Ana Rodarte ︎

© Vitaly / ADOBE STOCK

Subversion in an intertwining of fingers

New generation of stylists reaffirms the political and affective force of artisanal techniques and challenges useless market assumptions.

You don't have to get too close to know how Zuzu's embroidery still bleeds. The exposure power of its birds, cannons and angels did not go unnoticed by the murderous repression that plagued Brasil at the time: on April 14, 1976, the seamstress was murdered by agents of the military dictatorship. Zuzu Angel had everything to carry on with her peaceful land traditions, Curvelo (MG), in a work that would keep her fancy clientele satisfied and thus support the children she had to raise on her own: Stuart, Hildergard and Ana Cristina. But when Stuart was arrested, tortured and killed by the military in 1971, Zuzu made clothes a platform for fighting in a sudden political awakening. In September of the same year, she exposed the violence of the military in a protest-demonstration, filled with bugle beads, sequins and beads that echoed the pain of a mother who lost her baby.

Today, the subversive tonic of works like those by Zuzu Angel resonates with a new generation of creators. With exquisite techniques, learned in workshops or between family lunches, they make clothing a platform to rediscover their own identity and subvert the depreciating narratives that persist in silencing subjectivities and the political force of artisans. And so they have been standing out in a hyper-virtualized context, longing for everything that appeals to the touch and the affectivity of memory.

This was the case of stylist and entrepreneur Dayana Molina, indigenous from the Fulni-ô people, who lives in the Northeast of Brasil. Her great-grandmother on his mother's side was a seamstress in the backlands of Pernambuco. Even though she was fascinated with the needles, Day soon realized that the fashion world was very exclusive and did not portray the beauty of its people, as she told FFW. The awakening of the craft she learned as a child happened when she started working in a costume studio. And that's when she decided to shake up the fashion industry from the inside. Today, in addition to working as a stylist, she manages the @indigenasmodabr profile and runs Nalimo, a minimalist brand that defies Eurocentric standards with an urban interpretation of the Fulni-ô aesthetic, standing out in the textile reuse. “I remember very well that, when launching the brand, some people questioned where the graphics were. As if, because I’m indigenous, I could only create a brand with graphics. (...) We are free to create a creative world with authenticity and autonomy. ”, she told ELLE.

British designer with Jamaican descent Grace Wales Bonner also heard the voice of her ancestry to create an intonation of her own. Winner of the third edition of the LVMH award, dedicated to new talents and their projection in the market, and strongly influenced by the readings inherited from the father - which contemplate thinkers like James Baldwin, the poet and playwright Ishmael Reed and Robert Farris Thompson, professor of Yale who reflects on Cuban culture - Bonner brings her post-colonial academic reflections to the world of clothing. She therefore combines exquisite tailoring - which drank in European tradition and Afro-Cuban expressions from the 1940s and 1950s - with Afro-Atlantic weaving and embroidery techniques, composing intercultural dialogues to honor the beauty of black masculinity. Her technical precision is to a level that she can propose smokings in fluid silhouettes without falling into the diaphanous buzzword. And she still has time to play with the proportions of British tailoring.

And if Wales Bonner is the girl of the European circuit eyes, her work is already spreading seeds. Among her followers is British-Nigerian designer Mowalola Ogunlesi, who worked with Grace while she was still in college and also has a special affection for the men's wardrobe. Just when she graduated from Central Saint Martins, Mowalola presented a collection inspired by Nigeria's psychedelic music scene in the 1970s, bringing ultra-cut, ultra-touched and ultra-glossy pieces in leather - features that would become her work brand. This imagery was composed with the sewing and dyeing techniques that the designer learned at home: in the 60s, her grandmother left Scotland to open her own brand in Nigeria. Mowalola's father followed, exploring his country's tailoring expressions.

The name of Ogunlesi entered everyone’s radar when people such as Naomi Campbell, Solange, Skepta, Drake and Megan Thee Stallion started to walk in her creations filled with sex appeal. And just like that, Kanye West (he, always he!) invited the stylist to join the Yeezy Gap team. And for those who come with reductionist narratives about post-colonialism, the stylist has a message ready for you: “I am Nigerian, so everything I create will automatically be considered as Nigerian work. I don't think I need to promote myself as the 'African designer' (...) the conversations that I want people to have in Nigeria are the same as the people that have been here in London. At the end of the day, I'm just a designer doing the shit I want to do”, she told Vogue.

And if the subject is to contest conventions around manual techniques, the young New Yorker and Chinese designer Chet Lo already has knitting needles ready to go. Recognized for the thorny textures that refer to the durio fruit, Lo managed to take such a retrofuturistic and fun approach to his work that his breakthrough is almost a contemporary fairy tale: the influencer Lil Miquela had to beg to post a selfie with one of his tops and soon the hit tik-toker Doja Cat discovered it. Although ancestry is essential in Cheng Lo's work, he learned to handle knitting when he studied at Saint Martins, where he started experimenting with monofilament yarns. As he shared with THE FACE: “It's like a very fine fishing line. It is very difficult to knit it because it’s so unpredictable, but somehow I managed to force it to climb on the ends and have a 3D effect. (...) Everything I do is knitted, which is a joke, but I have fun with the challenge of understanding how to make fabrics in ways that I normally wouldn't do. ”

It remains uncertain whether these new creative approaches can give real value to the work of artisans moving forward. After all, even in the luxury segment, these creators still have to deal with tight deadlines and unfair budgets that do nothing to honor the difficulty of working with delicate materials. Decolonial work dynamics, which seek to bring more opportunities to creators marginalized by neoliberal supremacist regimes, can be an alternative for this reality to be transformed. After all, the fashion world is really in need of a shake, and we hope it’s implosive.