This season it's all about decoration. Attire that is plain and stark has officially gone out the window. What's flown in is a string of colourful statement jewellery, decorative shoes and detailed, patterned dresses all taking an influence from African fabrics and prints. So if you're debating whether to wear that Masai inspired chest plate, we say, go for it!
In particular, traditional African beadwork is spicing things up in the Spring/Summer 09 collections, although for many, using Africa as a theme is nothing new. In fact, in some opinions, it's just another example of Africa's wealth being plundered without any credit or cash going back to those who originally created the look. This sets up a dichotomy, whereby on the one hand there is potential for east African bead artisans to export their designs and for the world to celebrate African culture, yet on the other, Africa is at risk of being exploited through global consumerism.Tribal inspiration
A couple of years ago John Galliano was hailed for his Masai-inspired garments for Dior. This collection was described as a masterstroke, and today more international designers are finding inspiration in Africa. From the punky aggressiveness of ethnic harem trousers where the print is outlined in tiny beads, to the neat beaded belts and bags you can find on the high street, African design is certainly set to change the way your dress this summer.Originality
The catwalk models at top Italian designer Roberto Cavalli's 09 show and our own Matthew Williamson, (who dresses the likes of Sienna Miller and Jade Jagger), used beads in a clever and intricate way that gave a new slant and freshness to a traditional craft. Belgium designer Ann Demeulemeester also takes a radically different look at beads in her leather, bursting-seedpod necklace. (Available from Browns).
As we all know fashion trends relate to broader global issues, hence the muddied tones we'll see reflecting the world's economic crisis and the natural shades and textures showing concern for the environment. The emergence of bright and exotic combinations of prints and wild beading suggests a more carefree spirit.
For the best original accessories with Masai detailing is The Jacksons. Since opening in Notting Hill 1998, it sells a host of original ethnic scarves, shoes, bags and hats for shoppers in search of standout accessories. Cowskin bags, brightened up with beaded handles, are something of a signature piece as are belts and dog collars. The beads are made by Kenyan Masai and the colour combinations can be customised to your own unique taste. (See stockist for details).HISTORY
The practice of decorating the body with beads is more than 5000 years old and objects used as jewellery have been found in Stone Age graves. Beads form a significant part of African culture and archaeological studies show that beads were used for embellishment, religious purposes and to bring good luck.
Beads have always been a powerful cultural symbol of Africa. When Nelson Mandela was sentenced at the Johannesburg courthouse in 1962, he wore the beaded clothing of his tribe that sent a powerful signal: a warning to those who would crush African culture and expression.
Eastern and Southern parts of the continent distinguish the phases of life each man and woman must pass through by the wearing of a distinctive adornment covered in beads. This allows every member of the group to recognise the individual's stage in life immediately by the style and colour of the beads they wear.
Today the main ingredient of Masai jewellery are glass beads to represent globalisation. Ivory, bone and dried seeds were originally usd before being replaced in the 19th Century when European glass beads were swapped for tea, coffee and slaves.COPYRIGHTS
Many international designers are turning to Africa to find inspiration for their clothing lines, which raises the question: Are African's being exploited?
In 1977, former Register of Copyrights addressed the issue of duplication in the fashion industry. In relation to design protection, Barbara Ringer stated that 'this is one of the most significant and pressing items of unfinished business in copyright revision.' This issue remains unaddressed today, even though the need for revision is more significant.
The innovation in beading and the cultural significance to tribal identity is not protected. Without some form of protection copycat products can be made in China and exported.
The Masai Brand was set up in 2003 as an export scheme to develop new styles and put in place strict quality control. It both preserves and creates beading skills and ensures that the women of Kenya and Tanzania earn a reasonable income. Typically they spend their income on the home and family, ensuring the children are educated and medical bills are taken care of. Based in the Arts and Crafts centre close to base camp Masai Mara, over 100 women are involved in the project. If you purchase an item with a TMB logo you can be sure that money is going to Africa. For more details go to www.masaibrand.com