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  • Hubert Marlin

PARIS TOP FASHION, IMANE AYISSI THE AFRICAN TOUCH


This month Flashmag guest star is Imane Ayissi;choreographer, model, Designer, and Author…

Flashmag: seing different hats you wear how do you define yourself, essentially who is Imane Ayissi?

Imane:It is difficult to define a person in a few words especially when it comes to itself. I am someone creative. I deploy today my creativity especially in fashion, and also in writing

.Flashmag: in 1990 you arrived in Europe in the company of Yannick Noah in his musical tour “Saga Africa” what memories do you keep from your experience as a dancer choreographer?

Imane: I keep very good memories of this period that allowed me to travel around Europe, and then when working with Patrick Dupont to Canada and Japan, it was a wonderful experience. For me dancing was something quite natural, but a discipline is necessary with the choreography, to learn and remember, sometimes play roles, dance sometimes affect the boundaries of theatre. Dance is also the common life inside the troupe, especially when touring the world, with the good side, relations with others and also the bad side, when you have to deal with conflicts, manage different life style and habits…etc.

Flashmag: in the 90’s you were seen as one of the first male black model to break taboos what do you think of this period and your experience?

Imane: There were male black models in fashion until Iarrived, as early as the 1970s' black male models were seen in advertising and on the stage. It may have been especially Americans and Caribbean rather than Africans. I was a little bit different, i was African less sophisticated than others, and not known in the network of fashion, so it didn’t work for me immediately. But little by little, i made my way and ultimately it became a very good experience. It made me enter the luxury houses, and fittings in cabins, for fashion shows, but also gave me the opportunity to work for more industrial brands such as Gap for which I did advertising campaigns. I also had the chance to not only fashion but to pose for photographers who were more artists, so more free projects. My experience as dancer I think, also helped me primarily for the fashion, because I had acquired a way to move, to control my body unlike all models, especially men. So I have kept a great memory of this period, even if everything wasn’t completely rosy… In sum I learned many things in the field of fashion and culture. Flashmag: it seems natural for models to end up designer how did you become a designer? Imane: In fact it is not so logical for models to become designers it’s not so common in reality. A few have tried with more or less success like Katoucha,Inès de Fressange or recently Alek Wek. But it is rarely successful. For me it was different because I have always been attracted by fashion in its creation aspect; during my childhood I started to cut and sew dresses alone and then went to work with a Cameroonian designer,” Blaz Design” before coming to Europe and therefore embrace the career of model. Being a model gave me a way to do my training in fashion, but becoming a designer was something more profound. At the beginning I made my collections alone with little means, and tissue that I bought at very good price, then little by little I learned from my mistakes, meeting with different peoples in the domain allowed me to gradually evolve, make collections more professionally and build a brand. Flashmag:Who are the designers who have most influenced your career? Imane: In the history of French fashion there are compelling names like Vionnet, Ms. Gres, Dior, Balenciaga, and Jean Patou, which of course influenced me. I had the chance to make the fittings with Yves Saint Laurent and it remains someone who is a reference for me, Azzedine Alaia is someone who I admire for its independence, its meaning of style, the sexy subtle, his mastering of cutting and technics. Even if it is not really an influence from a style point of view, for me Chris Seydou is someone who has marked me because it is the first African creator (with Gisèle Gomez) to make a name in France and open a shop in Paris, so for me it was an example to follow. Flashmag: After renowned black designers as the late Americans, Willy Smith and Patrick Kelly; many believe that with Alphadi you remain a safe value an example for other blacks to follow. If it's true, many believe that blacks in the fashion industry are still marginalized is that true? Imane: It is true that with regard to the international fashion with the factor "creator-luxury" there are fairly few "blacks". But We must obviously distinguish American creators, for which the fashion industry, structures exist to African designers. I don't know why there are few African-American designers among young American designers, while there is plenty of Americans of Asian origin (such as Alexander Wang for example, Thakoon and others…) For Africans it is very different ( Durow Olowu in London and Xuly Bët at Paris), we have very few African designers because there is no fashion industry in Africa to speak properly, the industrial market is too small, more over training schools are mostly less equipped. There are a multitude of designers in Africa but they are in general case self-made men, they don’t have a good understanding of the hi tech, the market, or the operation of fashion at the international level (the concept of brands, calendars, shows, media, public relations and so for…), even if they operate well at the local level, when they seek to export or went they try to settle in Europe it does not work.There is a need to implement fashion infrastructures in African countries and an enormous effort of education has to be done. Some countries such as Nigeria or South Africa are more ahead (the fashion week in Johannesburg starts to be interesting) for Francophone Africa fashion festivals like the Fima of Alphadi and Siravision in Senegal or even Bimod in Benin are attempting to give a visibility to these designers, but it is a different operation, these shows are rather viewed as simple entertainment business than a platform of the real industry. There is still much work to do

.Flashmag:In 2004 you were the artistic director, of “BAL d’été de la principauté de Monaco” under the patronage of Prince Albert of Monaco; what can you say about it, a recognition of your talent at the highest level?

Imane: I spend 3 years at the artistic direction of the summer ball of Monaco, of course it was for me a proof of esteem you cannot direct this kind of event if you are not trusted, it is therefore a recognition of my skills. It is a little bit different of what I do every day because, precisely this mixing of dance, fashion, art deco was unique it was therefore very interesting to organize.

Flashmag: your definition of beauty and where to find it?

Imane: True beauty is the acceptance of oneself, be in harmony with his personality, his body and with others. It is therefore more a question of attitude than of perfect plastic forms. The beauty is multiple. You can find it everywhere, in New York or Paris palaces as in the suburbs, remote villages of Senegal or Cameroon. The Anti-beauté is the show-off, too many artifices , the outrageous sophistication the excess of bling…

Flashmag: do you believe that the world of fashion is one of the more tolerant when it comes to race, gender or sexual orientation?

Imane: Yes it is a rather open and tolerant domain on these issues, like all creative or culture-related sectors. Curiosity and the search for new make it tolerant. But this is not always the case and fashion is a very diverse sector; the atmosphere in the old houses of luxury is not all the same with the one in the designers or in the apparel industry. Fashion is a very tolerant and at the same time intolerant environment because of snobbism.

Flashmag: a lot of black female models that I have meet often complain

that their curved shapes are a drag on their career, true when one looks at a fashion show the majority of models are threadlike, thin and often white apart from a few rare exceptions, what do you think about?

Imane: The "round" in fashion is a problem for everyone, for black, white, or Asian models, it is the same requirement for all models. The physical ideal in fashion luxury today is thin. Karl Lagerfeld said lapidary that “ to be big is vulgar, being thin is chic.” in fact it is something very deep which defines the relationship to the body in Western modern societies since the 1920s. Elsewhere the black models which are renowned internationally today like (Adjuma, Kinée Diouf, Alek Wek, Georgia Badiel, Chanel Iman ,or Ataui Deng in the young generation) are in general among the thinner and sought for it.The problem of the few amount of black models on catwalks and advertisements of luxury brands is liable to the markets, which remain essentially Western. The day when Africa and the Caribbean, will become a massive market, for luxury fashion goods, there will be probably more black models.

Flashmag: how do you define your style? What inspires you the most?

Imane: For me it is difficult to define my style, it is easier for the observers, journalists, clients to define it. What I can tell, is that when I create a collection, no matter the theme, what is important is the work on the silhouette, the relationship between the body and clothing, the movement, the comfort which will allow to move elegantly, the choice of materials which must accompany the movements of body… Then everything can inspire me. if I return regularly to the different cultures of sub-Saharan Africa; I try to give them more value by my creations. What the ancient civilization of Africa has produced as more beautiful inspires me: stylization of masks, the geometric forms that become live, the work of the volumes, how simple lines can arise the image of a face of a body, of an animal. African contemporary creators like Ousmane Sow, Romuald Hazoumé, Brahim El Anatsui… also inspire me. But an idea of collection can also born from a picture, from a souvenir of a trip to Japan, from a reading …it’s very diverse

Flashmag: it’s been more than 15 years that you are in the summits of the fashion world; you never had a sense of saturation, an attempt to sleep on your laurels? Why?

Imane: We learn every day, things are difficult, and I am far from feeling "arrived". Each new collection is a struggle, so the idea of rest is very far from me. Sometimes I can get a little bit tired of the fashion world, with the difficulties and complications encountered, but it never lasts very long, it is for me a real passion and a means of expression that I love.

Flashmag: what do you think of the case John Galliano a designer you have meet in Fashion circles in Paris how can you can explain his behavior?

Imane: I've never been close to John Galliano, so I can't say more than what has already been said on his behavior. I imagine that he was a relatively fragile personality, perhaps not strong enough to support both the pressure and the facilities offered by working for a House like Dior. Of course I am saddened for him and Dior

Flashmag: we know that many celebrities constantly wear your creations for major ceremonies have you ever had difficulties in meeting their requirements? Since their personalities are very often disparate? Imane: I am, myself very demanding, strong personality against strong personality, in general its work very well, knowing that with regard to the style, the development of the silhouette, I feel competent. Sometimes these celebrities arrive with an idea and go with another satisfied. I've never had a problem and I still keep a good souvenir of these collaborations. I have perhaps never meet stars capricious or headstrong, probably because of the mutual respect we have, but anyway I am not ready to sacrifice everything for a celebrity to wear one of my créations… Flashmag: as an author you have committed 2 books already; can you tell us more? what represent these works for you a new way to express your talents of artist? Or a way to use your posture, to make Africa contribute in the universal civilization? Imane: I have wrote two books of tales, imaginary Tales:“Millang Mi Ngorè’’Stories of the night" and "The silence of the mask". It is for me another way to express ideas, of desires, what I feel about the world. It is also a way to make people discover my native culture, because these stories are written with French phrases and words in “ewondo” my native language. One of these tales (Arrokai, the girl and the bird) was studied in schools in the region of Paris for the story it tells, is universal in scope of this piece of African culture it contents

Flashmag: let’s get back to Fashion; while we enter the 2nd Decade of the 21e century what do you think of the new trends of haute couture? For some it has reached the saturation point do you still have a good margin of progression in the creation?

Imane: There are more creative or revolutionary times than others. Perhaps the last years have been less exciting than the revolution of the 1980s for example. But in general these relatively calm periods in terms of creating are precursor of new golden age . In any case for me, I still have lots of new ideas to develop. Flashmag: your point of view on blacks in the fashion industry and in genera

Imane: I do not deny the term "black" but it is not broad enough to describe the reality and helps rather to be catalogued and put into boxes. There are so many differences in the daily lives of the President of the United States, a California employee, a Caribbean trader, a Dinka berger in Sudan and an inhabitant of Johannesburg? Apart the fact to have a close enough skin color there is no doubt that they are not so close. Despite being "black" my way of life resembles more the one of a white Parisian than something else, not to mention the fact that I am in my own journey; its necessary to analyse every situation in their own context... Flashmag: we like to say that a life without cause is a life without effects is Imane Ayissi, an engaged artist? What is your general opinion of life? Imane: Like everyone else I have my point of views my opinions. My engagement and work for some humanitarian’s associations is private, I try not to make it interfere with my profession. Also if you read my stories, you can read between the lines what are my major concerns, the vision I have of the world, or of what I think should be done to improve our lives in society.Flashmag: at the time we are closing this interview is there another issue another subject that you would have liked to discuss with us? Imane: Not really

Flashmag: a word on your future projects? a word for the readers of Flashmag? Imane: I continue my road. Good reading for the readership of Flashmag. Flashmag: Imane Ayissi we thank you for your patience and pertinence . Collection "Mimbak" Imane Ayissi Spring-summer 2012 Watch video Paris July11'

Interview by Hubert Marlin Elingui Jr.


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