Celebration of local fabrics
Ghanaian designer Kofi Ansah becomes the toast of the Bella Center fashion fair
By Alfred Tamakloe
Casting spells on his audience with his works is very characteristic of the Ghanaian designer, Kofi Ansah. His reputation as an avant-garde designer is well known not only to Ghanaians but also among fashion connoisseurs world wide.
Kofi's designs have been sold through retail shops in Ghana, South Africa, United States, United Kingdom and Germany including Sachs Fifth Avenue and Bloomingdales.
At this year's autumn-winter Copenhagen International Fashion Fair at Bella Center, February 11 to 14, the Ghanaian designer spiced the entire exhibition with an African flavour which took the large number of patrons and officials, the Danish media inclusive, to enthusiastic heights.
His stand seemed like a beehive with Danish journalists, television cameramen, photographers and fair officials criss-crossing each other in an attempt just to catch a glimpse or take a shot of the exquisite outfits presented by Kofi's lone model.
As I stood and watched in admiration, I wondered what would have been their reaction if Kofi had come to the fair with his huge collection of designs, characteristic of his yearly exhibitions that I have witnessed in Ghana since 1992.
"I use Ghanaian and African fabrics to cut the most dramatic western shapes and it has worked to a greater extent. I strive to create each garment I make as a work of art," he says.
Of course, he is in his natural elements. Ansah stems from a family of artists. His father, a traditional chief from Senya Breku in Ghana's Central Region, is a musician and photographer. The renowned Ghanaian film-maker and twice FESPACO film festival award winner, Kwao Ansah is his brother. His younger sister, Araba Ansah who accompanied him to the Copenhagen fair, is a make-up artist while another brother, Tommy Ansah, main actor in Kwao Ansah's award winning film 'Heritage Africa', is actor and script-writer.
Kofi is a graduate of the Chelsea School of Art, London with honours in fashion design and design technology. His industrial practice after graduation in 1977, took him through Guy Laroche's studio in Paris to that of Cecil Gee in London, thereafter, gaining membership of the British Couture Collection.
"After 20 years in Europe, I returned to Ghana in 1992 to contribute to the development of the Ghanaian clothing industry," he says.
"In the past, those who dressed in traditional clothes in Ghana, were perceived as uneducated people. So when I returned to Ghana, I made it a point to change that wrong perception. Hence my use of local fabrics of varied shades of colours to create fantasy in my designs so it will meet the different colour needs and perceptions of people, young or old, educated or not", affirms the 47-year old fashion designer.
"Today, the story is different. Everybody, particularly the youth and people in executive positions are proud to wear clothes made from local fabric. This has brought healthy competition among Ghanaian designers and a boom to the textile industry, which I'm happy about."
His input as a consultant to Ghana Textile Printing Company, has transformed the fortunes the company. It has for the last five years, rolled out unusual wax prints onto the Ghanaian and West African markets. They include "Sika Print" and "Ahenfie" collections.
In 1993, Kofi invited a number of Europe-based African designers to Ghana's capital, Accra, to stage a continental fashion show dubbed 'Afrique Noire' culminating into the formation of the Federation of African Designers.
Kofi's sense of purpose and direction reflects in the themes of his yearly fashion shows in Ghana. Notable among them, is the celebration of colours which highlight batik, tie&dye, splash and Kente. In his forthcoming show in Accra, in May, 1999, during an African and African-American conference in Ghana, Kofi's theme will be 'Kentes of Ghana'.
"I'm going to use the different kinds of this fabric from Eweland, Ashanti and northern Ghana to create sportswear, bathrobes, and ready to wear jackets. My ambition is, always to create African designs from Africa and sell them to the world. So I see my invitation by Danida to the fair, as an introduction of my designs to the Scandinavia".
"Judging from the interest shown by fashion enthusiasts and the Danish media during this fair," Kofi says, "I look forward to staging a full fledged hair-raising solo fashion show in Denmark in the future which will linger on in the minds of the audience for years."
Meanwhile, another Ghanaian designer, Francis Selorm, who is based in Copenhagen and for years has been striving to make a breakthrough with his spectacular 'Ketus' fashion shows, feels hurt that he wasn't asked to contribute to the fair. Coincidentally, he has scheduled a show also titled 'Kentes of Ghana' in Copenhagen sometime this year.
Officials from Danida explain, that the main idea for the programme was not only to have garment firms from the third world to exhibit their works, but to open the eyes of Danish textile companies, that such designers can offer excellent oppor-tunities for investments and joint ventures.
Photo text 1:
Kofi Ansah is a pace-setter among the echelon of Ghanaian haute-couture designers when it comes to the use of Ghanaian or African fabric to create Western shapes that can be worn by anybody anywhere on earth
Photo text 2:
Designer Kofi Ansah was among 11 textile- and fashionhouses from Africa and Asia invited to Denmark by Danida and Håndværksrådet for a stand entitled 'Fairtrade Textile'.
Above, Ansah preparing his model for a catwalk
This article is published on print in Djembe Magazine, no. 28, April 1999.
Feel free to quote or reproduce any article in Djembe under condition of stating source and obtaining permission from author. Photos are strictly copyright of the photographer. Contents of the article are purely the opinion of the author, and do not in any way reflect the official position or thoughts of Djembe on those issues. Consider Djembe an uncensored, open "bulletin board"
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