The world over is drawing inspiration from Africa. From clothes, to hair, to body art - the country is truly making its mark as Sylvia Smith finds out
(Photographer - Aubrey Fagon. Hair & MUA - Kemi Kings. Stylist - Vanessa Nyemi-Tei. Model - Cherelle Quartey-Cofie)
Likely to be seen everywhere this summer from high street to haute couture, raffia will be decorating every hot fashion accessory from bags to hats and shoes with its special natural beauty. But few know that this extraordinary material originally comes from the African island of Madagascar in the Indian Ocean. The island is a treasure trove of exotic plant life with many thousands of species as yet unidentified. Raffia itself comes from a palm tree, the sago palm, which boasts the longest leaves in the plant kingdom - some grow to over 30 metres in length. Local farmers harvest the leaves, which when dried become the straw-coloured fronds that are the basis of countless design ideas. In The Democratic Republic of Congo raffia is used in many of the most elaborate tribal costumes worn for ceremonies and so is literally and metaphorically woven into the culture.
Further north in the Moroccan seaside resort of Essaouira, women working in co-operatives craft brightly coloured raffia into flat, slip-on mules, known locally as "babouches". The town has a special artisan studio where the raffia is dyed on demand into a rainbow of hues. The town is now acknowledged for its skill in crafting raffia into must-have items that visiting Europeans snap up. The babouches top the list. But now creative Italian designers have taken this flexible and comfortable material and dreamed up the latest and most stylish way of wearing raffia. In bold and elegant raffia stilletos Alek Wek wowed the crowd at Rome's Alta Moda extravaganza with a pair of sizzling raffia shoes. For more information on these shoes contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Nyumba means house in Swahili and Michael Charalambous has created an African home in chic Mayfair. It all stems from his upbringing in Tanzania where he absorbed all aspects of the culture - right down to the way the women wore their hair. His delight in recreating a rich and vibran. African feel to his salon is evident from the moment you walk through the door. The salon boasts the wives, sisters and daughters of many African heads of state as clients. That is in addition to Girls Aloud and many black celebrities whose identity Michael is at pains to protect. The dcor is pan- African with zebra skin on walls and cushions. Every nook and cranny has unique African hand-carving and there is even a chandelier specially designed to incorporate ostrich eggs brought over from Kenya. One section reflects the mud-brick houses of Mali, while opposite are traditional Morrocan lamps. A warm and eclectic feeling makes a trip to this deluxe hairdressing salon less daunting. Michael assures black clients top treatment whether weaves, extensions or a simple blow-dry is required. 'I'll even teach you Swahili, if you like,' he jokes. Although the salon is not solely aimed at black hair, Nyumba remains true to its roots and welcomes all nationalities under its sunny African roof.
On top of hairdressing Nymba also has a series of treatment rooms offering cosmetic acupuncture, stress management, hair mineral and food intolerance. You can also have a total makeover for that special party. Nyumba is definitely worth visiting if only to see the amazing dcor! For more information visit, Nyumba, 6-7 Mount Street, Mayfair, London W1K 3EH or telephone, 020 7408 1489.
The scarification techniques of southern Sudan provided the inspiration for the runner-up of the 2006 prestigious Hand and Lock Embroidery Prize. While a varied and sophisticated array of traditional and contemporary stitches impressed the judges, it was the extraordinary surface embellishment of Sophie Tillbury that really impressed the judges. Frances Harris of Hand and Lock explained that each of the entries had to be accompanied by an "inspiration book" that showed the process by which the student arrived at the final design. 'You can see how the intricately patterned, yet symmetrical body scarification in the photographs from Sudan led the way,' she explained. The final garment with raised, rusched ovals arranged in an ordered fashion had both an ethnic yet cuttingedge feel. Sophie, delighted to have won second place is hoping that her ideas can be used commercially.
'I think that the African way of seeing everything as a design possibility means that there are no barriers,' she said.'I incorporated what looks like a painful technique into a second skin that anyone can wear.' In the Sudan tribes, using needles and dust to raise large bumps on the skin create patterns that indicated the persons' status in the tribe. You can tell how many children a woman has had and whether they are boys or girls just by looking at her tribal markings. The wholsesale use of ethnic designs in jewellery is well known, but this is probably the very first time that a second "African" skin has been created.
For more information on the Hand and Lock Embroidery Prize 2007 (to be held in Australia) contact, Hand and Lock, 86 Margaret Street, London W1W 8TE or telephone: 020 7580 7488.