How African Fashion Affects European Runways

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Dolce & Gabbana, Gucci and other famous brands find inspiration in African fashion for many years. In our review, we will reveal the secret of ethnic identity and understand why the great designers went to Africa for new ideas.

A few years ago, Africa was not able to prove itself on a global platform and enter into the fashion industry. Now it claims to be a continent that can not only inspire designers, but also create trends on its own. Africa is isolated from the rest of the world, but almost every capitals - Lagos, Cairo, Johannesburg - have their own Fashion Weeks. So, in 2019, at one of the Nigerian fashion shows during Vienna Fashion Week, models made a real performance, turning the runway into a dance floor. Synchronicity and emancipation of atypical models in ethnic outfits delighted the audience. The video from the show instantly went viral and was rapidly shared through social networks.

Popular African brands

Despite the development of fashion industry, African designers face many challenges. There is a lack of buyers, underdeveloped production, and most importantly – isolation in their native country. In 2018, Naomi Campbell stated that Africa needs its own version of Vogue magazine, to show the contribution of the continent to the global fashion industry. Now Africa faces the global challenge of local designers at international market. However, some African brands are able to attract the attention of the American or European celebrities. So, thanks to Beyoncé, the world learned about the African brand Kisua. The singer just appeared in a monochrome coat with geometric patterns of this brand, and it was immediately sold out.


Another African brand, gradually becoming popular, is Woodin. It is rapidly gaining popularity due to the mix of classic African patterns and modern tailoring. A variety of textures, colors and symbols keeps the cultural heritage of the African identity, while modern silhouettes and fabrics help the brand be on-trend. Geometric prints, eccentric ornaments, massive accessories and bright painted scarves tied on the head in the manner of a turban - these elements do create African style.


Many glossy magazines, such as Vogue Italia, Vogue UK, L'officiel are interested in the Aaks brand. The reason for this attention lies in the unusual accessories, the brand creates. Aaks bags are hand-woven by local craftswomen, using special technology. In their manufacture, durable natural material raffia is used. The design of such accessories is also different from the usual woven handbags: Aaks pays special attention to color and does not produce neutral straw bags, it uses only juicy and rich shades.

It was Yves Saint Laurent, who first introduced African trends in modern fashion in the 1970’s, presenting Safari dresses with large patch pockets and flaps on the chest in his collection. Following his example, many designers were also inspired by traditional motifs of Africa and started using unusual hairstyles, bright colors, ritual masks, Creole scarves and chunky jewelry in their collections.


3 main trends of African fashion

Ethnic motifs

Kitenge is colourful pieces of fabric. It has an edging on only a long side and is made specially for sarongs. In such clothes, the strict geometry is combined with different African symbols, images of plants and animals. Kitenge is often used not only for clothing but also for accessories – headbands and purses. Animal prints, fringe, bright colors, tribal patterns and gold shades – all these ethnic influences are reflected in the collections of many European designers.

Photo: Vogue Runway, Paco Rabanne весна-лето 2019


In African fashion, it is customary to wear a painted silk head scarf or shawl in the manner of a turban. For the first time, French fashion designer Paul Poiret have brought turbans into fashion, inviting the French to use it instead of the frilly hats. Yves Saint Laurent brings this headpiece on the European runways, and turned it into an elegant garment. For several years, the turban is one of the main beauty trends not only on the catwalks, but also in everyday life.

Photo: Vogue Runway, Gucci осень-зима 2018–2019

Decorative coins

A few years ago, many designers appreciated the beauty and uniqueness of the necklace with decorative coins and made it the main decoration in their shows. Following the leading designers, mass market brands also added a variety of necklaces to their collections. Once, this oldest decoration from Africa pointed to the social status of the owners: the more coins there were on a necklace, the richer a woman was.

Photo: Vogue Runway, Dolce & Gabbana весна-лето  2019

All these trends are reflected in the new Dior Cruise 2020 collection, which is almost entirely devoted to the culture of Africa. The collection highlights the inextricable linking between local African looks and global fashion. This is also evident by the ethnic patterns on fabrics, made in traditional African techniques and rhythmic ornaments with an emphasis on the local flora.

Photo: Vogue Runway, Christian Dior 2020


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