FabAfriq Magazine

Imane Ayissi: Under Our Telescope

His father was a Pro boxing champion in the 60s and 70s in Cameroon. His Mum was the first Miss Cameroon in the 60s. His sister, Chantal is the queen of Bikutsi (a music form from the Central provinein Cameroon), His brother, Ayissi Le Duc is an Artiste - writer, choreographer, the list is endless... It would have been unusual then, if he had missed out on the creative gene so seemingly dominant in his family. FabAfriq's France correspondent, Veronique Mbida, visited Paris based Cameroonian designer, Imane Ayissi and talks to him about the current fashion revolution and his role in it.

FM: It is a pleasure to have you in our hot seat today. The question many fans are asking is, how you do you manage to seem so laid back all the time? Is it the calm before the storm?

Imane: I am constantly working. At the moment I am putting the finishing touches to the Winter 2012 collection which is called "Idoutt" (“long dress” in the Ewondo language). “Idoutt” will be a sort of 'capsule collection' (a limited edition between two collections) especially for evenings and inspired by the glamour of the 30’s and African drapes with a Gothic touch. I am also beginning to formulate ideas for the Summer 2012 collection. Recently, I participated in the FESMAN festival in Dakar (December 2010) amongst others. I think that it is important to exhibit my work in Africa but that takes up a lot of time.

FM: I heard rumours about your appearance at FESMAN (World Festival of African arts). Could you tell us more about it?

Imane:I was invited by the Senegalese State and the organizing committee of the FESMAN. The principal idea was to give a vision of the creativity of African artists or people of African origin, wherever they are in the world.

FM: You opted to feature exclusively on the catwalk using the theme “red passion”. What was the motivation behind this choice?

Imane: This catwalk was very different from a classic one. It was not intended for the fashion press and buyers. It was more about entertainment within the festival. I chose a collection I could show in a spectacular way. The idea behind the red theme was to exhibit a collection which reflected its essence as the symbol of passion and as the symbol of life and anger too. Showing a monochromatic collection was also a way of challenging the cliché that African creations are always multicoloured and overloaded with ornamental accessories. The red allowed a certain spectacular sobriety.

FM: How would you define the "DNA" of your brand? What differentiates you from the other African designers?

Imane:There is a vast difference between African designers who are settled in the various African countries and who especially address their markets and a brand like mine, settled in Paris designing for a global market. The environment and the constraints are very different. I have to work every day, evolving to match changing trends and respect a calendar. Above all, I stick to the “fashion rules” which definitely define one as an international designer. I would not judge other designers; there are a lot of African designers that I really appreciate, even though there often exists a misunderstanding of contemporary international fashion on their part.

What I try to do is create contemporary collections inspired by my own story and culture. I tend to work in current trends, inspiration from other continents such as Asia and older western fashion. I like to create design far from clichés, go a little easy on the African aesthetics (bursting colour everywhere, ornamental overload, super sexy, raffia, gourds). For me every collection presents an opportunity to investigate a theme. That’s the reason I draw inspiration from the best productions of very old African cultures (presently exhibit in western galleries) and contemporary artists like Romuald Hazoumé, Ousmane Sow and Brahim El Anatsui, who are well known internationally. I believe I succeeded in achieving this synthesis in my Voodoo Mood collection.

FM: Talking about to the spring /summer collection (2010) Fashion Ghost, do you think that the fashion industry is currently in decline?

Imane: I do not really think that the industry of the fashion is in decline, H&M and Zara do very well, it is rather the creativity in fashion that does not seem to be making great strides at the moment. For several years there has been the impression that fashion is only recycling its recent past (the 80s, then the 50s, then the 70s etc. Vuitton is a good example but there are others); or at the very least that it does not really create new things. On the other hand fashion world is obviously disconnected from the stakes and the problems of our contemporary society such as the problem of the environment for example. Of course there are designers who invent, but I think that today they have some difficulties to express themselves and to be listened since the weight of the marketing and the finance which is so much more important than creativity or innovation compared to a period such as the 80s.

FM: What do you think of the new found interest of the young in African fashion and particularly the so-called “tribal” or “ethnic” style?

Imane: It is such a very good thing if Africa can become a continent which produces talented designers on a par with other continents. I just hope that in the future real African brands will begin to emerge as it infiltrates the politics so financiers want to invest in it. There is a lack of education, formation and also culture there. Designers need worldwide exposure, an understanding of the global fashion industry, to rediscover their own history and stay true to it, protecting and preserving that heritage. Heritage is something that suffers neglect in Africa but creation is a result of the will to innovate as well as the product of knowledge.

I hate the terms "tribal" or "ethnic".  Where there is talk about Africa, you find it is always done with a lot of restrictive and condescending clichés. Africa is no longer a continent with just lots of small primitive tribes who live to war with each other.

FM: Who do you think are the top 5 designers to look out for?

Imane: There are a few good ones out there but my at the moment, I like;

- Lanvin by Alber Elbaz because it is classical sewing with a modern and rock ‘n’ roll twist

- Vivienne Westwood because she remains the punk grandmother of the fashion and one of the rare designers who dares to break the rules of fashion industry. In the same category there is also Rei Kawakubo of “Comme des Garçons”, for whom fashion remains a domain of research and innovation with an aesthetic which rocks.

-Haider Ackerman for his own style which is intellectual, minimalist and ultra sexy.

- Rick Owens because he is one of a rare breed who know how to create a real aesthetic universe, keeping his fashion ultra modern while leaning on a profound knowledge of the history of the fashion.

- Rodarte is part of the younger generation who has an intensive creative approach, very home-made with a lot of hand-work. Although she lives in the New York and does not really care about marketing, she is doing a great job.

Others in the same circle include Vionnet, Dior, Yves Saint Lawrent and of course Alaïa who keeps himself far from the industrial drift of fashion.

FM: What projects do you have for the future?

Imane: Fashion, fashion, fashion, fashion and surprises!

FM: If you had to give your own definition of 21st century fashion, what would it be?

Imane: Shambolic but coherent. Created by a crossing of the cultures but finding a means of expression for each one. In tune with a world which is in constantly changing and of course eco-aware and respectful toward people.

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