Think of a traditional African print and you'll probably think of kente cloth. You know, that horizontally and graphically striped multicolor fabric organized in narrow strips of the beautiful colors of the earth like orange, red, brown, green and blue that signify African craftsmanship and tradition. However, also don't forget the bevy of stamping, dyeing and wax resist techniques that conspire to create the vividly patterned colorful wonderments that are African textiles. Dashikis, djellabas, kaftans, grand bou bous and kanzus may be rendered with wonderful color or print or simple clean textured silks, cottons or woolens. These are all visually and distinctively African, traditional and recognized by each generation as the garbs worn by their families and the like.
However, fast forward to today and what happens when influence and artistry creep into the borders and confines of what is traditional and recognized. An antiquated perspective of African style is, well, antiquated. Cultures from all the hemispheres have had influences on all the world stages and the collective countries of Africa have been no exception. There's burgeoning hip-hop inspired artists like Wiz Kid out of Nigeria, the cult-like influence of the 'Les Éléphants' soccer team from the Ivory Coast and the striking beauties and handsome gents to hit the runways out of Ethiopia and Sudan. Then most recently during the last New York Fashion Week I had the pleasure of discovering the polished and honorific aesthetic of Angola's Projecto Mental.
Projecto Mental is an artistic mash-up of the patented sides of tailoring with the cultivated sides of traditional Africana. What we're used to seeing fashioned up on dashikis and djellabas the duo of Shunnoz Fiel and Tekasala Ma'at Nzinga make up in pristinely tailored trousers and blazers with a creative edge for Projecto Mental.
Take their Spring 2015 Collection for example. It was a collection of taking the colors and subtle silhouettes of traditional Angolan garb and merging them with the efforts of classic tailoring. Then once that was achieved the creativity of the inspired duo took form with forward nods in construction through slight cut and proportion. What's always interesting from a non-American fashion collection is the lack of focus on perceived Western male familiarities. With Projecto Mental's vantage point, an idea of masculinity that is often met with skepticism by the American male consumer takes a familiar shape. For example, much of American mens clothing encircles at the waist to emphasize the strength of the shoulders and V-torso. Clothing that extends below the waist, such as with fuller tunic and kaftan lengths, are very common for men to don outside of the US.
Projecto Mental's presence at a New York Fashion Week suggested a necessary bridge of Western and Eastern. The combination of the familiar masculine tailoring aesthetic with familiar masculine Africana aesthetic created a dialogue that celebrated masculinities of several cultures. Presumed male dress patterns are being challenged in the US slowly but surely as designers seek ways to celebrate the cross-cultural influences of world societies and hyper-gender references. As more informed and astute men seek ways to veer outside the box, Projecto Mental's presence in New York with their first US show is one I would say was a case of the right place and right on time.