‘Black Is King’: An African Fashion Experience
By Jason Kwame
It is rare to see African fashion, inspirations and haute couture represented to this extent, unabashed and as illustrious in mainstream ‘Western’ film on the scale or level of intricacy as Beyoncé’s “Black is King”. Take an hour and 45 minutes out to watch it this weekend, and you’ll see. The visual album, made to accompany ‘The Lion King: The Gift‘ album, was released in the early hours of this morning. Much like the Lion King itself, the storyline follows a young black boy set to be King on his journey, from fulfilment of prophecy to coronation: soul-searching, temptations along with peril, “evil-eye” envy, marriage and the crowning of another heir.
But this was definitely about something way bigger. Justified by the lyrics, this was a visceral depiction of all black African life, the black experience, being connected to royalty, a reminder of each of our personal responsibility as purveyors of black excellence. In Beyonce’s own words, a call to make “black synonymous with glory”. With cameos from Naomi Campbell, Kelly Rowland, Adut Akech, Aweng Chuol, Wizkid, Yemi Alade, Shatta Wale, Mr. Eazi and more…we’ve been well fed.
Beyoncé, with the help of creative director Kwasi Fordjour and costume designer Zerina Akers and countless other black creative talent from around the globe, immersed herself in African culture. Commendable. Just take note the fashion, the legwork (watch as Beyonce dances like us in sync with our home-grown talent), the terminology, cultural references and art.
It wasn’t the usual gimmicky Tarzan-style wraps and rags we’re used to seeing on the big screen. The team sourced the best fashion coming out of Africa: new ideas of luxury, on brand, on point. effortless synergy between Africa’s interpretation of haute couture luxury and African tradition. All with an attention to detail and paired to perfection with the “familiar” likes of Burbbery and Gucci to newbies like D Bleu Dazzled by Destiny Bleu and heritage couturists like Mugler . From starry embellished crystal bodysuits, cow-hide corsets/bodices, roped & fringe tassel dresses, to the 1 of 1 Maison Alexandrine pearl and glass dress with a La Falaise Dionn cowrie headdress. Endless amounts of gowns and tailored suits are on show, that could easily be archived for an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum, The Smythsonian, or a coffee table book perhaps. Still, hairstyles and finishing touches strictly african: no compromise.
The film also heavily relied on and championed the curators in the African diaspora. Every part of Africa would have something they identify with. I spoke briefly with Nana Kwasi Wiafe, a stylist and entrepreneur who worked with the Ghana creative team of the production:
“The opportunity to be part was one that was unexpected but an incredible experience…my brother Joshua Kissi had a call from the team at Parkwood[…] last year September […] asking him to shoot the Ghana visuals they need for the project. Knowing what I could bring to the project he asked me to be part of the styling team and the rest is history now.
I used designers like Maxhosa, Very Ghanaian, Kente Gentleman, Studio 189, Free the Youth etc….brands that tell unique stories of Africa, they show our beauty and culture, and I really wanted to amplify this in the work. Africa is the future period, and these brands are showing that we have what it takes to lead the industry and an equal match to brands anywhere in the world.
I respect [Beyoncé’s] art a lot, she’s a global icon that continues to push the culture. So to get the opportunity to represent my passion for Ghana in her bigger vision was a huge deal! We incorporated the Ghana vibes and captured Ghana in the most beautiful and authentic style to give the world a feel of Ghana.”
‘Black Is King’ is a must watch, a sure catalyst for greater and boundless African representation globally. Something we should support. A poetic statement from the visual that rings true is that we must continue to “think of ourselves” or see ourselves in order to “be ourselves”.
In the words of Queen Bey herself: “Black Is King means black is regal and rich, in history, in purpose and lineage”