The urban dandy is no longer a domain simply for the bon ton. Modern day tribes like the metrosexual and hipster, helped along the way by the likes of films such as Tom Ford’s, A Single Man, and the rise in men’s day spa’s and grooming products allude to one fabulous truth – it has once again become socially acceptable en masse for men in the north to spend time grooming.
If you asked the nomadic Woodabe of Niger and the Sahel, they’d say that preening never went out of style. Werner Herzog’s 1989 film, Herdsmen of the Sun beautifully documents the sporadic Gerewol festival where they spend several days getting donned up. That is, only the men dress-up for the occasion whilst the women come as is.
Where Don Draper, and his band of fellow Mad Men echo a nostalgic sensibility of one ilk, the increasing notoriety of the Afro-dandy is shaping a new wave of inspiration. Images of celebrated 20th century studio era photographers, particularly those hailing from Bamako like Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé and Adama Kouyaté are taking leaps and bounds towards becoming household names. This is certainly the case amongst art and culture aficionados given the top tier exhibitions, fairs and museums such as New York’s Guggenheim, and Paris Photo that have prominently showcased their work. Moreover, the pristine quality of these images has no doubt led to their natural spill over into the re-blogging domain of social media. And with this diffusion, this wonder for yester-year, echoes a similar vernacular in the world of fashion where designers are eloquently informed by not only the zeitgeist but their own personal familial histories, heritage and treasure troves, the family album.
ART COMES FIRST
Shaka Maidoh & Sam Lambert the London-based creative duo behind Art Comes First (ACF) may look like kin, but theirs is a kinship of sartor, alchemy and progression – words they swear by.
So why art? Adamantly, they are interested in beautifying things. Lambert wore his first bespoke suit, at the age of 5. His father a tailor, insisted on him dressing well much to his displeasure. Yet those early days in Angola have left an indelible mark on Lambert; mixing vintage with new, on most given days you’ll find him wearing a suit.
Lambert and Maidoh riff off each other’s histories. Their ACF tumblr, a mood board of sorts, gives hints as to their current inspiration. In one image, the caption (hand me down style) alludes to a recent photo of Lambert paired with a portrait of Shaka’s father ca. Ghana 1960s. Maidoh & Lambert, are the de facto modern incarnations of the Afro Dandy; momentum is on their side.
The Coal project – ‘Pack Essential’, their latest fashion foray is a tightly edited collaboration and capsule collection created by 7 innovators. Envisioned as the ultimate travel kit, it includes beautifully crafted essentials: socks and shoes, hats with Super Duper Hats, shirt and tie with Eton Shirts, Stitchbook with Kalaf Angelo, glasses with Lotho eyewear and bag with T-Michael.
Dress Easy’, the subtle truism of London-based designer Adrien Victor Sauvage. It’s about pairing simplicity with versatility, and style without fuss. The astute designer launched A.Sauvage in 2010, and so far has clothed numerous trendsetters and personalities like Yasiin Bey (Mos Def), Jude Law, Spike Jonze and more.
His silhouettes always crisp, Sauvage’s attention to detail and craftsmanship pervades his well edited collections. Where the colour palettes show restraint, Sauvage is assertive and bold in his choice of patterns – whimsical and edgy, like a digitally printed dogstooth jacket, shirt and pant ensemble in the AW12 collection to this season’s latest triumph, the Asafo motif where the designer pays an eloquent nod to his Ghanian heritage and Fante ancestry. From the ‘Black Volta’ campaign shot in Ghana, to his collaboration with Doc Martins featuring a Kente fabric colourway, in each instance Sauvage finds that delicate balance to aptly suffuse his label with a refined and appointed element of heritage.
It’s not unheard of for a ‘non-fashion’ designer to try their hand at designing clothes. That said, they are not always successful.
Keith Henning however is one such exception. The trained industrial/product designer decided to launch his label Adriaan Kuiters in 2010. What’s he’s trick? To treat cloth like another form of product design. That he’s already opened his own flagship boutique in Cape Town, is a telling tale of being at the right place at the right time.
Henning’s inspiration – his globetrotting grandfather for whom the label is named after. That and the 1950′s. This golden age of travel informs Henning’s aesthetic choices. With muted palettes and clean lines Adriaan Kuiters reads as a modern menswear line anchored on classical silhouettes, and stands out as one of the must-see shows during South Africa’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week.