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ARISE Magazine’s Helen Jennings on Beyoncé, Designers to Watch and Her ‘New African Fashion’ Book

In 2008, ARISE magazine hit newsstands worldwide, offering a fresh glimpse at the hottest trends and emerging ideas from Africa. Boasting over-sized pages along with eye-popping photography, style direction and editorial content, ARISE was a breath of fresh air in a predictable publishing space. As ARISE Editor in Chief, Helen Jennings has been at the forefront of bringing many of the magazine’s ideas to life and after years of covering fashion for ARISE as well as other companies like The Fader, TRACE, i-D and Oyster, she has dedicated her first book to celebrating the visionaries across the continent in New African Fashion.

Parlour spoke with Jennings about new designers to watch, why African fashion is so popular now and who’s getting fashion right.

In one simple sentence, how would you describe your new book New African Fashion?

New African Fashion is the first coffee table compendium to document the emerging contemporary African fashion scene.

What is the difference between new African fashion and old African Fashion?

African fashion has a long history, taking in countless influences, but it’s only in the last few years that designers have been balancing global fashion sensibilities and trends with their instinctive appreciation of their own visual heritage. Through this process, African fashion is offering the industry something that feels authentic, original and new.

You highlight a number of designers in your book but who else would you have liked to include?

Big designers like Duro Olowu, Xuly Bët, Joe Casely-Hayford, Ozwald Boateng I had to have in the book but I wanted to put equal emphasis on new names I admire too, such as Maki Oh, A. Sauvage and Angelo Van Mol. If I did a second volume I’d include Alexander Koutney, Avant, Korto Momolu, Jacob Kimmie, Mo-saïque, Tart, Lunar and Mina Evans. I’d also profile more Francophone and Afro-centric designers such as Imane Ayissi, Anna Getaneh, Kofi Ansah, Claire Kane and Gilles Toure.

How do you see ARISE’s role in the fashion world? 

ARISE has had a huge impact on African fashion. We’re the only high-end publication to showcase international and African fashion brands side by side. Plus our fashion shows and events, which so far have been held in London, Paris, Johannesburg, New York, Washington D.C., Abuja and Lagos, have put African fashion on the world stage. ARISE Magazine Fashion Week in March, which showcased over 50 designers in Lagos, set the standard all other fashion weeks on the continent now follow. And because of ARISE, African designers are getting media exposure, industry experience and stockists way beyond their native borders.


above: Helen Jennings with Shingai Shoniwa at New African Fashion, London Launch

Are there any African, African-American or British African celebrities who are great fashion examples?

Kelis, Solange Knowles, Beyoncé, Alicia Keys, Shingai Shoniwa, Michelle Obama, Erykah Badu and Lira all fly the flag for African fashion and textiles and look amazing while doing it.

You’re hosting a series of book launch parties in London, Johannesburg, Lagos and New York, why? 

These four cites are significant to the African fashion industry and are where many of those featured in the book are based. Johannesburg and Lagos are the two fashion capitals of Africa. Both London and New York have very active diaspora fashion scenes. ARISE is also sold in all of these cites, plus I have many personal and professional contacts in all of them too. I did the first launch at Klûk CGDT’s Joburg shop, which was a civilised afternoon during Africa Fashion Week. The Lagos launch was at the opening of Temple Muse’s flagship store, the city’s most luxurious lifestyle boutique. The third launch was a huge party at Gallery Soho in London. I’m still overwhelmed by how many people came and how much love there was in the room. And the forth is planned for New York, I’m doing a public talk at the NY Public Library on November 30 with Mataano, Mimi Plange, Bethann Hardison and Heritage 1960, and then I’m hosting an invite-only after party the next evening.

In addition to your book, if someone were to research African Fashion, where would you point them? 

A lady called Jacqueline Shaw has just self published a book about sustainable style called Fashion Africa. People should also check out website such as Heritage1960, HauteFashionAfrica, Africa Style Daily, One Nigerian Boy, iFashion and Shadders. The web is the best resource.

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“New African Fashion” is available in all major bookstores worldwide. Check out Parlour’s review of the London launch and read more about the book at Newafricanfashion.com.

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