By Ntumba Mukendi
Photographs by Solwazi Afi Alusola
I was given the honors to do the fashion commentaries on the Red Carpet of the African Diaspora Awards 2013…a special initiative that celebrates exemplary individuals who make a difference in the African community in the United States.
It was difficult to decide what to ask the attendees for fear that they would take offense if I used the wrong words to describe what they were wearing. The only word that kept coming to mind as a description is Afrocentric. Fab Afrocentric dress…gorgeous Afrocentric skirt …Afrocentric blah, blah, blah. Then, cha-ching! I had a bright idea, I’ll let them tell the story behind their clothes.
I’ll start off with the lady of honor…Nobel Peace Prize Winner 2011, Laureate Leymah Gbowee who received the Life Achievement Award. In 2002, she courageously led a delegation of Liberian women to abolish the Liberian conflict. She said that, “Tomorrow will be today.” I still have to figure out what that means for me.
She sported a classic, elegant look, which proves that you can be powerful and display the essence of a woman. Matching top, Maputa (African printed fabric skirt), and head wrap, mesh with floral brocade that worked with the African prints. Western fabric mixed with African fabric — LOVE IT. Two worlds clashing in harmony. The olive and orange colours were on point…giving an “earthy feeling” with a bright future.
Okay, I get around. Blitz recognized me from a previous encounter. I asked him if I could interview him on camera. Blitz won the Musician of the Year Award and did a great performance on stage. His Ghanaian hip-hop is how hip-hop should have remained in the states: fun, conscious, and about life.
He describes his dress style as Afro-Metro, a new term that really impressed me. You could see the metropolitan city life (as he explained it) in his slick silver suit and sneakers for a clashing hip look. Most New Yorkers feel the need to be comfortable…even when they are dressed up. A touch of African print hat and tie…the perfect ingredients for the recipe of both experiences combined. Ghana via NYC, aka Afro-Metro.
Amini Kanjuju, my Congolese sister (as she started calling me), won the Advocate Award, accepting the honour in what she called a “classic” look. I agree that it is a traditional classic: no western fabric mixture, solely matching African print blouse and skirt. Amini stated that she was attracted to the combination of lively colours (yellow and burgundy). I call this one traditional elegance.
Though the next two outfits were not African, the women looked tight! Sometimes Afrocentrism “oozes” out of you without wearing the clothes. Sometimes it is your hair that gives it away or the natural colours of the make-up. Sometimes it is just the pride of having ancestors from Africa and what that means.
When I looked at Nnenna Agba from the America’s Next Top Model Season Six, her hair gave it away. She was wearing something that she calls a “simple but comfort first” look. I disagree, far from simple, girlfriend. Simple details on her top, yes, but “edgy” as her friend blurted out. Perhaps because of the leather or the all black look, I would also call it “edgy.”
Yaya DaCosta an African-American actress/model, won the Actor of the Year Award. She was in the Nigerian film Mother of George, The Butler, The Kids Are Alright, among others. She looked so sweet and innocent…completely the opposite of her character in The Butler, a movie that I did not like, except for Yaya. She left me with a powerful thought. As Africans we need to remove barriers among us that do not really exist.
A low-cut, classic black, fitted dress, always works for fancy affairs. Her dress was tastefully above the knees. She seems to have followed the Woman Code…if you’re exhibiting at the top, do not exhibit at the bottom. She rocked the simple and sexy black look and looked simply fabulous.
Helene, a member of the Les Nubians singing group, described her style as Amazonian. I would have called it funky Afrocentric, but who am I to see through her eyes. Anyway, she was stylin’.
Of course, I’m going to include myself and the outfit that I designed, lol. I have never described my style outside of limited words like artsy, funky, fashionista or Afrocentric. The mermaid silhouette is reminiscent of the Harlem Jazz/Renaissance Era. My top is a like taking a trip to my grandmother’s village or even to Kinshasa, my hometown. Creativity is making something from nothing. A Maputa can be used to carry a baby on your back, as a long skirt, to protect your head when carrying something heavy or wrapped criss-cross around your neck as a top or dress. The sizzling red, genuine patented leather handbag is by Richard, a Brooklyn-based designer. I call this this outfit elegant Afro-Jazz.
This dress looked like a walking piece of art. I loved the African influenced colors. It was just BEAUTIFUL!
A standing ovation for putting together colors we would not think of normally putting together and making it work. From the jewelry to the head-wrap, the blue and red was working!
About Ntumba Mukendi
Congolese born Ntumba Mukendi is a fashion designer who previously worked at Tommy Hilfiger, then launched her own brand ntumba.ntumba design (www.ntumbantumbadesign.com). Her company utilizes authentic African fabric to help boost the African economy. Ntumba is also the founder of the fashion-based organization ntumba.ntumba apparel (www.ntumbantumba.org) which promotes gender-empowerment.