The dashiki made its debut on a Kigali catwalk five years ago as a part of the Intsinzi Collection by Rwandan design company Moshions. I found its delicate cut and simple lines to be both modern and very traditional. It would fit in just as well in a city or a rural setting on a few different continents. It is currently a part of the aesthetically spectacular exhibition “Africa Fashion” at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
The roundhouse-like, two-level display is housed in one of the museum’s rotundas and features clothes that range from extravagant costumes and gowns to everyday garments. It argues that African designers should be included on any list of world fashion heavyweights because fashion is not just about European design.
The two-level exhibition looks like a roundhouse inside one of the museum’s rotundas and includes fashion pieces that range from eye-catching costumes and gowns to ordinary workday dresses. It makes the case that any list of global fashion powerhouses should include African designers — that fashion is not solely the purview of European design houses like Coco Chanel, Christian Dior or Yves Saint-Laurent.
The museum is also making amends for failures in its own collecting and curating practices that have have left vast gaps in its previous offerings around African culture and design. In an irony of history, the museum is named for a monarch and her consort who presided over the longest expansion of the British Empire. The end of that colonial era in Africa brought not only sweeping political changes but a flowering of creativity in music, art — and fashion. It is the renaissance and subsequent evolution of the continent’s couture that the exhibition “Africa Fashion” seeks to assess and amplify.
Exhibit curator Christine Checinska herself worked for many years as a designer at several major British fashion labels before pursuing a Ph.D. in cultural studies at Goldsmiths’ College in the University of London, with her thesis focused on the impact of Caribbean creole culture on British male dress. Ever since, she says, she has sought to explore the relationships between race, culture and cloth.