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  • Hubert Marlin

Blacks’ dress code, manipulation and prejudice.


A few years ago covering a fashion show in the U.S. for a French magazine storefront, I had a fairly informative discussion with an African-American designer, speaking of black fashion style. For him, fashion and clothing process was an exclusivity of the West, arguing stoutly that when the Europeans arrived in the continent, Africans were all or almost naked, like savage living in lethargy as individuals barely civilized. Not surprised at his reasoning but nevertheless outraged by the lightness of his words, I felt compelled to bring it back to the genesis of clothing among the peoples of Africa, saying that:” to assert that Africans had no conscience to hide their nakedness is to deny them the quality of human being therefore, this is simply plain racism.” In addition I explained to him with a vehement manner to support my thesis that, Africans seemed less clothed because of the heat which prevails in the tropics. I see very little reason why Africans who are regarded as the first modern humans, in the history of mankind, and who had already mastered fire, iron works, weaver of clothes before Europeans, will bother themselves with hot garment covering their whole body as Europeans, who because of the rigors of their climate and environment felt compelled to find appropriate solutions. If this is true for the feasibility I was not slow to return to the story to explain that, well before long time ago the African tribes were better dressed and still better organized but the State of siege that they began to suffer from the 14th century was going to plunge the continent into a period of recession unparalleled, with looting of human and material resources , also the wax who became a Dutch fabric, a loincloth very in vogue in Africa before this state of siege was just resold to Africans a few centuries later, the memory of African people lost in the struggle didn’t help them to suspect that it was their own culture that was being sold back to them at golden price. That said it was very important for me to make him understand and despite his title of great fashion designer, that fashion or the dress code had always existed in Africa and its wealth is a variation related to regions, ethnicities, and customs. As usual every day clothes were often different from those shown off during ceremonies, and the different businesses. They always had a distinct style of clothing. The hunter will garner his torso of some paints and skins of animals, foliage, for garment or purposes of camouflage, while a simple loincloth tied around his waist and a shirtless, torso would be sufficient for the sailor who should not be encumbered in its movements when working. The ceremonial clothes have always been much more festive and in many cases it’s an art of immense beauty. In regions of high plateaus in Cameroon or in regions like the Sahel in Mali, during the long festive ceremonies men women and children are always dressed in finery garments rich in color. These traditions did not begin after the western colonist came; instead they have existed since the dawn of time. Queen Nzinga when she visited Portugal in the 16th century was not naked that I know and her kingdom already existed many centuries before the Portuguese invasion.

More perceptive my black American designer friend asked me the question: “What Was Their

Most Common fabrics, on what hardware support were their clothes designed?” Very pleased that I had finally managed to strike his mind, I cheerfully replied: “well note that African tribes have always lived in harmony with their natural environment. In equatorial Africa, for example the people of the forests, have always dressed with materials from their ecosystem, as trees barks, leaves, animals skins, birds feathers, this way of dressing has always been quite perfect. The example of the tree named Obom who once worked gives a fabric that was used previously to make clothing and which today is re-emphasized by Africans designers such as Imane Ayissi or the late Chris Seydou , (which he confirmed, he had the chance to meet in New York) worked a lot of local materials such as Bogolan or mud cloth.

Non content to stick with that I threw a bombshell by revealing that fashion, fashion shows, and fashion seasons, were invented by an African named Ziryab’ ‘the black bird''. In the 8th century when Spain was under Moorish influence. Socialite of the court of Zaragoza, in Andalusia in southern Spain he established fashion seasons as we know them today, and it’s also there, that the great kingdoms in the making like France and England sent emissaries to educate themselves to this lifestyle and transpose it to their respective country. And more the recent scientific studies have proven by the analysis of lice and fossilized clothes found in a cave in South Africa that the first fabrics ever designed by humans came from Africa. Flabbergasted and proud as well of the fact that, more than 1200 years ago one of his far ancestors had laid the foundations of the profession which he lived today from... I took leave of him not without drawing relevant conclusion which today more than ever concerns us all.

The black dress code let’s name it this way, is very anchored to the dictates of the West,

Probably the fault to the gigantism of the production machine and the overall or global ambition of Western designers who have arrogated to themselves the right to dress MASES including African and African descendants, making them objects that they can shape at will. The term modeling takes therefore a deeper meaning. Certain personalities in the arts and entertainment have become real puppets, gallops trials, real experimental fields, channels that can drastically change the image of a group of individuals who look them as reference, and imitate them without much thought. Thus the Baggy pants low waist, just below the buttocks, a wave that once was born in American prisons, where homosexuality reigns, has become a style courted by young Blacks from around the world. Having his pants down in this manner in American prisons meant that one was ready for a sexual encounter. Thus, a generation of individuals because of a dress behavior could easily be seen as gay. The term '' gay ass nigger'' (some with the great distaste of blacks, use it like, gay as a nigger) in vogue in American ghettos from New York to Los Angeles via Chicago is well justified in a metaphorical way, even if in reality those who dress in this way are not always homosexuals, and seriously no one has ever seen Elton John strutting, showing off his buttock, it’s not because you’re gay that you have to dress bad. Alas, dress can influence the behavior of the individuals giving them an attitude that can be decisive in their choice of life, because to stay in harmony with the ideas advocated by a dress code, they make consistent choices. Also it easy to observe in the long run an implosion of the Black American society with distortions and the tensions that this behavior can create on the balance of the family, the community and society with young people who to be faithful to the gangsta attitude would rather stay single flirting shamelessly with homosexuality. In the other hand if some black moguls of the world of showbiz claim to be owner of certain brands, all these marks are designed by non-African or Afro descendants for example, Phat Farm of Russell Simmons is designed by Kevin Leon an Asian American, Roca wear, which has long belonged to Jay-z, has a Caucasian designer named Doug Evans,'' just like Sean John, of Puff Daddy works in close collaboration with Zac Posen a white Caucasian American. One would think that after the regretted great African-American designers Willi Smith and Patrick Kelly's, Black Americans are disinterested or suspicious of the creation of fashion, since this business for some remains closely linked to sexual orientation, the two prominent African- American designers who were openly gays, have died from AIDS at the prime of life.

Meanwhile, the future and image of African and Afro descendant in terms of pageantry garments and image is essentially shaped by foreign hands. This is not less

Dangerous as there is mismatch between the needs and styles. If many black when they dress want to feel important at the end, the choice of clothes they are given doesn’t always help this purpose often, as they end up looking like clowns garlanded. A type of buffoonery expressly desired, and quite elusive from those who define their dress code. Thus some famous figures of the black diaspora of the world often contribute, unwittingly in general to the debasement of the rest of their community. And the lowly vulgarity of dressing, displayed by some member of the fairer sex has been quick to assimilate the black woman has a promiscuous woman who does not hesitate to show off her body like a cheap commodity.

The correct, careful and balanced dress style of the 60s for Africans, drew on their cultural heritage was the metaphor of their desire for independence vis-à-vis of the West. This freedom of conscience will cause the boom of the textile industry in sub-Saharan Africa with success stories like the saga of the “Nana Benz” which remains a vivid example of ingenuity, business acumen and social success. While in the West, the Caribbean and Latin America the Black diaspora will simply copy and adopt Western dress code due to the roughness of the climate in some instances (Europe, North America) but above all to affirm their membership in the human race thus demonstrating their desire for equality and social justice. Even though for many, it was just simple assimilation. In a hostile environment, numerous African descents have always thought that the best solution in front of denial, was to get lost in this society by assimilating.

The 90 and 2000 will see a conglomerate domination of Western dress code to the rest of the planet with big fashion houses, dictating every year what is chic, what is nice, or what is'' in'' and what is'' out''. But it is in this context that benefiting of new tools from the fashion industry, some designers coming from the Black Continent will print their mark on the fashion world. If their congeners of the West as Steve Burrow are simply assimilated to Western culture and eagerly lose visibility, since they are overwhelmed by other designers, African designers in facts will bring something very special in the very conservative universe of fashion. Names like Imane Ayissi, Alphadi, Xuly Bet, Bumni Koko, Duro Olowu and others have become true benchmarks for haute couture, combining African cultures to the great standards of the garment industry. Today more than ever, Blacks have the means to be dressed by their own, but very little is done for Africans or Afro-descendants designers to meet the expectations of their market, which unfortunately remains in the hands of other Western brands.

An effort should be made by many to understand that those of them, who are fashion designers, are just as talented and serious about their craft like westerners. In the U.S., for example Blacks spend more than $ 27 billion annually just in clothing articles. This is a market that Afro-descendants and Africans should try to conquer or at least grab a proportional share, whilst Africa with more than 800 million souls is a very buoyant market. This is a battle that has begun long ago, but many Africans and Afro descendants, however, have not yet realized it. Black people global diaspora is about one billion and 200 million peoples from Africa to Europe via North America, the Caribbean and Asia Pacific. Also it’s the right time for these latter to define their dress code. They must freely choose how to dress, impose their tastes, and create their own networks, for there's nothing more absurd than consuming brands from fashion houses, which provide no employment for black models, but boast of wanting to dress the black population. The most representative personalities now have a moral duty towards their community, to wear clothes designed by the designers of their race that will make them again the princes and princesses by a chic and noble style. Not buffoons like some are trying to portray them. This is why some famed like Kanye West who are trying to create, should not pour into megalomania, but try rather to reconnect to the cultural richness of their ancestral heritage only if they can claim it proudly because capitalist snobbery has helped many to reject their African origins for Americanism that is antagonistic to Africanism. Despite all the maxim for us by us (for us by us) by FUBU and its founder Daymond John since 1992, remains more topical than ever. However there is an imperious need to impose by means of this era a vision more healthy and attractive of the black dress codes.

( picture Duro Olowu designer)

Editorial by Hubert Marlin Jr.

Journalist Writer


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