Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Africa + Japan = Marvelous

Today, in the last day of African seminar, we got the incredible opportunity to video conference with the fantastic Suzanne Gott, one of the editors of our book for that class. She introduced me to a fashion designer that really embraces the idea of globalization and the effects of two exotic ancient civilizations on one another!

Serge Mouangue - Fashion Designer/Developer of Wafrica

Wafrica is a line by designer Serge Mouangue that was born in Cameroon 1973, but moved to Paris at age 6. He was trained in Parisian schools for interior and industrial design. During his studies, he cultivated an intense interest in cultures that took him all over the world...Australia, USA, China, Mexico, and Turkey. After school, he moved to Australia for a brief time where he worked as a free-lance artist and industrial designer. He returned to France when offered a position designing cars for a French car company. At this time, he was able to take some Japanese language courses and became fascinated with the culture...fortunately, Nissan car company offered him a position in Japan in 2006 so he got to pursue this interest first-hand. Mounague is currently based out of Tokyo.

Wafrica developed from Tokyo's inspiration - Japanese culture is simultaneously so modern, yet respectful and prideful of the traditions of the past. Mouangue seized this idea for his line, combining the traditional Japanese kimono, a once-common and now withering fashion trend, with the modern, cotton African print textiles. Launched in March of 2008, Wafrica livens the traditional kimono with bold, vivid African patterns and colors, as well as printed wax cotton, fabric a far cry of kimono's typical luxurious silks.

Today, less that one in ten Japanese women actually wear kimono on their wedding day. The introduction of Western dress post-World War II had slowly but steadily overwhelmed traditional dress in Japan. This was a perfect opportunity for Mouangue to revitalize kimono by injecting fresh non-Japanese prints and fabrics into the mix. African wax prints seemed the perfect solution!

"I do not want the end result to belong to Africa, nor should it belong to Japan. It is not a 'fusion.' I want it to be something else. It should transcend the boundaries of both cultures. It is a third aesthetic."

Similarities behind the seemingly opposite African and Japanese cultures were what drew Mouangue to this project. "They may appear different on the surface, but they do share some cultural similarities. Both societies are very tribal and have a respect for hierarchy and an appreciation of the power of silence." He also notes the differences. "In Japan there is no improvisation. Here, improvisation can mean trouble, shame, difficulties. But in Africa, it means life, renewal, health and spirit."
For Mouangue, Wafrica is not an economic venture or a fashion statement. Instead, it stands for something much greater. "The connection between two different worlds such as Africa and Japan may be hidden. There may be a sea that seems to separate the two places. But we are all connected. There is earth under the sea that links us all, but we can't always see it. This is a project that tries to show that connection."

This line is still only in its infancy. Mouangue plans to grow his creation to include more aspects of Japanese art and fashion, synthesizing them with African prints. "This is just the start. It is about finding a third aesthetic. Telling a familiar story a different way. The end result? It's about hope, and it's about the future."

Quotes for this entry can be found here.

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