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Imane Ayissi brings African traditions to haute couture

Named Akalann, the designer’s latest Autumn/Winter 2024/25 collection celebrates the spirit of cultural exchange

By Innocent Ndlovu

Imane Ayissi’s latest collection recently presented at Haute Couture Week in Paris feels like a homecoming for the designer. And when you think about it, Ayissi does have a lot to celebrate. This year marks two decades since he officially launched his eponymous fashion brand in Paris in 2004. Ayissi is also among a handful of African designers who have been officially invited to showcase at Haute Couture Week and has spent the last couple of seasons since 2020 presenting his collections as part of the fashion industry’s most elite fashion week schedule, alongside some of the biggest names in luxury.

Ayissi, a former dancer born in Cameroon, is renowned for combining African fabrics with elements of Parisian high fashion. He has dedicated his career to spotlighting African craftsmanship’s brilliance and rich tapestry. The outspoken designer refuses to use wax print fabrics because of its history with colonialism and instead utilises homegrown textiles like obom (a material synonymous with Cameroon made from tree bark), Mali’s national fabric mudcloth, and handwoven kente cloth from Ghana. Under his vision, these unique materials often associated with traditional dress wear transform into contemporary and one-of-a-kind couture creations.

As a pioneering figure, Ayissi’s point of view is shaping the modern couture landscape and inspiring a new generation of designers worldwide. In an era shaped by a growing global appetite for untold fashion stories and history, his collections highlight the beauty and history of African artisanship and its diversity.

For the autumn/winter 2024/25 catwalk, he brings new meaning to traditional silhouettes and styles. Ayissi named this collection Akalann, which means relationships with others in Cameroon, a subject that one would say is the guiding principle and the foundation of his work. The collection builds on the designer’s vision to spotlight the dynamism and value of African textiles. The showcase began with a masquerade-inspired performance in which a masked dancer opened the floor for a series of stunning looks and perhaps the designer’s most refined collection yet.

This theme of togetherness and cultural exchange was explored throughout the show. The opening permeated a playful and youthful mood with a duo of sleeveless kente and mudcloth mini dresses. Ayissi’s collections may appear deceptively straightforward, but there is nothing simple about the intricate and laborious artisanship involved in crafting these materials and subsequent gowns. For example, handweaving kente is a process that can take months to complete and to create obom, artisans have to follow a delicate process that includes harvesting tree bark, steaming it, and then physically tapping the raw material with a wooden hammer to achieve a smooth consistency before finally stretching it under the sun to reach the desired colour and shape.

Ayissi also toyed with proportions, origami folds, and draping. Boubou-style garments came with abstract patterns and were dressed up with heels and gloves and in another instance, cleverly folded at the hem to create an asymmetrical V-shape resulting in an effortless detail. Elsewhere within the collection, Ayissi introduced floor-sweeping gowns with artistic painterly patterns, blooming florals, and decorative exaggerated bows.

With his African and Western references in check, the designer proceeded to look to Japan, reimagining one of its most popular styles, the kimono, into raffia ensembles and relaxed glossy staples. With this collection grounded in reality, Ayissi not only shines the spotlight on the continent but also continues to propel the important narrative of Africa-inspired fashion and its place in the world.

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