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Tuesday, May 31, 2011

African Wax Fabrics

My first proper boyfriend lived in Ghana for a year.  In our emails back and forth he would tell me about the food, the nightlife and the time he drunkenly passed out at a party at the Irish Consulate in Accra. 

Reading back over his emails from five years ago, it's clear that Ghana is an incredible country with Everest-type highs and supertrough lows.  Floods, typhoid and the odd Internet cafe going on fire are recurring motifs in the emails.  But then again, so are friendly, welcoming people, sporting tradition and the merits of river boiled kenki.

He never told me about the fabric though.

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Wax fabric is predominantly made in Ghana and is responsible for some of the trippiest, brightest, graphic prints available in the world today.  The prints can be abstract, but are usually full of signs and symbols denoting a persons social status, political affiliations or general likes.

African art has a tendency towards the literal and these prints follow on from that.  With the popularisation of wax printing, more and more prints are devoted to technology and commerce.  You can buy Pop Art-ish yards of fabrics stamped with lipsticks, batteries, car mufflers, chickens and irons.

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I love the pure, flat joy of these prints.  It's only a matter of time before a label like Proenza Schouler or Erdem picks these brights up and works them into a Spring/Summer collection (fingers crossed). 

There are already Western designers that work with these fabrics, but I'm yet to see a top or dress that justifies the fabric and brings out the best in it.  Is it just me or is a lot of this clothing, I don't know, a little bit... patronising?  Or self-congratulatory?  People need to get out of the mindset that Africa is synonymous with charity - then we'll stop treating their indigenous goods like another person's cast-offs and give it the shape and beauty these prints deserve.

To see more, go to the African Fabric Flickr pool

Photos 1-4 from here.  Photos 5-8 from here.