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5 Fashion Design in South Africa: Histories and Industries

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

South African fashion is totally different from the rest of Africa. It is certainly African—you must call it African because it is made here.

—Marianne Fassler, 2008

We wanted to try and find a way that would make history part of popular culture, so the individuals who buy those clothes become ambassadors.

—Nkhesani Manganyi Nkosi of Stoned Cherrie, Sunday Times, 28 April 2002

Woolworths and South Africa’s leading designers are working together to bring you the best in local design. Wear them proudly.

—Woolworths department store clothing label, Cape Town, 2008

South Africa’s large and diverse fashion industry includes numerous designers whose work bears analysis as conceptual; these designers create garments that evoke complex localities without directly borrowing from or depicting elements of local cultures. Continuing a leitmotif from the previous chapter, many of these designers employ various forms of recycling—from the reuse of clothing to the repurposing of images that allude to specific histories, both national and personal. In post-apartheid South Africa, barely a generation beyond the end of the nation’s long period of racial segregation and repression, references to the past and to the ongoing struggle to realize the promise of transformation are a prime subject for artistic explorations in all media. Fashion design provides a highly visible and widely accessible venue for these explorations. Before turning to case studies of designers, I briefly introduce three aspects of South Africa’s history that reverberate in the work of fashion designers, making the country’s design industry exceptional in Africa. These elements—ethnic diversity, a history of race-based oppression, and a highly developed industrial and commercial infrastructure—all contribute to the distinctiveness of the nation’s fashion industry.

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Medium 9780253015969

4 Nature and/or Nurture?

Jo B. Paoletti Indiana University Press ePub

Where do masculinity and femininity come from? After all, it is fairly obvious that newborn humans have neither set of qualities. Yet by the time they are two or three years old children not only know the rules, but they also have become its primary enforcers, as any observer of a preschool playgroup can confirm. With the women’s movement challenging traditional female roles and popular culture offering a range of new expressions of modern masculinity and femininity, it seems inevitable that children would get swept up in the excitement and confusion. If nothing else, the link between adult and children’s clothing would mean that kids and grownups would wear similar styles. This clearly happened during the 1960s and ’70s, but there was something else at work too. Emerging scientific evidence pointed to gender roles being learned and malleable in the very young. This affected children regardless of where their parents stood on women’s rights or sexual morality. Given the drive to transform women’s roles and promote gender equality, it’s likely that if you were born between the late 1960s and the early 1980s, you experienced non-gendered child raising to some extent. If you didn’t wear your sibling’s hand-me-down Garanimals outfits, the kindergarten teacher might be reading William’s Doll to you at story time. Or you might be singing along to your Free to Be . . . You and Me record on your Fisher-Price record player, after watching Sesame Street, which featured Susan Robinson as a working woman who liked to fix cars in her spare time.1

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1 Festive Spirit Carnival Costume in Brazil

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

AT THE POINT WHERE LATIN AMERICA AND AFRICA COME CLOSEST, Portuguese explorers landed on the shores of Bahia in 1500. Within half a century they had established Brazil’s first colonial capital in the port city of Salvador and brought enslaved people from Africa to work the land. A Catholic country with the largest African population in the diaspora, Brazil has more people of African descent than any country except Nigeria, the most populated of the African nations.1 The slave trade was officially abolished in Brazil as late as 1888, resulting in a large population of formerly enslaved and recently arrived people who entered the country largely through Salvador da Bahia. Intermingling in the New World, people of astonishing cultural diversity created the Candomblé religion: a syncretic mix of African and European faiths, gods, and practices. Yoruba orixás—many of them deified ancestors—became the African gods most often worshipped in Brazil, each one closely associated with a Catholic saint. The complex Afro-Brazilian identity—at once Catholic, African, and Brazilian—is on display in the public events of Salvador. Identity, history, race, religion, and political and social affiliations are all communicated visually by the clothing worn in festivals and by the costumes of carnival.

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1 Indigenous Fashion: Embroidery and Innovation in Mali

Victoria L. Rovine Indiana University Press ePub

You come from afar, you have brought lots of clothes, everyone sings your praises, the best clothes come from Accra, and the person who wears them is the best.

—Dogon song, documented by Isaie Dougnon

A tilbi is more than a boubou.

—Baba Djitteye, embroiderer, Timbuktu, 23 July 2008

In a single region in Mali, two styles of men’s dress embody diverse forms of social status, attitudes toward innovation and perpetuation of past practices, and sources of stylistic inspiration. These styles, known as “Ghana boy” and “tilbi,” have in common a reliance on embroidery as a means of embodying messages, histories, and identities. Yet, these embroidered garments represent quite distinct approaches to style change, the hallmark of fashion. Neither of these sartorial innovations participates in the global fashion system, which is rooted in Western styles and methods. Instead, they offer insights into different fashion worlds, with their own histories, economies, and precedents from which they draw inspiration. Furthermore, these styles contain traces of local as well as global networks of commodities and cultures, literally made legible in the embroidered patterns and figures that adorn the garments.

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5 Living History Colonial Williamsburg

Pravina Shukla Indiana University Press ePub

FOR THREE-QUARTERS OF A CENTURY, MILLIONS HAVE TRAVELED to Colonial Williamsburg in Tidewater Virginia to behold and interact with men and women dressed in fine eighteenth-century clothing.1 These costumed interpreters perform on the stage of a colonial town, their embroidered waistcoats, tricorn hats, and wide silk gowns harmonizing with the colors of the brick and clapboarded buildings of Colonial Williamsburg, “the world’s largest living history museum.” Colonial Williamsburg’s personnel, in contrast to the reenactors of the Civil War, must authenticate and replicate a wide array of clothing, dress for soldiers and civilians, women and men, for people of different classes—the gentry, artisans, indentured servants, and enslaved African Americans. With few surviving garments and only a fraction of the documentation that is available for the four years of the Civil War, the reconstructed past at Williamsburg must be meticulously researched and precisely presented through the institution of the museum, where education and authenticity drive the choices of the costumes that are made, worn, and performed.

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