Beyond the foreign gaze
Beyond the foreign gaze, African menswear can no longer be considered an exotic afterthought or as somewhat separate from the global scene. The style movement behind Congo’s flamboyant Les Sapeurs; everyday men who enjoy buying the latest trends, coupled with the arresting portraiture of Malian photographers like Seydou Keita and Malick Sidibé have paved the way for mainstream African fashion.
The question is, when will we see a merge of African menswear infused into the corporate environment? For some time, I have seen African menswear evolve from bold uses of print to a more subtle palette with neutral colours. Men have pondered where they can find a well-tailored kaftan that not only represents them but also has a depiction of the corporate look for meetings, coffee catch-ups, presentations and even interviews.
When looking at brands like Charles Twryhitt, TM Lewin or Hawes & Curtis you can expect to see different ranges of shirts with features such as double cuffs and single cuffs not forgetting their range of suits such as slim fit, skinny fit and regular fit made by the finest fabrics.
We are now seeing an emergence of these features incorporated with African menswear in ideation and execution as seen in my brand Erenti, an haute couture brand that is giving market leaders a valiant run for its money – at least in the design stakes. I as a British Born creative director have been keen from the outset to create an international luxury menswear brand with an overt African aesthetic. African menswear brands such as, LLGM, Ebelebrown, Mai Atafo and Yomi casual are quick to highlight their brand’s European influences, given they have showcased their designs on international runways across Europe, North America and Africa.
I would like to welcome this trend within my brand Erenti to introduce kaftans to the corporate world and change its perspective on the forefront of corporate businesses on a global scale. As a designer based in the UK, I want to define the narrative and see all ethnicities embracing kaftans as casualwear to the offices. Why should we limit ourselves to just special occasions, I want to produce an Erenti office kaftan collection that sits well within the business ideologies of the corporate space showcasing western influences with a strong appreciation of African authenticity.
Our designs are well received as we have established ourselves as the go-to brand for haute couture kaftans having produced over 150 garments for individual clients and several UK based celebrities with the likes of Kojo the comedian, Fuse ODG, The Compozers, Eddie Kadi and Percelle Ascott effortlessly modelling our pieces. Since our establishment in 2016, we have become very popular and our growth has been incredible.
Africa has become diverse with their range of menswear, adding to its appeal in a global fashion industry. Naturally, this new generation has taken its cue from trailblazers who paved the way before they were even born. Take, for example, the likes of the diaspora: British-Ghanaian Ozwald Boateng bridging cultural barriers by turning the page on a tired narrative of African style for decades. it’s only in recent times that he has incorporated the aesthetic in his designs. Now his ties have Kente patterns, a trope of West African design, and there are tribal prints in his tuxedos.
Why the striking update? In a recent interview, Boateng spoke of a “real opportunity to redefine luxury with new markets opening up.” The Savile Row staple went on to predict that styles from Africa will be a big key to communicating the new notion of luxury.
Let there be no mistake: African menswear is no longer the remote, misunderstood exotic relative; but rather an integrated part of the global fashion family and I would love to see a corporate world of all ethnicities wearing kaftans to award shows, board meetings, a catch up in Costa and as casualwear to the office seasonally and Erenti would love to leave there footprint in the sand amongst the corporate enviroment.
That leaves us with our final question, when will we see African Kaftan incorporated in the corporate world?
The author, Osborne Ojarimoni – Creative Director of Erenti
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