5 Africa-born designers open digital Milan Fashion Week

London, Feb. 25, 2021 (AltAfrica)-Five designers of African origin making their runway debuts opened Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday under the banner “We are Made in Italy,” having nurtured dreams deemed fanciful in their native countries and which faced considerable obstacles coming to fruition in their adopted Italy.

Fashion designer Fabiola Manirakiza, center, poses with models at the end of the Black Lives Matter Fall/Winter 2021/22 collective fashion show, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. 2021. Five Italian designers of African origin made their runway debut during Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 under the banner “We are Made in Italy,” having nurtured dreams deemed unlikely in their native lands and which faced considerable obstacles in their adopted Italy. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno) Joy Meribe, who is originally from Nigeria, started out working in Italy as a cultural mediator. Fabiola Manirakiza came to Italy as a child from Burundi and first trained as a doctor.

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Morocco-born Karim Daoudi grew up in a shoe-making town in northern Italy and eventually took up the local craft. Pape Macodou Fall arrived from Senegal at age 22, applying his creative streak as an actor, film producer, figurative painter and now, as a designer of up-cycled garments.

Fashion designer Gisele Claudia Ntsama poses with models during the Black Lives Matter Fall/Winter 2021/22 collection collective show, presented in Milan, Italy, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021. 2021. Five Italian designers of African origin made their runway debut during Milan Fashion Week on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2021 under the banner “We are Made in Italy,” having nurtured dreams deemed unlikely in their native lands and which faced considerable obstacles in their adopted Italy. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)
Just one of the five, Cameroonian Gisele Claudia Ntsama, set her sights on Italy with the singular, already mature goal of a fashion career.

“When I told friends in Cameroon that I wanted to travel to Italy to become a fashion designer, they said, ‘Why are you going to study fashion. You know you are Black? What Italian fashion house is going to hire you?’” Ntsama said in a video chat with The Associated Press. “It is always in people’s minds that fashion is for white people. No and no and no!”

The designers, dubbed “the Fab Five,” are the first crop of creators nurtured through a collaboration between the National Chamber of Italian Fashion and the Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion movement. Italian-Haitian designer Stella Jean, Milan-based African American designer Edward Buchanan and Afro Fashion Week Milano founder Michelle Ngonmo launched the movement last summer..

The collaboration has expanded from September, when the Fab Five’s collections hung in a showroom, to a bona fide runway show of five looks each for Milan Fashion Week, which is taking place 99% online. For their fall-winter 2020-21 collections, the designers worked alongside suppliers and received mentoring from experts, all organized by the Italian fashion council, in an enhanced partnership that allowed them to take their creations to the next level.

A multi-ethnic team of stylists, hairdressers and makeup artists were on hand to prep for the runway show, and buyers can visit the collection on the National Chamber of Italian Fashion website.

Meribe worked with silk from the Como-based textile company Taroni, revisiting some of her earlier designs for her Modaf Designs brand that she has traditionally made from cotton renderings of traditional African wax textiles. Buchanan helped with fitting and encouraged Meribe to change ideas at the last minute without being too rigid,’ she said.’
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