It’s not often that a debut show at Paris Fashion Week can boast Naomi Campbell on the runway. The British model, wearing a colorful-striped belted trenchcoat, closed Kenneth Ize’s runway display on the opening day of the French shows, in a sign of the growing importance of African fashion on the international stage.
“She made this happen, to be fair. She’s part of the journey since Day One in my career,” said the Nigerian designer, a finalist for last year’s LVMH Prize for Young Designers.
She wasn’t the only heavy hitter on hand. Model-turned-designer Liya Kebede applauded from the front row as a diverse cast paraded in Ize’s colorful coed creations, in a blend of patterned knits, Austrian lace and his signature striped aso oke cloth with fringed hems.
To be sure, Ize’s designs are not for shrinking violets. A fearless colorist, he loves piling on the striped motifs, layering up to three different patterns on a single look. And why wouldn’t you, when the handwoven fabrics — an emerald shirt and pants with a fringed belt in particular — seemed to positively shimmer with color.
But what was truly striking was the way he blended traditional and modern silhouettes. Alton Mason’s checked tunic top and pants were a looser, more relaxed version of the buba and sokoto worn by the Yoruba people, but Ize was just as happy to pair a striped short suit with a hooded sweatshirt — though his retro-style spongy knits felt slightly less alluring.
The show was inspired by his memories of going to church, and growing up between Nigeria and Austria — a culture clash aptly summed up by an embroidered pantsuit that should have influencers knocking on his door. Ize hopes investors will follow, as he seeks a cash injection to continue growing his brand.
“I believe in the way I dress because this is who I am, and I believe in how we could dress as individuals, and I just feel like it’s the most fantastic thing to actually see that on the runway,” he said. “I’m living my dream, you know? Thank you: I’m overwhelmed in a good way, and I can just see the world changing to a different place.”
To be sure, the perspective is shifting, and Paris could be the place where African designers finally become a force to be reckoned with.