The Art Of Storytelling In Fashion

It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed the fashion industry, forcing an entire cohort of brands, designers and industry executives to re-think and deliver business models that are progressive and innovative. In doing so, brands have opted to integrate and embrace the introduction of digital interventions such as virtual runway shows and […]
by WANIQUE BLOCK May 10, 2022

It’s no secret that the Covid-19 pandemic has drastically changed the fashion industry, forcing an entire cohort of brands, designers and industry executives to re-think and deliver business models that are progressive and innovative.

In doing so, brands have opted to integrate and embrace the introduction of digital interventions such as virtual runway shows and presentations. A prime example of this was when designer Anifa Mvuemba unveiled a digital presentation for Hanifa, titled the Pink Label Congo collection. As millions of followers tuned in, the virtual fashion show saw the visualisation of 3D rendered garments worn by invisible models strutting across the catwalk against a black backdrop.

In the wake of a pandemic, this virtual presentation established a new precedent that has reshaped and signalled a paradigm shift in the realms of the fashion industry.

As a result, fashion shows were no longer physical, nor were they reliant on who’s in the audience. Instead, virtual fashion shows and live streams have become much more accessible and personal to the broader public.

While physical fashion shows and runways have seemingly returned, many designers have pivoted by refocusing to create new formats of fashion. Fashion shows and presentations no longer focus on the theatrics and production of fashion shows; instead, the focus now is on the collection itself; the patterns, colours, textures, fabrics and the stories of each garment. That said, designers had to now focus on how each garment would be perceived. For this reason, contemporary designers reintroduced the notion of storytelling.

To be fair, the art of storytelling in the fashion industry is not new. For centuries storytelling has played a pivotal role in how designers have communicated information and expressed themselves. From the narration of local cultural beliefs and folklore tales to addressing and exploring various social and political issues, storytelling has always been embedded in the DNA of the fashion industry.

Much like a writer’s ability to tell a story using words, fashion designers use fashion and design as a medium for storytelling and take us on a journey of escapism. The symbolism behind a garment’s colour, texture, print, images, embellishments and silhouettes is how designers and brands tell their stories.

Deeply rooted in African cultures and heritage, storytelling is one of the oldest and most enduring traditions to derive from the African continent. The art of storytelling has always been significant in every facet of African culture, whether through song, dance, drama, poetry, art and fashion. For decades, African fashion designers specifically used storytelling to change the narrative of contemporary fashion in Africa by confronting, embracing, and celebrating Africa’s various histories, backgrounds, and stories.

Below are four African brands that use storytelling to change the notion of contemporary fashion in Africa.

Wanda Lephoto

South African contemporary designer Wanda Lephoto uses storytelling to explore the various facets of South African style and culture. In doing so, Wanda confronts South Africa’s colonial and oppressive past by highlighting South Africa’s historical and present identity. With each garment and collection, Wanda Lephoto educates and celebrates his identity and culture. In his latest Fall/Winter 2022 collection titled Gaze, Wanda Lephoto is inspired by and emphasises the identity and dress codes of ordinary citizens in South Africa. Gaze documents the lives and historic pasts of the office cleaner, general labourers, clerks and factory workers.

Orange Culture

More than just a fashion brand, contemporary Nigerian brand Orange Culture is a movement that uncovers and highlights Nigerian culture, heritage and activism through storytelling. Created by designer Adebayo Oke-Lawal, Orange Culture’s Spring/Summer 2022 collection titled Peacock Riot was born from the social unrest and protests caused by the #EndSARS movement in Nigeria. This collection explores themes of inclusivity, isolation and dignity as a human right. Peacock Riot seeks to address issues of prejudice and discrimination through design.

Atto Tetteh

Founded by George Tetteh, Attoh Tetteh celebrates and embraces Africa’s cultural tales and stories. The Accra-based fashion brand is a modern iteration that defies traditional gender stereotypes by producing collections that are androgynous. George Tetteh uses storytelling to educate and take charge of his narrative. Attoh Tetteh’s latest Spring/Summer 2022 collection, Back to Basics, explores George’s hometown and places emphasis on nostalgia and pride.

Bloke

Nigerian based fashion brand, Bloke is a contemporary genderless brand that deconstructs the boundaries of fashion through storytelling. Built on the premise of self-expression, Bloke pays homage to and embraces African culture and heritage. Founded by Faith Oluwajimi, Bloke recites tales that are personal. With the release of Bloke’s Fall/Winter collection titled, Are you in love? Faith reflects on love, vulnerability and the ability to be in tune with your feelings. With this collection, Bloke highlights the various complexities and experiences that come with love. 

It’s safe to conclude that the key to a great brand is beyond the hype and theatrics. Fashion is about the willingness to create and share information through the art of storytelling. 

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