From the Congo to the Ivory Coast, the Art Museum’s survey of African style takes fashionistas for a walk on the wild side.
Luxury textile maker Vlisco is one of the haute highlights of the Art Museum’s latest exhibit, “Creative Africa.”
Bold prints, graphic patterns, pops of color—Africa’s contemporary fashion scene is as visually thrilling as its wildlife safaris. The Art Museum’s “Creative Africa,” a multidimensional look at artistic expression across the continent on view through September, includes two shows devoted to style: “Threads of Tradition” and “Vlisco: African Fashions on a Global Stage.” “It’s very much a story about appropriation, reappropriation, and cultural integration,” Dilys Blum, the museum’s senior curator of costume and textiles and organizer of the Vlisco show, whose wax-designed luxury fabrics have been a mainstay for Africa’s style set since the mid-1800s. The brand has a serious celebrity fan base, too: Beyoncé, Gwen Stefani, and Jill Biden have all been photographed in Vlisco.
For Blum, the marriage of traditional fabrics and luxe aesthetics that dressmakers employ to create customized styles excites her most. “It’s seeing how wax-printed textiles creatively combine to make contemporary and classic looks,” Blum says, noting a couture piece from West African fashion pioneer Sera Perfection as one of the highlights of the 25 costumes on display. But Blum hopes more than fashion will resonate with visitors. “It’s the unraveling of the history,” she says. “There’s a craft in the way textiles are designed and used, and hopefully that will express the joyful experience of Africa.”