the New York ready-to-wear store in place, we’ll be looking forward to seeing more of Alphadi’s creations in the mainstream.

    Alphadi, Dakar Fashion Week

    Alphadi invokes a sultry desert look with this luxurious embroidered gown. Dakar Fashion Week

    Hand-embroidery and hand-dyed Bazin combine in this beautiful, bold dress. Dakar Fashion Week

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    Contributor: Daphne Kasambala

    Credits: BBC Africa Today, AFP

    Photos: Dakar Fashion Week

    Musings Over Mudcloth

    Mali may be world-renowned as the site of the mystical Timbuktu, especially following the most recent events. But just as fascinating is the country’s national design heritage which has transcended generations – the intricate fabric, mudcloth. Known locally as bògòlanfini or bogolan, this hand-dyed cloth is sacred to the Bamana people of Mali and symbolizes their history and cultural heritage – of particularly significance with the country finally gaining its independence in 1960. The fabric has since become a symbol of national pride.

    Mudcloth drying in the sun in Djenne

    WOVEN IN TIME

    You will not find any two mudcloth fabrics exactly the same. This has to do with the unique and labour-intensive manufacturing process whereby the cloth is made using fermented mud.  The word bògòlanfini literally translates to bogo meaning “mud” or “earth”, lan meaning “by means of” and fini which means “cloth”. The men of the Bamana tribe weave the fabric while the women dye the cloth. This is typically done during the dry season between October and May. Agricultural activities slow down during this time leaving more time to devote to craftwork like cloth-making and pottery.

    The process itself is most fascinating. After the cloth is woven, it is left to soak in a bath of mashed-up leaves from the n’gallama tree, native to the region.Once the fabric has turned a yellowish colour, it is left to dry in the sun. Once it is dried out, the cloth is painted in intricate patterns using mud which has been left to ferment in a clay pot for over a year. An interesting chemical reaction occurs between the dyed fabric and the mud, so that after the mud is cleaned off, only the stained brown patterns remain. The yellow-coloured dye is lastly removed from the unpainted fabric with bleach which leaves the cloth white. After a length of time, the paint changes to different hues of rich browns and orange-toned colours.

    Oversized authentic mudcloth clutch by Ayikai Couture, available from sapelle.com

    MUCLOTH GOES GLOBAL

    One Malian designer who has been influential in bringing mudcloth to the rest of the world is the late fashion ingénue, Chris Seydou. This native of Mali’s Koulikoro province moved to Paris in 1971 where he first worked under iconic French designer Yves Saint-Laurent and then alongside Spanish designer Paco Rabanne. Seydou is still celebrated for his exemplary efforts in introducing bògòlanfini to the world, and is further credited with founding the African Federation of Fashion Creators in 1993 (just one year before his death due to a short illness).

    Chris Seydou

    And judging by the enormous popularity of this fabric in the Western world, Seydou would be proud. In support of Project Red, the anti-AIDS organisation fronted by U2 singer Bono, sneaker brand Converse created a limited edition shoe in African mudcloth in 2006. The design of the sneaker was inspired by legendary Malian mudcloth artist Nakunte Diarra.

    US First Lady Michelle Obama is no stranger to this trend, sporting the print on more than one occasion. She was first spotted aporting a mudcloth jacket while speaking in Chicago in 2006, followed by a mudcloth pencil skirt in Albuquerque that same year.

    Michelle Obama taking mudcloth to a new level of prominence

    Other celebrities seen wearing the fabric are Rihanna, Solange Knowles and Rachel Bilson, who after being snapped carrying a Threads of Change iPad case in mudcloth, caused the product to swiftly sell outs. Also paying homage to the original creators of the fabric is US fashion designer Kevan Hall (famous for working with style mavens like Jordin Sparks, Vanessa Williams and Katherine Heigl). In 2008, Hall presented his “Africa: A Safari” Spring collection at Los Angeles Fashion Week, using mudcloth produced and manufactured in Mali.

    Kevan Hall mudcloth dress

    French fashion label BCBG Max Azria is known for drawing inspiration from the African continent. In their Spring/Summer 2012 collection, the designers featured prints and patterns inspired by mudcloth. One fitted mudcloth-inspired trenchcoat from Max Mara’s Spring 2010 collection proved a fan favourite amongst customers. Designer Rachel Roy, known for her chic and classic pieces, also drew inspiration from the Malian traditional fabric in her Spring 2009 collection and infused mudcloth with a touch of Western modernity.

    A stunning Sass & Bide creation

    Also adapting the West African print was Australian design duo Sass and Bide. In their Fall/Winter 2011 collection, the edgy designers borrowed heavily from the authentically Malian print, even infusing mudcloth with colourful tie-dye. Further inspiration from mudcloth could also be seen in collections from Bottega Veneta, Proenza Schouler and even Donna Karan.

    Then, of course, there is the stunning mudcloth dress by House of Deréon that singer Beyoncé wore during a photo shoot with L’Officiel magazine. The shoot drew attention for different reasons however as Beyoncé’s skin was darkened to a dark brown colour. The uproar over the photo shoot may have died down, but it helped to shine a spotlight on a fabric steeped in culture. And that’s priceless.

     

     

     

    For further reading on this fabric, visit http://www.mnh.si.edu/africanvoices/mudcloth/index_flash.html

     

     

    Contributor: Lesleigh Kivedo