France, Ghana, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Cote d'Ivoire
Founded in 2004 by Cameroonian designer Imane Ayissi, the France-based eponymous couture brand produces high fashion, made-to-measure pieces that merge the contemporary with the traditional. Known for his consistently colorful creations that feature simple yet eye-catching silhouettes, Ayissi became the first Sub-Saharan designer to officially show at Haute Couture Week in Paris in 2020, where he presented a collection that received near universal praise.
Though Ayissi has spent the past two decades working from Paris, there remains a distinct element of “African-ness” to his creations which often elegantly unite traditional African tribal art elements with Parisian couture principles. And though he refuses to incorporate wax prints into his work due to their ties to colonialism, he often utilises fabrics like Kente and Manjak cloth to signal his African roots. Speaking to L'Officiel Arabia, he stated, “I am a fashion designer, but I also come from an African country, where I spent the first twenty years of my life. So I don’t design “African fashion” or “African garments”, but I don’t want, and can’t, erasure my African heritage. You can see this African heritage through my relationship to colors, to the body.”
As a former ballerina, Ayissi’s artisanal designs are deeply considered when it comes to their relationship between them and the human form; volume, movement, pleats and draping are some of more prominent features of his collections, elements he employs due to their universally flattering nature. He’s also conscious of environmental issues as they pertain to garment making, making it a priority to make use of natural and organic materials with the lowest possible impact, favoring materials like cotton, vegetable tanned leathers, or textiles dyed with natural ingredients or printed by hand—often producing on the continent where possible.
Ayissi has garnered significant international attention: since launching, the Imane Ayissi label has been spotted on the likes of Zendaya and Angela Bassett, and has received the acclaim of global critics and press, including features in Vogue editions, to Forbes and Vanity Fair Italy.