It’s no secret that western fashion often borrows very heavily from African culture in the ongoing quest to spot the latest fashionable trend. This influence is mostly harmless and can be amusing for many of us until fashion houses and retailers fail to acknowledge where they got their inspiration from.

It’s even more provoking when the items are sold for extortionate prices, with no benefit to African communities. Lynette Nabbosa reminds us about 10 times the motherland influenced high fashion.

This year’s Victoria’s Secret fashion show in Shanghai, referenced very heavily to African culture as an ongoing source of inspiration for high fashion. The Motherland has long been a hub of influence for fashionable trends in the Western world, from the ear-stretching fad which was adopted from the Maasai tribe of Kenya, to festival face paint, which is reminiscent of many tribal practices…

…For the curious fashionistas out there, we have highlighted ten times that African culture has appeared in high fashion and the high street.…


  1. Habesha Kaba x Alexander McQueen

Alexander McQueen was berated on social media after the fashion house exhibited a new jacket priced at £4,895, looking like a replica of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Kaba. This traditional cape is worn at ceremonies by the Habesha community, who are resident of the horn of Africa. Needless to say, there was much fury over McQueen’s failure to acknowledge its source.


  1. African Safari x Louis Vuitton
Image Credit: The Fashionisto

Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2017 campaign proudly paid homage to “a return to roots, to heritage, to formative influences, to the blueprint” through a combination of safari and tribal prints and textiles.


  1. African refugees x Valentino
Image Credit: Uzuri

Valentino’s 2016 Spring campaign aimed to honour the thousands of refugees who have risked (or lost) their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea in hopes of a better life in Italy. In an effort to develop tolerance towards the refugees, the fashion house aimed to push the message that “every person coming here is an individual, and we can show that we can improve ourselves by understanding other cultures.” Unfortunately, this message was lost to resentment over the use of European models with cornrows, which was perceived as cultural appropriation. In response, real Maasai people from Kenya made appearances in the photographed campaign.


  1. Nigerian coordinated partywear (aka Aso-Ebi) x Dolce and Gabbana

Aso-Ebi is the traditional dress of choice for most Nigerian celebrants. It’s common to attend a celebration and find groups co-ordinating their Aso-Ebi and Gele (head tie) according to colour schemes and fabrics, including lace. The 2016 Golden Globe Awards saw Scandal actress Kerry Washington don a Dolce and Gabbana dress which seemed to take inspiration from this culture.


  1. Ghana-must-go bags x Celine
Image Credit: Anne Chia

For those who aren’t familiar with the history of Ghana-must-go bags, here’s a quick rundown. The year is 1983 and Nigerian president, Alhaji Shehu Shagari suddenly orders all aliens to leave Nigeria. The majority are Ghanaian. They are given a few weeks to exit to Ghana, so they pack what they can into the large checkered bags and make their way to the Seme border which leads to Ghana. Celine’s 2013 Autumn collection found a few ways of paying homage to the all-purpose bag…


  1. Ghana-must-go bag x Louis Vuitton

…While Louis Vuitton simply added their stamp to the original design and priced it at $300!

Image Credit: Nubia


  1. Kenyan Maasai Shuka x Louis Vuitton
Image Credit: Pinterest

The Shuka is a blanket of red and blue hues, worn in various styles by the Maasai tribe. Louis Vuitton tapped the Shuka for their Spring/Summer 2012 men’s collection, to the distaste of many who thought that the originators of the Shuka should have benefitted in some way.

Image Credit: Pinterest


  1. Women carrying items on head x Junya Watanabe

Anyone who has experienced the customs of an African village should be familiar with the vision of women and girls elegantly walking with a basket full of anything from food to eateries atop their heads.  Needless to say, Japanese designer Junya Watanabe’s attempt to replicate this culture did not go down too well.


  1. Waist beads x ASOS
Image Credit: My Africa

Many African groups use waist beads for different purposes. In Uganda, where waist beads are known as ‘Butiti’, they can be used by women to either arouse their men, or to control the size of their waist. The beads are easily accessible because of the low cost of production and purchase, which is why ASOS caused such outrage in some quarters when they charged £65 for a single strand!


  1. Kenyan Maasai beaded jewellery x Mood Debenhams necklace

We’ve picked on this beautiful Debenhams necklace but make no mistake, Maasai beaded jewellery has a strong presence in both the high streets and high fashion. Maasai jewellery is identified by its beautiful assortment of colourful beads which hold different meanings, often related to cattle, which are the main food source of the tribe.


Can you think of any more examples of Africa in fashion? We’d love to hear about them in the comments below.
This article was written by Lynette Nabbosa

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