In fashion designing, there are numerous fabrics a designer can use to create a particular design. Whether with tulle, houndstooth, or many other fabrics, different styles can be expressed in creative ways.
However, as you all know, some fabrics are native to a particular area or country in the world, and a good case study is the Kente fabric from Ghana.
Kente is a royal and sacred cloth worn only in times of extreme importance as it signifies wealth and celebration, and recently, Virgil Abloh featured a remix of this fabric in his new Louis Vuitton AW21 collection. This release sparked certain controversies surrounding the kente-inspired outfits in the collection.
Stay with us as we delve deep into the collection and focus on the significance of African culture and fabrics serving as a form of inspiration to international brands.
Virgil Abloh AW21 Collection
Virgil Abloh presented his latest collection for Louis Vuitton as their menswear artistic director, during a live stream event on YouTube. The AW21 collection tagged ‘Ebonics’ is one that features a combination of classic design elements and a more boundary-pushing one.
Asides the designs and creative effort put into the collection, the Kente-inspired designs also made rounds on social media. Virgil Abloh infused Kente fabrics in this collection in a bid to explore his African heritage in parallel to his position as a Black American creative director building an impressive career in Europe.
“When I grew up, my father wore Kente cloth, with nothing beneath it, to family weddings, funerals, graduations. When he went to an American wedding, he wore a suit. I merged those two together, to celebrate my Ghanaian culture.” – Virgil Abloh.
He’s not the only fashion designer in the world, though, known to utilise signature fabrics in collections.
Imane Ayissi, the popular Cameroonian haute couture designer, utilised the signature Kente fabric to create outfits in his collections, and he showed respect by collaborating with Ewe Kente artisans in Ghana.
“Amongst the African textile heritage, obviously Kente is a very interesting textile, because of its aesthetics, history and also because it is still living and it is still possible to find good artisans with the skills to create new Kente which is not the case with other traditional textiles.” – Imane Ayissi.
Asides Imane Ayissi, other fashion brands such as Akoma 1260, an international ethical luxury brand, also makes use of the Kente fabric to create distinct products such as jackets and many more for their customers. The popular Nigerian fashion label, Emmy Kasbit also uses the signature Akwete fabric to create unique designs.
Due to the traditional importance, the Kente fabric under Ghana’s Copyright Act 2005 is protected as folklore.
What does this mean?
This means that the law offers the protection of traditional cultural expressions and traditional knowledge within the IP realm, although there are questions around sustainability and enforcement.
According to the head of the National Folklore Board in Ghana, “Anyone who intends to use folklore for any purpose, other than as permitted under section 19 of the Act, is required to apply to the Board for permission in the prescribed form and the person shall pay a fee that the Board May determine.”
Which begs the question – did Virgil Abloh apply for to the National Folklore Board for permission in the prescribed form or not?
Different users on social media also shared thoughts on this issue, as some were condemning the designer for using the signature fabric, while others were celebrating his creativity and inspiration expressions.
Despite the controversies, we can’t deny that Virgil Abloh definitely created daring and androgynous pieces in this collection. Asides from the Kente fabrics which had LV patterns infused on them, he also made use of leather, plaid and many more fabrics.
Considering this and other collections of international brands, we must say that African culture definitely serves as a source of inspiration for both local and international fashion labels.