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Oumou Sy, Senegal's Queen of Couture
by Nicole L. Smith


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Where else does Western chic meet Afro-avant-garde but in the creations of Oumou Sy, Senegal's queen of couture. Her signature: bold fashion ideas which contain glamorous Afro-centricism fused with universal style. Ms. Sy is not only a prolific fashion designer, but she is also a stylist, teacher, businesswoman and founder of the annual Dakar Carnival and International Fashion Week in Dakar. Always on the cutting edge, it was she (with her partners) who pioneered cyber-cafe culture across all of Senegal.

I was not only fortunate enough to catch up with Oumou Sy at her studio in Dakar, but I was also incredibly priviledged to take in a fashion show at the grand Hotel Meridien President. It was at this spectacle where I witnessed that Oumou Sy's genius lay in creating a splendid visual encapsulation and indeed a celebration of the African Renaissance.

And how exactly does she achieve this? By using lithe models to elegantly parade outfits each one more breathtaking than the next, and through a creative process which engages with the true African style of giving everything a use and letting nothing go to waste! Baskets become sleeves; kora's are used like embroidery and cd's adorn a ballgown - their prisms mirroring the hues of the dress's fabric.

All jewellery is handmade and has a distinct African flavour: Ethiopian copper crosses, Masai-chic copper arm and ankle bracelets and beads beads beads! All styles of headgear make an appearance: the quotidian foulard dressed up with basket-wear, feathered crowns reminicient of Cameroonian royalty's headgear and even decorative bowls are transformed into a dramatic head pieces. Calabashes are woven into pronounced hairstyles and strands of eastern influence come through in geisha girl hairstyles, gorgeous sari like fabric and belly dancer style accessories. Textiles are hand dyed in striking colour combinations and fabrics used range from silk and satin to raffia and cotton, making this range of Oumou's THE melting pot of ethnic styles bubbling over into unchartered fashion territory.

This range may not be prêt-à-porter, but rather an expression of Senegalese-style savoir-faire appealing to the woman with a taste for glamour and style combined with artistic African flair.

For ages, the African aesthetic has been studied, collected, copied and admired. Now, in a rebirth of African cool, trendsetters, like Oumou Sy are part of a generation of fashion visionaries whose Pan-African pride is manifesting as a real fashion phenomenon!

Phtos and article courtesy of
Nicole L. Smith, World TV Report

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 Nicole Smith