Le Pagne and African-made fashion
|Display at R.W. King, Douala|
Since a couple of years, women's clothing made with pagne is popping up in Saks Fifth Avenue and other upscale retailers' ads, at corresponding prices, in the many hundreds of dollars: Suno and Edun; in France, Toubab Paris.* In Edun's case, it certainly helps that a celebrity (Bono) and his spouse, Ali Hewson--are behind it.
These trademarks have one thing in common: non-African founders, which is sad, as the same thing happens in all design fields, and often not only for Africans, but all "developing" countries: if the designer is African (or Indian, or even Chinese), she/he is ignored by major Western media or trade representatives (retailers, galleries). On the other hand, when finally Africa joins the rest of the economically wealthy world, and I am convinced the day will come, this will become be a moot point.
Of course I had to have at least one dress made, although I wasn't ready to pay for Dutch "wax" at a much higher price point than Cameroon-made fabric. The "wax" holds out better to the strains of time, but not only is it expensive, the designs are better-suited to a specific African wardrobe than for a Western-style dress.
R.W. King was one of the outposts of the European "comptoirs coloniaux," trading outposts that have their roots all the way to the Phoenicians with Carthage, in North Africa. They were used to import fabrics and more to Sub-Saharan African countries, and exporting raw materials to Europe. It's such an old-fashioned business that I couldn't even find an R.W. King website.
|My new dress by Schekina|
Earlier posts in Away From Africa written about clothing in Sub-Saharan Africa: http://www.awayfromafrica.com/2010/08/traditional-and-contemporary-dress-from.html
For more information about the history of Comptoirs, trade posts, pagne, and wax, in English and in French:
French Wikipedia: http://fr.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comptoir which includes a reference to the slave trade.
English Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trading_post?oldid= with a focus on Northern America.
Fah-Schyon blogs about fashion in Africa topics.
About Wax and Bazin on the Toubab Paris blog: http://toubabparis.wordpress.com/quest-ce-que-le-wax-et-le-bazin/
* Toubab (or Toubob) is the word used in West Africa to name people of European descent. The first time I ever saw this word was in Alex Haley's Roots (the book)--my first introduction to Africa south of the Sahara, so long ago!