The inspiration behind Autumn/Winter 2015: Blog Three - The Fulani Women

Inspiration through Eclecticism, Discipline through Black

The second image chosen for the Autumn/Winter 15 mood board, which will be discussed in The Mood Board Blog Series, was more evidently influential on the collection. The shape and proportion of the Fulani’s elaborate hairstyles can be seen, most notably, in the shape and cut of our sleeves.

The opening look for the a/w 2015 shows outsized sleeve proportions and a headdress made from synthetic hair. The headdresses in the collection were made by Cloche.

The opening look for the a/w 2015 shows outsized sleeve proportions and a headdress made from synthetic hair. The headdresses in the collection were made by Cloche.

Our design process finds inspiration from eclecticism – we draw upon multiple styles and ideas for aesthetic insights which we then translate in our design. The synthesis if this diversity then becomes the challenge. We overcome this by using the minimalism of black. Black is the blank canvas that serves as our discipline as we explore multiplicity.

The Strength of the Woman

The Russian Vogue model and the Fulani women both have strong facial expressions. Both are imposing and powerful. Despite the difference in time and place, they are linked by their inherent female strength. The one is steeped in European royal history, while the other is steeped in African pride.

In the previous blog series, Modern Monarchy, the headdress is separate. The Fulani women, however, use their physical bodies and hair, to accentuate the importance of the aesthetic. The one shows the importance of technology, while the other is the commitment to fashion through its connection with the wearer. 

Fulani Women: African Opulence

During our design process, we became obsessed with the shape of this headdress. The way it is tilted to the front emphasises her facial features. It creates a powerful and imposing disposition, reminiscent of the power associated with the punk culture. 

The sheer sizes, shapes and proportions, when compared to the shape of the face, is remarkable and creates an almost ethereal beauty and power (or perhaps the unusual proportions are only alien to  “western”/the “other” eyes).

To see where this Fulani woman where on our studio wall go to blog post One. Image: Afrika Museum Berg en Dal.

To see where this Fulani woman where on our studio wall go to blog post One. Image: Afrika Museum Berg en Dal.

The Fulani is one of Africa’s largest (mostly) nomadic tribes spanning over central and West Africa. The woman from the Fulani and other nomadic tribes transformed their hair into an art form, braiding it into intricate patterns that symbolise both a sense of community - the act of your hair being braided by a mother or aunt for example - and a symbol of social distinction. High-ranking women in the Fulani tribe display elaborate hairstyles that may convey religious meanings and symbolise age and authority.

Though many of us remain unsure of the cultural meanings of traditional braided hair, the significance of these elaborate hairstyles, as illustrated by the Fulani women, lies in its appeal as an object of beauty and adornment as well as retaining a sense of almost supernatural power.

The intricacy of the hair and the weave, wrapped around the wire, gives her hair a woven texture which inspired us to try and create the same visual likeness in our clothing. Like in Modern Monarchy, the power and prestige is created through the crown-like aspect of her hair. The importance for us is that it illustrates how aspects of fashion translate between cultures and settings, almost existing outside of the fashion system.

Eventually this concept translated into the shape and proportion of the sleeves, the proportion and textures of the knitwear and collars and of course in the headdresses as seen in the A/W 15 collection. 

The Fulani Headdresses inspired the proportion of the knitwear (left), and the sleeves on the coat (right).

The Fulani Headdresses inspired the proportion of the knitwear (left), and the sleeves on the coat (right).

This image in particular became central to the collection because of the woman’s arresting expression and posture. Her slight frown and gaze spoke to us of an indefinable strength that you see in women of our continent.

Drawing Parallels - Unchartered Territory

African dress has always been a major influence for the ERRE brand. We are however, very aware that this requires immense cultural sensitivity and therefore avoid literal interpretations which could undermine the cultural dynamism rather than celebrate its beauty.

In finalising the collection, we felt that this aspect of the African aesthetic still requires future exploration. We often find that we come back to ideas after more experimentation. Some concepts we have explored is knitting like braids – as seen in the shawl below– however this is a picture that will continue to feature in our collections, in the meantime we are conceptualising different techniques which will allow us to interpret them into future collections.