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Africa undressed

Kianna Shann | 6/16/2010, 5 p.m.

In a land far away physically yet, genetically so close, lives a people who are more than what is portrayed on television.

The spirit and soul of African people is often hidden in the pamphlets, news reports and over exaggerated details provided in an attempt to solicit charity. The beauty of this continent is often masked by its poverty stricken streets, faces of starving children, and AIDS and HIV infected communities. But all it takes is a scalpel and mallet to chip away at the commercial images and uncover the beauty that is our native homeland--Africa.

Africa is the second largest and second most populous continent in the world, so it is no wonder that its beauty can be found deeply rooted in its people, and seen in the colorful fabrics of the nation. In the past, African fashion was most often seen during Kwanzaa and Black History month but, today it is slowly infiltrating Western civilization and becoming a distinctive presence increasingly embraced in the world of fashion.

Arise magazine's African Fashion Collective and African Vibes "I Wear African," are part of the drive to position African Designers to move to the forefront of fashion. These two shows have featured the newest and most ground-breaking African designers.

Both publications are driven by a strong desire to change the face and image of Africa in the eyes of the world.

Amebel Nibe, editor in chief of African Vibes magazine, has strategically designed a show that has captured some of the most innovative African Designers, and delivered them not only right to your door step in the glossy pages of her publication but right down the catwalk. The "I wear African" show was created to shine a positive light on the continent and its people; a light that is long overdue, suggests Nibe. As a lover of fashion Nibe, realized the need for such a platform for African Designers. "African Designers are often operating on a lower budget and have no platform to expose their work. New York fashion week has become so redundant, and I wanted to see something new."

The desire to create something fresh was also a motivation for Arise magazine which has been showing at the tents in Bryant Park during New York Fashion Week for three seasons, and this past March, infiltrated the runways of Paris. Arise continues to "provide a unashamedly positive portrayal of Africa and its contribution to contemporary society" through their show, which acts as a portal to bridge the gap between Africa and the world of fashion.

Mixing Africa and fashion is not new. In the early 1970's, Yves St. Laurent introduced the world to a collection called "African," which consisted of dresses constructed from African-printed fabrics adorned with wooden beads, raffia and shells; it also contained Safari inspired silhouettes.

Recently other designers such as Oscar De La Renta, Marc Jacobs, and Frida Giannini of Gucci also adopted this social trend of embracing Africa's culture through their color combinations and designs. This affect has trickled down to the better brands and can be seen more in brands such as American Apparel and Forever 21.