Guuuurl, oh yes he did. Last week was the 5th annual, Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg. It was sponsored by Mercedes-Benz and there was a short albeit powerful list of international press which included Vanity Fair‘s fashion and style director Michael Roberts and EBONY‘s style director Marielle Bobo.
Scott Schuman of TheSartorialist.com, who is the most famous street style photographer, was on hand, and the excitement that brought famously turned into disappointment when it became clear that he was focusing on South Africans in ‘inner city’ settings, as opposed to capturing the more fortunately blessed in the Fashion Week tents.
When asked to explain this by WWD, ol’ Scotty boy made interesting comments like the attendees had to ‘bring their game on’ in the future. He also went on to say that the many beautiful women he saw decked in designer garb, ‘lacked a certain amount of charm’ and were almost ‘aggressive’ with their application of make-up, the way they stood, and the way they looked at him. He went on to compare them with the kids, and young adults he had seen outside the tents who had ‘more charm about them’.
I didn’t attend the event, so I can’t really weigh in on his observations. However, from my experience when I visit Lagos and attend events, I have to say that I find most of my style inspiration in the markets and ‘inner city settings’ as opposed to the majority of ‘perfectly polished’ guests I see at events.
Having said that, for a continent who this year has really taken a focal point in the fashion global conversation due to our love of prints, festive embellishments and head-turning designs– its a shame to hear more people didn’t ‘bring it’ to the tents.
It’s very interesting for me to read the comments that have accompanied the online articles that have published this story. There is definitely outrage and as you can imagine, a lot of it has been brought down to the basics of black and white. One commenter famously said, ‘A white man in charge of the perception of African style. I think I’ve read this book before.’
I won’t go down that road, but I will say this– I am happy that African Fashion Week is gathering heat and press. I hope it continues to do so, so much so that one day an African reputable street style photographer will be the one who is deemed to ‘headline the show’. I have no problem if on that One Fine Day, Scott Schuman is invited, why not? And then I can balance the photography and opinions of that photographer with The Sartorialist’s.
If you ask me I think this is a typical example of what can happen when we as Africans don’t support and h.y.p.e our local, homegrown talent. And I am not just talking about our designers, I mean all shades of the creative spectrum- stylists, writers, photographers et al. Fashion is a business, I get that. I also understand that as African Fashion Week is a relative newbie to the scene, it will certainly help their PR promotions if their Fashion Week Guest List reads like the the who’s who of fashion. However, I feel supporting and hyping our local talent should come first and trying to find the new talent who will one day take over the old.
I don’t want to point the finger but if you look at African fashion magazines (the most popular ones I mean, and I don’t mean American ones), and the most popular African Fashion Shows, and look at who is put at the helm, or who the ‘headlining guests’ are- you will know what I mean. And the sad thing is that, when the tables are turned, as of yet, I don’t see other international magazines or fashion shows returning the favour. They do very well without us thank you very much. But us, not so much.
There will always be controversy in fashion and a leading African streetstyle photographer who is chosen to headline African Fashion Week, may well take the photography standpoint The Sartorialist did- for me that is neither here nor there. I just want to see the African fashion industry stand on its own two feet more, and not crave the stamp of international validation.
Having worked on fashion projects in Lagos, I know finding local talent and not only talent, but professional talent is that much harder to find, but it is there. But do we want to take the time to find it? Do we want to shine the torchlight on ourselves by ourselves or do we want to ask our international counterparts to help us to buy the torch, find the switch, put it on and tilt it our way before we can get recognised?
What do you all think? Where do you stand with the drama?
All pictures courtesy of The Sartorialist