MILAN — “If in September they just introduced themselves, this time they really opened the doors on their creativity to showcase their vision,” said Stella Jean, referring to the five emerging designers who participated to the “We Are Made in Italy — The Fab Five Bridge Builders” project aimed at boosting diversity and multiculturalism within the Italian fashion industry.
The five designers, all born in different African countries and residing in Italy, showcased their work through a digital runway show, presented by Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana’s Black Lives Matter in Italy Fashion Collective, which includes Jean herself, designer Edward Buchanan and Michelle Francine Ngonmo, founder of the Afro Fashion Association.
“This historic fact gives hope to multiethnic stars, who call Italy home and hold this wonderful country in their hearts,” commented Ngonmo. “The message is loud and clear, the Italian fashion system is not only a global leader in fashion, but is also now ready to address the challenging issues of diversity, inclusivity and racial equity.”
According to Jean, this second iteration of the project brought to the table a key, new thing: The collaboration with a network of Italian manufacturing companies that worked hand in hand with the emerging designers to craft their collections.
“It’s really great how these companies welcomed these designers with different backgrounds, giving them incredible access to the secrets of the Made in Italy, which is something they are so proud of, living in our country,” said Jean. “I really hope that people will look beyond the collections, beyond the shows, to understand the incredible value of the real change that is happening.”
For their collections, which will be available for preorder at the Afro Fashion website starting from this week, the designers collaborated with high-end manufacturers and textile specialists, including Ratti and Taroni.
“I really believe that things are moving forward, in a very fast way. Change was imperative and I’m glad that people didn’t indulge into that type of gradualism, so typical of our culture,” said Jean. She was very impressed by their desire to highlight their roots but also their desire to show they belong to the made in Italy system, which, living in Italy, they feel in the air. “They are the symbol of a healthy multicultural approach that promotes the dialogue with the other without negating its identity.”
As the video streamed on the Italian fashion chamber’s Milan Fashion Week digital platform suggested, the five designers will give way to five others, who will unveil their collections in September. “I cannot reveal too much, but we will give voice to other minorities, both religious and ethnic,” said Jean, adding that starting from September, Milan Fashion Week will host an international edition of the “Fab Five” project, which every season will have as protagonists designers coming from different countries.
“For the first edition we will start from Africa, with the goal of showing the richness of the continent’s different countries,” Jean revealed, adding that she hopes this will help destroy some clichés that Western culture developed around Africa.
In addition, the new five international designers will share knowledge about heritage practices and techniques that are quintessentially sustainable.
“Companies tend to invest such big resources in finding new sustainable solutions, when in the world we have already so many antique techniques that use what Mother Earth gives us,” said Jean.
Here are the five talents spotlighted by the “We Are Made in Italy — The Fab Five Bridge Builders” project.
Brand: Claudia Gisèle Ntsama
Designer: Claudia Gisèle Ntsama
Background: Born in Cameroon, Ntsama studied fashion in her native country. After moving to Italy, she attended the Art Academy in Bologna and through the Erasmus student exchange program she had the chance to attend classes focused on textile design at Strasbourg’s “Haute Ecole des Arts du Rhin.”
Core business: The study of fibers sits at the core of the brand. “When I was studying in Strasbourg, I had the chance to learn more about noble fibers, including hemp, and I fell in love with that,” said the designer. “I think that people really don’t know how great it is and my goal is to showcase how it can be used in different ways, also within the fashion industry.” Ntsama, who said she is very much inspired for her creations by contemporary art and by Japanese designers, such as Yohji Yamamoto or Rei Kawakubo, also put a lot of attention into artisanal, handmade craftsmanship.
Fall 2021 look: Ntsama presented a chic, creative collection focused on knitwear. Entirely crafted from hemp yarns, the lineup featured a range of feminine separates and dresses showing intriguing tactile textures. The palette includes neutrals, such as whites and beiges, mixed with purple and saffron yellow.
Brand: Karim Daoudi
Designer: Karim Daoudi
Background: Born in Morocco, Daoudi studied at the Cercal footwear school in San Mauro Pascoli, the heart of Italy’s shoe district. In 2017, Daoudi, who works in a company in the sector, established his namesake footwear label. The same year he won a talent contest promoted by Federmoda Roma and showcased his collection at The One Milano trade show. In 2019, he took part to the “Fashion Graduate Italia” show.
Core business: Offering a mix of feminine elegance and comfort, the Karim Daoudi brand offers luxury shoes crafted in Italy. Experimenting with colors and materials, the designer’s collections stand out with a glamorous, slightly eccentric look.
Fall 2021 look: Inspired by the colors of the jungle, Daoudi presented a collection centered on bright tones of green and hot pink mixed with refined black-and-white combinations. Styles spanned from pumps, and booties enriched with eye-catching toe caps to sexy cage boots.
Designer: Fabiola Manirakiza
Background: Born in Burundi, Manirakiza fell in love with fashion during the years she spent in an orphanage in Zaire. “The nuns were teaching us to make our own dolls, but also to sew our clothes,” said the designer, who studied medicine but never stopped making her own fashion items. When she moved to Italy with her sister, she took part in events aimed at raising awareness of the conditions of orphanages in Africa and one day met a TV journalist who fell in love with the handmade dress she was wearing. Orders from friends started coming and, while helping another designer with sales campaigns in Paris, she established the Frida-Kiza label in 2016.
Core business: “I look at Italian art through the eyes of an African,” said Manirakiza, who aims to offer timeless pieces combining elegance and comfort. The designer likes to work with mannish, essential silhouettes that she enriches with vibrant prints.
Fall 2021 look: For fall 2021, the designer got inspired by Botticelli’s “Spring” painting to create a lovely pattern in which a Renaissance aesthetic met images of African everyday scenes. The overall print was splashed on a feminine shirtdress, on a minidress and on a fluid pajama set, while a sophisticated slick wool suit was worked in a timeless black tone.
Designer: Pepe Macodou Fall
Background: Born in Senegal to a family of diplomats, Fall started his career as a cartoonist. When he moved to Rome, he worked as an actor and a film producer. His passion for figurative arts pushed him to start doing paintings inspired by the iconic figures of the African renaissance that were showcased in prestigious exhibitions in Rome, Paris and Dakar. In 2017 he met the founder of the Afro Fashion Association and decided to launch his first fashion collection.
Core business: “My goal is to bring fashion into art,” said the designer, who uses his painting skills to give an artistic, distinctive look to men’s and women’s upcycled garments.
Fall 2021 look: For Milan Fashion Week, Fall created a capsule collection, where jungle-inspired images, as well as portraits of prominent African personalities, including Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, were painted in vibrant tones on a range of upcycled items and accessories, including a jumpsuit, a mannish suit, an A-line coat and a sheath dress.
Brand: Joy Meribe
Designer: Joy Ijeoma Meribe
Background: After studying foreign languages and literature in her native country, Nigeria, Meribe moved to Italy where she specialized in linguistic and cultural mediation. However, led by a strong passion for fashion, she decided to attend a fashion school in Modena and Bologna. In 2017, she established her namesake brand.
Core business: Deeply inspired by powerful women, Meribe through her collections wants to celebrate her African roots while anchoring them in a cosmopolitan image. Working with feminine silhouettes, she likes to play with applications to convey a joyful fashion message.
Fall 2021 look: For the capsule she presented at Milan Fashion Week, Meribe was supported for pattern making by San Andres’ founder and creative director Andrés Caballero, while Taroni provided her with precious silk. The noble material was crafted in feminine pieces, such as a coat showing a lightweight padding, an elegant one-shouldered jumpsuit with a multicolor application and a multilayered skirt worn with a soft blouse. Some of the proceeds from the collection’s sales will be destined to a scholarship for young Nigerian women.