meet the dior cruise collaborator who dressed nelson mandela
100% Made in Africa pioneer Pathé Ouédraogo, aka Pathé’O, talks us through his sartorial tribute to Nelson Mandela for Dior Cruise 2020 and tells us why African craftsmanship is true luxury.
Photography Ines Manai
From turning to one of the last remaining factories producing wax fabrics through artisanal techniques, Abidjan-based Uniwax, to inviting designer Grace Wales Bonner and visual artist Mickalene Thomas to reimagine the iconic New Look for today, Dior Cruise 2020 was powered by creative and cultural collaboration
With so much to unpack from the show, our review barely mentioned individual looks, but throughout the 114 look collection Dior codes evolved in a multilingual artistic dialogue. Maria Grazia Chiuri paid homage to Yves Saint Laurent’s 1960 Marrakech jacket, there was a revolving kaleidoscope of toile de Jouy tailoring and intricate white lace dresses, Thomas’s beaded collage adorned Bar jacket and Wales Bonner’s marriage of precise tailoring and crochet raffia... we could talk about these looks for ever.
One of Africa’s leading designers, Pathé Ouédraogo -- aka Pathé’O -- provided one of the most powerful and persuasive voices, despite only producing one shirt. Since he launched his label in the early 90s, he's dressed first ladies, heads of state, presidents, emerging cultural talents alike, and now he has created Dior Cruise 2020 look 58. Worn by Imari Karanja, the shirt was teamed with a frayed tapestry, pleated skirt, the collaboration embodied the whole collection’s identity.
Born in Burkina Faso and now based in Côte d'Ivoire, Pathé's designs have always been totally Made in Africa. Famously, it was Pathé's pride in his roots and Nelson Mandela’s wish to embody a strong and progressive African identity that gave rise to a kinship between the designer and the late president of South Africa. From the mid-90s onwards, his shirts became symbolic of the African continent and its cultural diversity. Together, they showcased what authentic African power looked like to the world. For this collaboration, Maria invited him to create a special shirt that paid tribute to his work with Nelson Mandela and reminded people that true Made in Africa has always been luxury fashion.
“I would never have dreamed of such a collaboration,” Pathé said during one of the model run-throughs inside the epic 16th century El Badi Palace show venue. “After being introduced by Anne [Grosfilley, the anthropologist behind African Wax Print Textiles], Maria and her team came to visit our atelier in Abidjan to discuss the collaboration with wax.” The Dior team spent an afternoon in his archive and Maria was quickly drawn to a particular image of Mandela wearing one of the iconic Pathe’O shirts. “The idea came naturally to weave a shirt into the collection that paid tribute to Mandela,” he added. “We didn’t know one another but we just clicked.” This succinct sentence encapsulates just what Dior wanted to demonstrate. “No matter how different cultures may seem, common ground can be found, and perhaps craftsmanship and textiles are great tools to acknowledge what unites us,” Maria explained during an earlier preview. After establishing their common ground, Pathé embarked on a period of colour and printing experimentation, working closely with Uniwax to realise the finished print.
“Wax reflects society’s behaviour,” Pathé explained. Across Africa, wax motifs are used as non verbal communication tools and while men often know the meanings, they are largely used by women to talk to other women and the same print can mean different things in different cultures.
So what does Pathé hope people take away from his special print? “We wanted to remind people that Nelson Mandela was the first African president to wear 100% Made in Africa products and in doing so, promoted the continent across the world,” he explained. “By wearing my designs with their African savoir-faire, he reminded people of our craftsmanship and restored pride. Ultimately, it’s a reminder; we can and should be proud of African craftsmanship, everything 100% Made in Africa can be luxury too.” Just as Mandela had turned to Pathé’O for a demonstration of sartorial African soft power in the 90s and 00s, Dior did the same today. Showcased in next year’s African Capital of Culture, the timing was perfect. As global attention increasingly focuses on the craftsmanship, quality and creativity across all corners of the continent and the wider fashion industry begins to celebrate the next generation of the continent’s creative future, all eyes are deservedly on Africa.