Photo: South African model Geraldine Steenkamp and Cameroonian model Valerie Ayena wait in a car before walking for the South African designer David Tlale at an outdoor show in the Bo-Kaap area during the Cape Town Fashion Week, South Africa 2012.
In 1994, Swedish photographer Per-Anders Pettersson (b. 1967) came to South Africa to cover the historic elections that saw Nelson Mandela become President—and he never left. Based in Cape Town, Pettersson has honed his talents on documenting stories across the continent, covering the stories the West knows so well: civil war, famine, disease. But Pettersson’s work shows not only the horrors of life, but its beauties as well—for the story of Africa is as vast, as rich, and as complex as the land itself.
With the new millennium, global industry has become a phenomenon, bringing the four corners of the earth together as one. In doing so, emerging markets are formed, stages where local talents can shine their light to the world. Since 2010, Pettersson has been privy to a nascent scene, an industry on the come up beyond your wildest dreams.
In African Catwalk (Kehrer Verlag), Petersson presents the African fashion industry in an exquisite series of behind-the-scenes photographs. Taken in 15 counties between the years 2010 and 2015, African Catwalk showcases a glorious array of silhouettes, of bold colors and vibrant styles, majestic fabrics and decorous cuts. We are instantly swept away by wave after wave of innovative looks, of designs that combine traditional elements with avant garde touches.
Who else would dream of a headdress cast from the skull of a herbivore, its horns wrapped in black cord and draped in gold chain? Imagination can only be enhanced by proximity to a lush landscape ripe with all manner of native grown jewels. Such must be the desire to create luxury goods for nascent economies with a small but engaging middle class in countries including Nigeria and south Africa. Designers including Shaldon Kopman of Naked Ape, David Tlale, Michael Kra, Taibo Bacar, and Deola Sagoe, are featured in the book, ensuring the crème de la crème always rises to the top.
Simone Cipriana, Head and Founder of the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative (United Nations), writes in the afterword, “An African designer is similar to an artist, insofar as he or she smells the wind that blows the trees of society. African fashion tells the story of society: its positivity, creativity, and capacity to do a great deal from scare resources. This is the connecting point for most of the innovation that comes out of Africa. Making do with less, getting the most out of what is available.”
It is this ability to spin straw into gold that makes African Catwalk a phenomenon. It’s grandeur comes from within, shining out to the world, showing us the heart of Africa as it beats with a passion unlike any other. Pettersson’s love for Africa is evident on every page, reminding us that we all have the power to follow our destiny, should we be so inclined.
All photos: © Per-Anders Pettersson, courtesy of Kehrer Verlag.
Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer, curator, and brand strategist. There is nothing she adores so much as photography and books. A small part of her wishes she had a proper library, like in the game of Clue. Then she could blaze and write soliloquies to her in and out of print loves.