Designing to an Afro Beat

[ Introduction to Africa ] [ African Art ] [ African Rituals ] [ African Women ] [ Afro Beat ]

Western fascination with African art, design, music, culture has been around for
more than a century; in art, one remembers Kandinsky and Picasso who, allegedly
"discovered" Africa. This page looks at African influence on fashion.

Yves Saint Laurent, a Moroccan by birth, focused his 1967 collection on dresses constructed from "raffia, shells and wooden beads" (La Ferla E1). He worked to "...embrace tribalism in haute couture. His linear patterns and fantastic neck pieces produced a culture shock in 1967..." (Menkes) This beaded and embroidered mini dress is from his 1967 Africa collection.

image source < >
For more images from the YSL 1967 African Collection, visit < >
I cannot reproduce them here due to copyright issues

With the popularity of the 2009 blockbuster, Avatar, commentators remark, "Africa's visual influence is touching film, music and fashion" (La Ferla E1) La Ferla underscores what you may think of as African stereotypes: "...Pandorans wear latticed animal skins and brightly colored beads, and score their faces with chalky tribal markings."

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Read the whole la Fera article to learn more about the "Afrocentric wind" that is blowing across popular culture
Avatar movie trailer < >
For David Brooks "White Messiah" Op-Ed piece
visit < >

The award-winning design team of Vena Cava created this Afro-themed dress for a recent New York fashion show, illustrating the renewed interest in Africa and other exotic locations in American popular culture. Lisa Mayock and Sophie Buhai friends as teenagers in southern California, trained at Parsons School of Deisgn, and formed Vena Cava in 2003. FYI, Celebs who favor the Vena Cava artsy + vintage + exotic look are Blake Lively and Maggie Gyllenhaal, among others. For more on Vena Cava, visit their online catalog
Diane von Fursternburg, Oscar de la Renta and others participated in this fashion show. "Fashion Week," in February (2010) will feature the works of Nigerian designers, Deola Sagoe and Duro Olowu.

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Look at the rest of the slide show to see African influences on fashion and popular culture
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click on "trendspotting" (a live link)

The "Afro Beat" has made its impact felt for more than a century in music.
The "Negro Spirituals" of the 19th centuy made their way into
mainstream popular culture, as seen in the perennial favorites, "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,"
"Let My People Go," and "Follow the Drinking Gourd."

Johnny Cash sang this version of "Swing Low" < >
Paul Robeson, famous African-American base-baritone, sang "Let My People Go"
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Jazz and the Harlem Sound from the 20th century also revolutionized music in America and Europe. More recently (2009,) the hit Broadway musical, Fela, is about the life and times of influential Nigerian singer Fela Kuti. For more on Fela, visit



La Ferla, Ruth. "Designing to an Afro Beat." The New York Times. December 31, 2009.
Online available. < >

Menkes, Suzy. "Glamour, Mon Amour." T Style Magazine. Online Available.
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"Vena Cava--Latest Shows." New York Fashion. Online Available.
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