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Out of Africa



Out of Africa



From the intricate and precious jewels of the Pharaohs of Ancient Egypt to the complex multi coloured silk designs of the Asante kente cloths and white mudcloth bogolan of Mali, African style has intrigued and enthralled the world.  The great innovative artists such as Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse and Paul Klee all drew new forms and devised vibrant colour combinations from the arts of Africa.


It seems that we are still taking a walk on the wild side and embracing all that is African.  On the catwalk, almost every designer has indulged themselves in ethnic influences this spring/summer with sequins, embroidery and beading providing luxe detail and the use of fabulous tie dyed materials and batik.  Designers such as John Galliano, Giles Deacon, Alberta Ferretti and Blumarine have all looked to Africa for inspiration creating the new age African tribal Queen, whilst giving the silhouette a sophisticated edge.



Giles Deacon spring/summer 2005

pictures Vogue.com



The wrap around ‘Sari’, tribal dress with beading detail, over sized kaftans teamed with a chunky wooden belt and juicy hued enamels have all made an appearance on the runway.  Giles took the kaftan to the extreme creating a tie dyed classic whilst Gianfranco Ferre opted for the full on African tribal look with clashing colours, leather straps and feathers. 


Cacharel’s and Eley Kishimoto’s collection were inspired by a Malinese portrait photographer Seydou Keita, resulting in a riot of ikat prints and vivid colours.  Keita’s work reflects African culture at its most natural and has made an impact on the catwalk. However, it is African jewellery that has taken the fashion world by storm and it is very much a matter of the bigger, the better. With each of the collections mentioned are big wooden charms, metal plated pendants raffia curios saturating the models body creating the African vibe to its fullest.


The history of jewellery in Africa reaches far back into the prehistoric past; an oval bone pendant from Redeyef, Tunisia, the earliest evidence of body adornment, is thought to be 15,000 years old.  The use of organic materials-bone, horn, hair, wood, roots and seeds were commonly used.  Even today, some Maasai warriors still wear a form of neckband made from a strip of fresh goat’s stomach lining with a perforated disc made from a shell of a crocodile.



Straw was also used as a source of jewellery. The women of Nigeria would wear pieces of guinea-corn stalk through holes in their earlobes.  The grass in Africa, naturally red and brown, were woven into patterned ribbons which were sewn together to form armbands and wristlets. The women of Kenya made necklaces and armlets from grasses braided around fibre cores.


Wearing jewellery in Africa was all about beauty and display. It was about men and women looking wealthy and high in rank and status.  It was also worn as a medium through which aspects of socially important symbolic ideas could be explored.  These were themes such as religious beliefs, political organisations and sexuality.  Nowadays, African jewellery is worn as a symbol of decoration, however it symbolised much more where it was originated from.



Along with pendants, necklaces and wristbands made from wood extracts and straw, beads were also used as a major source of body adornment and are also extremely popular in the summer collection on the catwalk.  The first evidence of beads dated around 10,000BC and beads were the first item of dress a child in Africa would receive.  The way the jewellery was worn and the choice of colour all convey specific social messages. 


The beadwork of the Zulu in particular, is codified and transformed into a type of language.  The Zulu and Swazi mark important stages in their physical and social development from infancy onwards by wearing beads of different colours.  Zulu girls would spend time sewing rectangular pieces of patterned work, which they gave to their lovers.  These ornament conveyed specific messages to the young men, often transmitted by the colours used, the motifs and the overall design.  These could be in the shape of a square, diamond, straight line, triangle and lozenges, which were arranged, in symmetrical, geometric pattern.



Messages of love and admiration were usually conveyed through these coded pieces and have proved to be popular choice of jewellery to wear nowadays. Beaded necklaces, bangles, shoes and clothes have been recreated in the 21st century and are going to be a successful choice of jewellery for the summer season ahead.


Although we haven’t adopted all of the African aspects of life, for example, it is considered a woman to be ugly if she wasn’t wearing at least five pounds of beads. We are just embracing the African vibe and injecting a dose of culture to our summer wardrobes.  All contemporary jewellery is available in all high street stores such as Top shop, H&M, Miss.Selfridge, Mikey and Accessorize. You can even purchase them on QVC and in local vintage and charity shops.


If you are loving the African scene and want to get caught up in the action, then why not join in the fun with the African 2005 festival in London? It is a huge cross-gallery celebration of African music, film, art and fashion.  Highlights include an exhibition Made in Africa at the British Museum and a planned music evening hosted by artist Chris Ofili at the Tate Britain.  The White Chapel gallery is presenting the show Back to Black and the Hayward gallery is hosting its first ever UK collection of contemporary African art, Contemporary Art of a Continent. It is hard to miss so head down to the nearest museum and take in the African spirit.


For more information visit the following websites;


www.bbc.co.uk <http://www.bbc.co.uk>

www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk <http://www.thebritishmuseum.ac.uk>

www.whitechapel.org <http://www.whitechapel.org>

www.hayward.org.uk http://www.hayward.org.uk


Kyrsty Hazell

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