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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Flutsch

Africa: The Fashion Continent


Book Review: Africa: The Fashion Continent by Emmanuelle Courrèges. Published on 9 December 2021 by Flammarion. Purchase links below - including an affiliate link.

[Disclosure: Flammarion provided me with a copy this book for the purposes of this review.]

Quite often, coffee table fashion books are a mixture of gorgeous glossy photos and utterly decontextualised, esoteric quotes. We put up with the words because the pictures are so beautiful.

In Africa: The Fashion Continent, written by Emmanuelle Courrèges, there is no compromise – this stunning book is full of arresting visual images accompanied by a thrilling dissertation on the revolution that is happening in fashion across the African continent.

This is Courrèges’ love story to African fashion and it’s gripping, moving and beautiful. Courrèges grabs our attention by filling the text with stories – stories of the artists who are combining respect for tradition with innovation to create something distinctly of, and for, the African continent.

There are the designers who are decolonising traditional fashion by keeping what’s important and reengineering the rest. Like Imane Ayissi, who stripped out the colonial legacy of the Herero women’s traditional fashion, while paying tribute to their distinctive aesthetic. What a pleasure it is to be able to see the traditional outfits of the Herero women alongside Ayissi’s utterly chic and wearable reimaged pieces.

I took this photo of my review copy.

Courrèges has also given us a snap shot of some of the challenges that fashion designers across the African continent have faced getting exposure in the West. From being told that their beautiful contemporary work is not “African” enough to being told that their use of traditional fabrics is too “ethnic”. Courrèges tells us about designers who are elegantly subverting this dichotomy through innovation - such as Ituen Basi, whose collections show contemporary pieces made with reimaged, yet recognisably traditional, wax print fabric.

I took this photo of my review copy.

The book also covers the challenges of sustainability – a hot topic in fashion for at least the past two decades. The majority of the world’s textile waste ends up on the African continent and Courrèges introduces us to designers who are approaching this challenge in different ways – from creating new fabric from textile waste, to upcycling the second-hand clothes which flood the African continent to using deadstock (clothes/textiles made but never put up for sale) made for Western fashion houses.

I took this photo of my review copy.

There are so many beautiful, interesting, and inspiring stories, that the text itself could be a stand-alone book.

I took this photo of my review copy.

My one small criticism is in this book’s organisation and layout. The chapter divisions feel somewhat random and the accompanying photos are not always near the text that they illustrate - which can make for a feeling of being overwhelmed by masses of unstructured information if you’re reading it in a linear way. However, no-one (other than a reviewer) reads a coffee table book from start to finish in a linear way, so perhaps this criticism is theoretical only.

I took this photo of my review copy.

Having this book on your coffee table, and dipping into it whenever you have a moment, will always result in an enriching, uplifting and a joyous experience.

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If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy my post about fashion houses copying from young Black designers here. You might also enjoy these brilliant articles in the Guardian about Congolese Dandies and about Sapeurs.


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