Balmain's Fall Winter 2024 menswear show at Paris Fashion Week on Saturday, January 20th, 2024, was a triumphant return for the brand after a two-year hiatus. Designer Olivier Rousteing delivered a collection that was both powerful and elegant, infused with a touch of rebellion.
Rousteing channeled the unique dandy style of the legendary Congolese Les Sapeurs, renowned for their flamboyant mix of French tailoring and vibrant African patterns. This translated into sharp suits adorned with bold prints and textures, celebrating the art of self-expression.
The Balmain Homme AW2024 Show in Paris
Rousteing also tapped into the vibrant world of contemporary African art, showcasing graphic prints inspired by the works of Ghanaian visual artist and photographer, Prince Gyasi and Ibby Njoya, a British-Cameroonian artist and set designer. These bold designs added a touch of avant-garde edge to the collection, celebrating the dynamism of the African artistic landscape.
One of the most striking things about the collection was the use of face jewellery. Rousteing incorporated intricate metal pieces that covered the models' faces, adding a touch of mystery and intrigue.
In a surprising turn of events, Sarah Diouf, the visionary designer behind Tongoro Studio, a leading African fashion brand operating from Senegal, has taken to Instagram to publicly accuse Rousteing, of allegedly copying her work.
The dispute revolves around strikingly similar face jewellery pieces showcased in the menswear show in Paris, which Diouf claims strongly resembles her 2019 creation for Tongoro Studio.
Diouf shared her frustration on Instagram, recounting the origins of the jewellery.
"In May 2019, we were introducing our jewelry line, featuring the 'Cairo' face jewelry piece. Inspired by the Woodabe tribe men’s makeup, the face piece was first presented in our 'Tongoro Tribe' collection runway show in Dakar, paying homage to African nomadic communities."
She continued, "Straight off the runway, we've adorned model Naomi Campbell and singer Alicia Keys with it. The piece quickly became a hit and a staple of Tongoro’s line when fiercely styled by Zerina Akers on Beyoncé for the Lion King’s 'Spirit' video, which became one of the many memorable cultural moments we’ve managed to create with the brand."
Expressing her dismay, Diouf raised questions about the authenticity of Western brands claiming to appreciate and be inspired by African creativity.
"The visible similarity of the piece presented by Olivier Rousteing for his Balmain FW24 Mens collection to ours is a challenging and painful event, questioning yet again the actual regards Western brands claim to have towards African creativity while openly saying being 'inspired' by it... How long?"
Diouf's accusations have ignited an outpouring of support from the fashion community, with fellow designer Alia Baré echoing her sentiments. Baré shared Diouf's post and urged Olivier Rousteing to address the issue promptly, emphasizing the importance of respecting and acknowledging the origins of creative inspiration.
Sarah Diouf's Tongoro collection during AFI Cape Town Fashion Week 2018
Africa's rich cultural tapestry has long been a source of inspiration for designers worldwide, yet the line between appreciation and appropriation often blurs, leaving African creatives feeling overlooked and undervalued.
Diouf's journey with Tongoro is just one example of the challenges faced by African designers as they strive to establish their unique voices in an industry that sometimes fails to acknowledge the origins of its inspiration.
In 2017, Diouf also brought attention to Yves Saint Laurent showcasing a bag that was too similar to Tongoro's signature Mburu handbag.
Instances of cultural appropriation have been documented over the years, highlighting a systemic issue that extends beyond the fashion realm. African music, art, and traditional crafts have also been subjects of imitation, often without the due recognition of their cultural significance.
The lack of acknowledgment, coupled with the commercial success of these appropriated designs, exacerbates the frustration felt by Africa's creative professionals.
As the controversy unfolds, the fashion industry waits to see how Balmain and Rousteing will respond to these serious allegations of intellectual property theft. The incident has sparked a broader conversation about cultural appropriation and the need for accountability within the fashion world.