Before The Show: Madness. The crowd entering the tent was being pretty tightly controlled by the all-too familiar elastic barricades, with a narrow channel on the right for press and various VIPs. When one of the barricades broke, there was a mad rush to the (still closed!) doors. Unpleasant to say the least. The constant pushing and shoving, however, was made up for by the overabundance of crazy in the crowd: feathered hats to rival Carrie Bradshaw’s bird-encrusted wedding veil (see below)… zebra-print leggings with leopard-print shirts… you name it. It also seemed that many seats were double-booked, causing quite a few tiffs and forcing a lot of people to stand. Ambient, bass-laden African music, complete with animal sounds, blared as the crowd hurried in; it was strangely calming.
Overheard In The Crowd: An anxious, waiting audience member and one of the security guards began to hatch a plan to profit off of fashion week. They conjectured that, if each guest paid $5 to enter the show, the fashion houses and people at Bryant Park would stand to make a TON of money. That’s not how it works, guys…
The Collection: ARISE Africa Collective was comprised of three smaller shows, each with its own distinct aesthetic.
Black Coffee: Designers Jacques van der Watt and Danica Lepen made their South African heritage well-known throughout the show. With their tribal mohawk/bouffants and massively oversized circular earrings, models donned pelt-like coats and capes in muted hues. The collection was soft, both in color – pale peache, light taupe, faded turquoise – and in texture – plush suede, swingy jersey. In shape, however, pieces featured geometric layering and a great deal of volume; the final look featured a jacket with sunburst-like folds of fabric at the shoulders, which created a dramatic and gorgeous silhouette. This and the other outerwear pieces managed to look like pelts – albeit very finely tailored ones – contributing to the ethnic effect.
Loin Cloth & Ashes: As models began to walk for Loin Cloth & Ashes, images of paper cranes fluttered and fell on the huge screen behind them. This motif was carried throughout the collection, both literally, with a crane-printed, distressed cotton tee, and more loosely; Mpungwe folded the leather of a black cocktail dress into small triangles and diamonds for a dainty origami effect. Exaggerated shoulders and even the back of a long-sleeve shirt’s arms were given the same careful treatment. The collection used a limited color palette: quiet nudes and tans, white, black, a bit of gold, and electric blue for an accent here and there. Oversized necklaces and dangling earrings in this bright blue featured circle-based patterns and abstract shapes that almost resembled the shape of Africa. Suede heels, too, were done in this blue shade to make the outfits pop.
Deola Sagoe: As soon as Deola Sagoe sent her very first look down the runway (a sheer, sparkly, strong-shouldered top and skinny pants – very Balmain-esque), the audience was adorably, appropriately clap-happy. The collection mixed and matched influences perfectly: for example, U-shaped, wire-supported shoulders and high necklines met at the border of Space Age and Victorian England. There was a focus on pleating and movement, highlighting the impeccable cuts of the pieces. Exhibit A: the dreamily draped, voluminous white coat that simultaneously bounced and floated down the runway. The collection combined black, various shades of gold, white, rich royal blue, and muted warm colors – sometimes, almost all at once!
Trend Spotting: There was definitely a focus on immaculate construction in all three collections, whether it was the almost architectural pleats of Black Coffee, the ruffle-heavy sleeves of Loin Cloth & Ashes, or the structured lapels of Deola Sagoe. All three designers also relied heavily on appropriating neutrals, creatively using typically “boring” colors for effects that were anything but.
Overall Impressions: The pre-show craziness was well worth it: I got three shows for the price of one! In all seriousness, each collection was strong on its own (Deola Sagoe in particular!) and could have filled its own show. That said, though, it was certainly intriguing and more entertaining to see the three collections in one show, as they did manage to tell a cohesive and distinctly African story.