REVIEW: Masa Mara at Cape Town Fashion Week

Masa Mara opens Cape Town Fashion Week with a powerful collection

Masa Mara uses fashion as a vehicle to stage a poignant confrontation at Cape Town Fashion Week, in which war came face to face with the people’s courage, and their collective stand for peace.

“We are telling stories from the African perspective. We’re telling the story of the brave ones. We live in a world where people are trying to trick themselves, where people are unable to stand and claim their right to be here.”

These were the words of Rwandan designer and multi-disciplinary artist Nyambo Masa Mara weeks prior to his debut at Cape Town Fashion Week at the Cape Town International Convention Centre.

Paying homage to tribal culture through his millennial lens, Masa Mara kicked off Cape Town Fashion Week with a collection that translates the traditional elements of various tribes into activewear. With his humanoid sculptures installed in the venue, Masa Mara’s Cape Town show plunged audiences straight into the deep end with a harrowing short film that referenced the atrocities of the Rwandan Genocide.

Titled “Silence The Guns”, Masa Mara staged a poignant confrontation, in which war came face to face with the people’s courage, and their collective stand for peace.

Masa Mara prides itself on embracing African identity, using fashion as a vehicle to explore the consistent relevance and sacredness of tribe and culture, even as the world changes. His pseudonym is derived from the royal symbolism of his homeland’s long-horned cattle, which is the predominant motif in his use of prints.

It’s clear that Masa Mara has his fingers on the pulse of his contemporaries, using the languages of afro-futurism and luxury to speak to their fondness for athleisure, which sees athletic gear doubling as street gear, and power-walking its way into high fashion. His preoccupation with bringing tribal identity into the future is as visible in his garments as it is in his sculptures, which combine the human form with machinery, laminated in multi-coloured prints. Similarly multi-coloured, geometric prints are present in his garments.

Lightweight and utilitarian, Masa Mara’s ready-to-wear offering usually communicates a youthful athleticism, but his Cape Town Fashion Week collection diverges from the usual, applying the familiar print to more sophisticated forms. Masa Mara played intelligently, often pairing pieces of the same colour and print to create synergy between colour, print and silhouette in an overall unified ensemble.

This was perhaps demonstrated most eloquently in a boxy blue top, paired with a blue asymmetrical pleated skirt and a striking trench coat of the same print. Overall, the designer demonstrated a more sophisticated approach to his familiar print.

Masa Mara presented a moving showcase, set apart by the embrace of storytelling and performance. The show came to a climax with a confrontation between the gun, held by a soldier in a green printed uniform, and a model, stunningly dressed in a tiered yellow dress with flared orange shoulders. Adorned with a pair of printed long horns, one can deduce that the model, Avumile Gqonqo, represented Masa Mara’s culture, at odds with the violence of war. She was soon joined by models dressed in the rest of the collection, supporting her in a symbolic confrontation between war and the people.

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