The road to the runway was dippy and bumpy, but seeing the Precious collection walk down that final runway dissipated the angst and distress felt in preparation. To begin with, the South African Visa office is more scrutinous than the US Defense Department. They will investigate you in your previous life, so the visa wait for my assistant was a pins and needles affair. But at the same time, they were very diplomatic and gracious and thankfully, even though there was a torturous one-day delay which meant changing flights, she got her visa processed.
Armed with enthusiasm and intent, we flew out to Cape Town. We were, literally and figuratively, in the clouds, visualizing our reveal in romantic and dramatic hues. We felt luminous, euphoric and unstoppable. And then we got to customs.
All our pieces, regardless that they were for runway, had to be declared which was an unforeseen but enforceable leaf of the law. Everything, for a minute, disintegrated. We were thrown, lost, paralyzed, suspended and stranded. Here is where the ugly head of bureaucracy rears itself and we turned to our stunned yet able host for guidance. For three days straight, all our runway pieces were held in custom, awaiting the preparation of some document or other, before they could be released. Rehearsals came and went and our despair became deeper. At this point, we had lived through all the stages of loss. We were past grief and disbelief and anger and we were reluctantly nonchalant. And then Paul Leisegang, AFI’s creative engine, force of nature and human being extraordinaire took the process over from the customs agent and within a matter of hours, we got our luggage and our sanity back.
But the days leading to Fashion Week were not just nerves and misery. There were unexpected moments of comedy, insanity and community. Thursday night say, at the launch party, the merry-making got so raucous the police had to shut it down. And while everyone else good-naturedly moved the party to a new location, we went to bed, because, first things first, you cannot out-party the south and also because we were still in crisis mode. But our spirits improved notably after we got our show pieces back from customs and even though we were now in a new frenzy preparing for the show, we were finally in the groove of things.
But besides the very memorable parties and dinners AFI threw, what also stayed with us were the shows and the designs that walked the runway. African fashion has self-actualized and this was demonstrated repeatedly with the use of vibrant, vocal colors/prints and muted but powerful palettes as well as the intellectual liquid and structured silhouettes. You could note the influence cosmopolitanism has had on African aesthetics but there was also something fundamentally original and pure in all the designs. We attended most of the shows are especially enjoyed the presentations made by MaXhosa, Sarah Diouf and Adama Paris
Our own show was slotted for 7:30, Saturday night and we were closing our slot. There was a lot of backstage stress. We had barely had enough time to rehearse the show and to decide on the full looks and that coupled with all the usual 11th hour backstage discoveries – a broken zipper, a missing shoe, an ill-fitted cape – intensified the angst. The runway was in part, exhilarating and in part terrifying. Terrifying because all the female models wore high Marge-Simpson-type updos and when they walked down the runway, they bobbed, almost swung and as our stomachs twisted in trepidation, we were internally willing them to stay up. Exhilarating because it was magnificent; you could feel the crowd fall in love, sometimes audibly, with the collection. The very architectural, very structural pieces we showed gleamed under the light like liquid gold and the models made them come alive. This collection was a celebration and a culmination of the ideas, the values and the communities most important to us and seeing it all physically realized was more than rewarding – it was precious. And that runway joy is eternal. Even when time has passed and other things have happened, it persists and it accompanied us for the remainder of our stay in windy Cape Town and our return to humid Nairobi.
We are very grateful to the AFI team, especially to Lindiwe, Gugu, Roshnee, Nadya, Jan and Deon for their support, love and cheerleading. But we are most grateful to Paul whose vision meant an accessories designer, traditionally considered a secondary designer and only invited to ‘accessorize’ other designers, could have the spotlight too.