Why All Eyes Are on Dakar, West Africa’s Couture Capital
Words by The Folklore Team
Back in June, when Chanel announced that it would stage its next Métiers d’Art fashion show in Dakar, it was deemed an important feat for the fashion industry. Senegal’s capital also garnered global attention when brands such as Tommy Hilfiger and Levi’s expanded their retail operations in the city.
While Chanel has rotated its Métiers d’Art shows across various cities before, the presentation in Dakar marks the first time it has shown in an African country, and helps cements the region as an emerging luxury market to watch.
With brands such as Tongoro and Anima Iris, whose products are created by artisans in the city, Dakar is regarded as a hotbed of African couture craftsmanship, boasting a thriving fashion scene that plays a small but important role in the continent’s fashion ecosystem.
So, with the arrival of the one-off Chanel show, and the fact that it was celebrating its 20th anniversary, this year’s Dakar Fashion Week, held from 2-4 December, had even more of an exciting buzz and anticipation to it.
Designed to spotlight the continents burgeoning design talent, Dakar Fashion Week was started and produced by Adama Amanda Ndiaye, the French-Senegalese designer behind the Adama Paris brand. For two decades, it has been a platform for sartorial national identity.
This year’s event showcased the work of 20 designers from across Africa – including Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya – along runways on the island of Gorée, a historic site known for its role in the transatlantic slave trade. (Senegal is a former French colony and gained its independence in April 1960.)
With a theme of “Made in Africans by Africans for the World”, the collections shown displayed a strong sense of cultural identity, but with a global appeal. Malian designer Awa Meite sent down handmade tunic dresses and separates made from woven textiles, with colorful and striped patterns, accompanied with tribal-inspired accessories.
Nigerian brand Orange Culture presented its “Dreamland: Secrets We Keep” collection, whose highlights featured a multicolored ostrich feather mini dress, hot-pink 1970s-inspired suits and sequinned separates.
The Chanel Métiers d’Art collection, which is held annually to highlight the work of the fashion house’s specialty ateliers, also took inspiration from the “pop-soul-funk-disco-punk” of the 1970s, with plenty of layering, tactile textiles and pattern mixing. The brand also tapped into its temporary locale, opening with a performance by Senegalese singer Obree Daman and dancers from the École des Sables, as well as employing 19 African models (12 of whom were from Senegal) and a diverse hair and makeup team.
Senegal-born designer Diarra Bousso, who helms contemporary lifestyle brand DIARRABLU, not only showed her Resort 2023 collection at Dakar fashion Week, she was also invited to attend the Chanel show at the Palais de Justice, along with famous faces that included Naomi Campbell, Pharrell Williams and Charlotte Casiraghi. Calling it a “historic moment in the fashion industry”, Bousso shared her take on the event from her perspective as a Senegalese woman.
While she initially questioned the intent behind the brand’s decision to stage its show in Dakar, and if the execution would be culturally sensitive, San Francisco-based Bousso concluded that it was “the beginning of an ongoing dialogue between Senegal and France in terms of training, educational exchanges around craftsmanship between Dakar and Paris and a long-term plan to partner with Senegal in responsible, high-quality cotton production for the house.”
This “ongoing dialogue” is already set in motion and Chanel has plans to return to Dakar in January as part of a program that will focus on a collaboration with its artisans and local Senegalese craftspeople, which will be exhibited in Paris. According to Chanel’s president of fashion Bruno Pavlovsky, the brand’s work in Dakar may help form the model for a different kind of cultural exchange in the future.
Bousso thinks the Métiers d’Art collection is a good start in that direction. “Ultimately, Chanel beautifully weaved Dakar into the fabric of this collection while managing the balance between staying true to its ‘made in France’ design codes and centering our rich culture, music and heritage.”