Imane Ayissi and Sara Chraibi Paved the Way: Here Are 5 African Designers Who Should Be Next at Paris Haute Couture
Celebrating Five African Designers Whose Work is Worthy of Couture Week
By Ranji Mangcu
The success of Imane Ayissi and Sara Chraibi, respectively of Cameroonian and Moroccan descent, has shone the spotlight on the African fashion industry and the continent's potential couture designers.
Their addition to the Paris Haute Couture Week schedule by France’s powerful Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM), has catapulted them to rarefied status as bona fide couture designers.
While they have always been couture designers in the African continent, approval by the FHCM, means greater recognition by the most powerful organisation the world.
Imane Ayissi and Sara Chraibi. Both designers use natural and organic materials and respect the craftwork and traditional skills of their respective cultures. They are also committed to ethical and sustainable production and social impact. PICTURES:
Ayissi, beloved in France for his signature fringed designs, first showed at Paris Couture Week in January 2020, making him the third African designer to be included on the schedule after Alphadi (Niger) in 2004 and Noureddine Amir (Morocco) in 2018.
Chraibi joined him on the schedule in January 2023, making her debut at the Spring Summer 2023 shows. It is evident that they belong, and their perspective adds an enthralling aspect to the collections.
A collage of looks from Imane Ayissi's Paris Haute Couture Gall/Winter 2023/24 collection. PICTURE: Instagram.
Imane Ayissi’s Paris Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2023/2024 show was a vibrant fusion of African and European cultures, with his signature style blending traditional African fabrics, his beloved fringe and concepts with modern European techniques. The result was a collection that was both visually stunning and culturally significant.
Maison Sara Chraïbi’s Paris Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2023/2024 collection featured sculptural garments were a feast for the eyes. Elaborate geometric patterns covered the surfaces of long, flowing dresses, while hooded capes puffed out at the back or oversized sleeves billowed out at the sides. Embroidered embellishments were a key stylistic feature, taking the form of diamond patterns on bustiers and rows of braids that framed open backs.
Haute Couture is defined by a set of sacrosanct rules, spelt out by the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture, maintaining Paris’s place at the centre of this system.
Given the current musical chairs of creative directors in fashion, the conversation around honouring the archive in contemporary haute couture is ongoing. While heritage and craftsmanship are couture’s key definers, there is an expectation that even as contemporary designers and creative directors use today’s vast technological developments to innovate and imaginatively push boundaries in the worlds of storied couture houses, they must remain true to the founder’s vision through house codes.
Designers from the African continent who are creating and innovating with couture-level skill and concept-development from outside the established parameters of haute couture, best exemplify this. They have redefined the craft of dressmaking, using technology and the internet to lead the charge in diversity and sustainability and set examples as to how the industry can evolve.
Listed below are five designers who we believe have what it takes to be on the schedule at Paris Haute Couture Week.
In March 2023, Taibo Bacar closed out Cape Town Fashion Week with a showcase that stunned the audience. Titled “Nightmare”, the pioneering Mozambican couturier staged his Autumn/Winter 2023 collection as a haunting, sultry reverie. Its dramatic silhouettes, elevated tailoring and bejewelled flourishes of detail demonstrated the mastery and craftsmanship in his elevated, sophisticated interpretation of African luxury.
Founded in 2008, Bacar’s eponymous label is gradually cultivating a presence in global fashion markets and was one of the first African labels to showcase at Milan Fashion Week during the 2012 Conde Nast International Luxury Conference in Rome.
Taibo Bacar represents an African luxury label whose haute-couture offering would be a ground-breaking contribution to the global canon of fashion. The label doesn’t shy away from producing conspicuous luxury, flaunting intricate embellishments and the gentle wave of a lush fabric.
Masterfully balancing this with an embrace of restraint, the designer manages to produce pure and sophisticated luxury; investment pieces that are unmistakably suited to the individual of refined taste.
Hanifa Virtual Fashion Show, Pink Label Congo
At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Anifa Mvuemba, founder of Hanifa, was forced to turn lemons into virtual lemonade when her first show at New York Fashion Week was cancelled. Mvuemba was set to show her collection, “Pink Label Congo”, which paid tribute to her home country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, from its landscapes to the ruched and ruffled details of its dressmaking traditions. Mvuemba cleverly utilized 3D image-making to transform each garment in the collection into a 3D-rendered image, fitted onto the body of an avatar. The result was a ghostly virtual runway show that was initially live streamed on Instagram butset Twitter timelines alight amidst the grimness and uncertainty of the pandemic.
Ironically, digital fashion re-centralises garments, craftsmanship and exploring the boundless possibilities of the imagination. In a conversation with FastCompany, Mvuemba described the process as “painstaking”, requiring extreme precision and care.
Not only do the processes of digital and metaverse fashion reveal the possibilities of what craftsmanship can and should look like, it also allows the garment to exist purely in its creativity, independently (to an extent) of commercial focus.
Hanifa currently produces Ready-to-Wear collections, but this particular element in the label’s progression makes it exciting to think of how it might contribute to haute couture that is tailor-made for a new guard of fashion enthusiasts.
Founded by Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko in 2016, Johannesburg-based ready-to-wear brand MmusoMaxwell produces womenswear that seeks to challenge the stereotypical lens through which African fashion is viewed.
@mmusomaxwell Umethulo 21 #ar#archivesm#mmusomaxwellf#africanfashion ♬ Beltway - Solange
MmusoMaxwell’s ethically produced garments narrate its dual Xhosa and Sotho heritage as something nuanced, alive, and engaged with the present realities of popular culture, technology, and sustainable textile development.
The beauty of MmusoMaxwell – winners of the 2022 Woolmark Prize’s Karl Lagerfeld Award for Innovation – lives in the subtlety of its cuts and the carefully considered details that make its heritage and storytelling feel like tacit knowledge or an open secret. Its signature asymmetrical forms are set against sharp pleats, with traditional menswear tailoring reinterpreted for womenswear.
@mmusomaxwell A look into the making of our handwoven mohair and wool blend fringe tunic, with a matching cascading skirt #mmusomaxwell #archives #design #craft #africanluxury ♬ Liv - Sebastian Plano
As this label grows from strength to strength, one cannot help but keep an expectant eye open in the hopes that MmusoMaxwell experiences the strength and longevity that will ensure its admission to the echelons of haute couture.
Founded by Priya Ahluwalia in 2018, the world of Ahluwalia artfully unites her dual Nigerian and Indian heritage to produce a rich exploration of sustainability and the circularity of resources in fashion. If one of the key principles of haute couture is craftsmanship, Ahluwalia fulfils it and then some.
The 2020 LVMH Finalist was most recently honoured for her work in sustainability at the Vogue “Forces for Change” dinner. Her regenerative approach to fashion design uses patchwork and textile techniques to produce garments that are one of a kind. The brand’s focus on making expert, innovative use of surplus materials disrupts a culture of waste and consumption in fashion.
This makes their practice all about creatively pushing the boundaries of menswear through craftsmanship. An haute couture offering by Ahluwalia is sure to turn this hallowed part of the fashion landscape on its head. Conclusively, it could not be more welcome. In fact, we need it.
Thebe Magugu’s storytelling has remained consistent through what Magugu describes in the Vogue Dress-Swap Initiative as the notion of “taking the things that we know and moving them into the echelons of luxury”.
Storytelling is a core element in the designer’s eponymous brand – a recognition of how objects can be re-contextualised, stories retold in search of more optimistic truths.
This philosophy was written into the premises of beautiful, storied collections, including his most recent Autumn/Winter collection, Folklorics, and his Spring/Summer 2023 Ready-To-Wear collection titled Discard Theory.
At the centre of Magugu’s exploration of “trickle-up theory” is an informal marketplace in Braamfontein, Johannesburg known as Dunusa — a landing point for the culmination of Europe’s waste in designer clothing. The designer revitalised discarded pieces from their banishment as “waste” by re-writing them as luxury items.
Through his transformation of a signature Valentino-Pink haute couture gown bestowed upon him for remixing by Valentino’s current head-of-house Pierpaolo Piccioli, Magugu has already given us a taste of what happens when Thebe Magugu meets haute couture.
Similarly, he has shown the depth if his talent through his collection for the Richemont group’s AZ Factory brand, as the inaugural “Amigo”.
With that in mind, not only would haute couture Thebe Magugu bring a fresh African perspective to the canon of haute couture, but brings forth the key question that defines the selection of designers in this piece: Can the conversations currently at the centre of ready-to-wear transform an old order of fashion into something more resonant to a new guard of spectators who are invested in fashion as an entity that informs the curve?