Scott Schuman, better known for his blog The Sartorialist and as a street style photographer, took some heat after accepting an invitation to Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg and being underwhelmed by what he saw. Instead he took pictures of South Africans on the street. “Johannesburg,” he said, “reminds me of a lot of cities, like Moscow, Buenos Aires and in Poland, places that had some kind of political or economic difficulty, or they were a communist country for a long time … A lot of the women here are very beautiful, very perfect in every way, but it lacks a certain amount of charm. It’s almost aggressive. But the kids I’ve been seeing, young adults, young, cool women and guys, they just have more charm about them.”
The photos blew his readers away, but some South Africans were displeased (Women’s Wear Daily described it as “moans of protest from South African fans”). It’s unclear how widespread dissatisfaction with Schuman’s focus in Johannesburg was, but some local media (here and here) did cover the brouhaha. Back in New York City, Women’s Wear Daily picked up on it (the quotes in the opening paragraph).
Thanks to Little Dragon and Solange, we know that even the poorest Africans aren’t running around naked. We should be able to look at Fashion Week Africa, held in glitzy, gentrified Melrose Arch (in the mostly white suburbs to the north of the city), as a showcase of what’s the best from a whole continent. Represented were designers from South Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, Morocco, Mozambique, Cameroon, Rwanda, Angola, DRC, Trinidad, New York, Nigeria and Ghana. But the event’s official release says that all of the designers were selected for “… distinctive design that exemplifies African creativity.” Just when we thought that we had hashed out the debate that not all Africans are the same—or after Yinka Shonibare’s umpteenth show on the controversies of “African” wax print—here is the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week crashing head on.
Scott Schuman’s photos of people in the streets demonstrate that there is good fashion (beyond Les Sapeurs) on the African continent, just not necessarily at what some might bill as Africa’s premier fashion event.
You can see a full set of The Sartorialist’s Johannesburg posts, to his readers’ delight, here.