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  • March 9, 2016

Africa Takes Its Turn on the Catwalk

Author
Becky Harlan

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria, and Ghana, “Men know how to dress,” says photographer Per-Anders Pettersson. He’s breaking down the African fashion scene, which he’s been photographing since 2009. “South Africa has more Western influence. West Africa has special fabric traditions such as Ankara. Some areas have beading, like in East Africa, inspired by the Maasai tribe.”

Models fit dresses for the Paris-based Cameroonian designer Martial Tapolo Couture before a show at Hotel des Almadies during Dakar Fashion Week in Dakar, Senegal.
Models fit dresses for the Paris-based Cameroonian designer Martial Tapolo Couture before a show at Hotel des Almadies during Dakar Fashion Week in Senegal.

Pettersson’s fashion obsession was born in Johannesburg. He had been working in South Africa for years, documenting the manifestation of a new democracy, when he heard that fashion shows were popular with the growing black middle class and elite. So he went. He attended after-parties. He photographed Fashion Week. He met trendy youth. He was all in.

Models wait backstage before a show with designer Liz Ogumbo at Joburg Fashion Week.
Models wait backstage before a show with designer Liz Ogumbo at Joburg Fashion Week in South Africa.

“I had done so many difficult stories over the years, and I was longing for some positive and uplifting projects,” he says. “I liked it so much I continued.” He’s now worked in 15 countries, from Botswana to Nigeria to Rwanda.

A photo shoot with a model for the label Barros during Dakar Fashion Week in Dakar, Senegal.
A model poses for a photo shoot for the label Barros during Dakar Fashion Week in Senegal.

At first, getting backstage was a hassle—they don’t let many people in. But since he’s shown up so many times, fashion show organizers now ask him if he’ll be coming to their shows, which are often experimental. “Many shows are held in interesting locations—on a bridge, on the tarmac of an airport, in museums,” says Anders.

Eventually, he was befriended by so many industry folk that even his attempt to act like a “fly on the wall” fell through. “I know many designers and models,” he says. “Too many!”

A model fits a dress by Ugandan Designer Santa Anzo, (Arapapa by Santa Anzo label) a few days before the gala night at Kigali Fashion Week held at Kigali City Towers in Kigali, Rwanda.
A model fits a dress by Ugandan designer Santa Anzo a few days before the gala night at Kigali Fashion Week in Kigali, Rwanda.

Most of those designers don’t yet have the acclaim of international labels, but they’re working to break through. So are the models. “Many African models are also discovered at these events,” he says. “Many of them dream of becoming the next Naomi Campbell or Alex Wek, who was born in Sudan.”

(Check out two of his favorite designers: Taibo Bacar from Mozambique and Laduma from South Africa.)

Models wait backstage before a show at Theatre Sorano during Dakar Fashion Week in Dakar, Senegal. Seventeen Senegalese, African, and foreign-based designers showed their collections during the 12th edition of Dakar Fashion week.
Models wait backstage before a show at Théâtre National Daniel Sorano during Dakar Fashion Week in Dakar, Senegal. Seventeen Senegalese, African, and foreign-based designers showed their collections during the 12th edition of Dakar Fashion week.

He gained incredible access by engraining himself in the culture, but don’t mistake him for a fashion photographer. He doesn’t want to be one. His behind-the-scenes documentary photos lift the veil, revealing a more candid but still artfully composed perspective on a fashion industry that’s “growing rapidly.”

Fashion designer Blacktrash on a location shoot with his models in Gaborone, Botswana.
Fashion designer Blacktrash on a location shoot with his models in Gaborone, Botswana.

Economics plays a big role in this fashion boom. “Some of the fastest growing economies in the world are now in Africa,” says Pettersson. There is “[a] massive, growing middle-class that is starting to have money to spend on luxury items.” And as the world becomes increasingly connected through smartphones and the Internet, these burgeoning designers and models are more able to participate in the business. They are so ready.

South Africa's finest designers show their spring and summer collections at the Mercedes Benz Cape Town Fashion Week.
South Africa’s finest designers show their spring and summer collections during Mercedes Benz Cape Town Fashion Week.

Pettersson says the one thing that surprised him most as he worked on this story was how big fashion and style already are in Africa. “How big the interest is. How many people are dreaming of working in the industry—designers, models, makeup, hair, producers, photographers, bloggers, choreographers.

“Africa is such a vast continent with 54 countries. They have so many stories to tell here.”

Favour Lucky, a 15-year-old Nigerian model, gets dressed backstage during Mercedes Benz Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg, South Africa. Lucky won Nigeria’s next supermodel contest when she was 14 years old.
Favour Lucky, a 15-year-old Nigerian model, gets dressed backstage during Mercedes Benz Africa Fashion Week in Johannesburg, South Africa. Lucky won Nigeria’s next supermodel contest when she was 14 years old.

Per-Anders Pettersson’s book, African Catwalk, will be available on May 10, 2016. See more of his work on his website.

There are 15 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. henrik
    July 23, 2016

    Breathtaking pics … I was more than astounded to see models and people we in Europe do not know that this is Africa too!

  2. jimeier f.
    March 15, 2016

    this is a marvelous matter, and it shows that the life style is marching forward than when i traveled in Africa a decade ago.

  3. Jenn
    March 14, 2016

    I disagree with those who think the last model is too skinny. A lot of us are born that way. I model as a hobby, and was born thin with a fast metabolism. I choose to eat a healthy diet and exercise, so for someone to say we are “starving” is insulting. Yes, there are some models who take this to the extreme and are not healthy – they sacrifice their health to be thin – which is not beautiful in my opinion.

    However, we must acknowledge that all humans are different – we are all different shapes and sizes. So for us to think that extra weight or “filled out” is beautiful isn’t correct, nor is it incorrect. This is merely opinion – beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

  4. Daisy
    March 14, 2016

    I love the vibrant color that’s used in African fabrics and design. They have been especially captured here. I also love the fact that African fashion is finally taking an international stage.

  5. Tracy Scanlon
    March 13, 2016

    Just so long as the models are not being abused or mistreated, those countries don’t have a good track record for women, some were fairly young.

  6. Marty quinn
    March 13, 2016

    I love the Dakar image but many of the other images are too dark to see the faces. I believe they should be photographed with a lighter background and with some front lighting

  7. Sam Mohammed Kromah
    March 13, 2016

    Point well taken, no disagreement.

  8. Peggy S
    March 13, 2016

    I love the colors and patterns! I also agree that I hope they will not cave to the ultra thin ideal. Show the range of beautiful shapes in fashionable clothing.

  9. David Myers
    March 13, 2016

    My heart goes out to poor Favour Lucky! The poor child is obviously starving – and even looks absolutely miserable. T his sort of abuse should be illegal!

  10. Sam Mohammed Kromah
    March 13, 2016

    When an individual wants to remain #1, be yourself. If you make any attempt to be like an other person, you lose your #1 spot. Great effort but we are AFRICAN.

  11. Robert Perry
    March 13, 2016

    The world needs this in these trying and uncertain times. Thanks

  12. Lorena
    March 9, 2016

    Excelent!

  13. Susan Hayek-Kent
    March 9, 2016

    I’m not a fashionista, but I love the clothes and their patterns and colors, the models are beautiful, the locations unique.
    it is nice to see countries grow, even in fashion.

    may they thrive.

  14. Pat
    March 9, 2016

    I am a little concerned for the health of the young model in the last photo, Favor Lucky. She looks too thin, her arms are almost stick-like. I understand that high fashion models are supposed to be slender, but there is a line between thin and skeletal.

  15. Joan Churton
    March 9, 2016

    Such a positive view or such a sometimes troubled continent. I enjoyed this very much. Thank you

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