Introducing Africa’s Fashion Ambassador Imane Ayiss To The World
Before becoming the talk of the town, Imane Ayissi, the charismatic designer, started off as a professional dancer turned model as he worked his way through the luxurious Parisian Couture sector. His luxury slow fashion brand is involved in ethical and sustainable production with the use of natural and organic materials and the respect of craftwork and traditional skills.
In 2020, the highest authority of French fashion, the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode, invited Ayissi to join the official calendar of Paris Fashion Week and to showcase his latest collection amongst renowned houses like Chanel, Dior and
And while this was a milestone on its own, the couturier was celebrating another type of victory by becoming the very first African designer to have the official ‘couture’ label. Soon to follow, global celebrities like actress Zendaya were seen sporting his looks on the red carpet.
In an exclusive chat with ELLE, Imane talks about his passion for design and his route towards the summit of fashion in Paris.
ELLE: Imane, briefly tell us about your career from Cameron to Paris
Imane Ayissi (IA): When it comes to fashion, I started drawing at a very early age and designing for African brands. Twenty years ago, I moved to Paris, established my own label, and worked closely with some private clients. My next step was to showcase my collections in the unofficial calendar of Paris Fashion Week while applying numerous times to be part of the official one. And so January 2020 was the right time, I suppose. It was when I become the very first African designer on the calendar.
ELLE: Would you say it was a planned objective?
IA: Yes, indeed, it was a goal I set for myself, and that became a dream come true. Africa needed representation in the small luxurious circle of couture. It took several decades for one African to make it to the group, knowing that the African continent
has inspired all the legendary fashion designers for a century and more.
ELLE: And what did this new title add to your career?
IA: It opened the doors not only for myself but also for African fashion in general. It was the first step in the eyes of the world to show the textile and talents coming from Africa. I now have a bigger network and have gained tremendous press coverage, interviews and editorials from high-end fashion publications in different markets.
ELLE: What inspires you as you start preparing a new collection?
IA: Africa, of course, as well as my homeland, Cameron. My childhood, travelling and Paris my city by adoption. Even books could inspire me.
ELLE: How do you balance between your African heritage and staying away from folkloric designs?
IA: We are in a world where people like to mix cultures, and women now want to modernise their looks. This doesn’t mean removing the identity factor but just minimising the disguise element, as the woman becomes more of a citizen of the
ELLE: What is the advice you would give to up-and-coming designers?
IA: It is a complicated industry; we don’t do fashion if we are not passionate about it. If you can study fashion don’t hesitate to do that, you need to train a lot because the industry is becoming more and more competitive. Patience is also a virtue; nothing
comes so easily!
ELLE: What are some advantages and disadvantages that designers who come from emerging fashion markets often face?
IA: It’s obviously more complicated for designers and brands from countries like Cameroon or elsewhere. It’s more difficult to show your work to the rest of the world and attract international media’s interest, which usually determines the distribution and sales at shops or e-commerce in foreign countries.
The reason is international journalists and buyers do not travel or even watch local initiatives. As a designer, it is often difficult to be taken seriously. There’s already a form of stereotype or a judgment even before having been able to show your work. This means that to be recognised as a designer from our countries, we must seek credibility and recognition abroad and participate in major international competitions or showcase during fashion weeks in London or Paris.
However, the huge advantage is a novelty and a different creative point of view in a fashion industry that is always on the lookout for new ideas and new creativity. And especially at this time, when I find that the big fashion brands take less creative risks and feel that the industry is bored and waiting for something new. Just like in the early 80s, when the Japanese awakened international fashion. Another piece of advice for young designers outside of Europe would be to merge their specific heritage with modernity and create something that would appear new and authentic in the eyes of the world.