For Imane Ayissi, designing clothes is a form of social commentary. With his “Foufoulou” spring collection, he continued to explore the theme of cultural exchange. In the Ewondo language of Cameroon, the word signifies both “mixed” and “together” and it was splashed across many of the designs in this festive, colorful lineup, the slogans injecting a youthful feel.
On a bright green dress in Calais lace, it was written out in script with purple sequins. Other designs featured appliqué block lettering stitched together to create graphic gowns.
Square cuts and flowing fabric nodded to the traditional “boubou,” but were worked in high-end fabrics like silk or in a draped jersey made from bamboo fiber.
His brightly hued taffeta pieces had a noble elegance, with long raffia fringing that took on the aspect of a tribal mask when used on the back of one look. Tailored pieces were made with a fabric dyed using the adire method — a form of tie-dyeing — from Nigeria, or worked in kente fabric from Ghana for a belted jacket dress.
After the show, which was attended by UNESCO director general and former French culture minister Audrey Azoulay, Ayissi was officially made a Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. His medal was presented by Pascal Morand, executive president of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode.
Morand thanked the designer for his contribution to fashion and culture, and traced his career.
The son of boxing champion Jean-Baptiste Ayissi Ntsama and former Miss Cameroon Julienne Honorine Eyenga Ayissi, he started out as a dancer for the Cameroon National Ballet before turning to modeling and appearing in music videos. He launched his fashion label in 2004. In spring 2020, he gave his debut runway show on the federation’s official calendar, the first designer from sub-Saharan Africa to do so.
“I admire your noble soul and your humility,” said Morand. “Culture of all types is essential, and cultural diversity is crucial.”
Struggling — and failing — to fight back tears, the designer thanked Morand and the federation, saying, “Culture hasn’t been easy for me, it has been a long road.”