By Claude Grunitzky
Years after the launch of their fashion business, and a day after Alicia Keys, Cardi B and Michelle Obama heralded female creatives at the Grammys in Los Angeles, co-founders Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah raised the stakes in New York with a collection where every piece seemed informed by ongoing tensions around gender, race and environmental issues.
Instead of opting for the fun and movement of their runway shows, where they often add a bit of dance to procession, the two designers presented a series of directional looks at Spring Studios in the TriBeCa neighborhood of lower Manhattan. This was their first fall collection, and the mood was more reflective, more sentimental, and perhaps more political than at some of their previous Fashion Week shows.
Those who have followed the evolution of the Studio 189 line must have noticed that it’s always been about more than fashion, that the celebration of African artisans, tailors and seamstresses has been in the DNA of the brand since day one. The Studio 189 team back in Accra must now be in jubilation, because President Nana Akufo-Addo’s call for “Year of Return, Ghana 2019” for Africans in the Diaspora was embraced as an underlying theme for the collection.
“It’s 400 years since West Africans were first forced into slavery,” said Abrima. “It’s 400 years since the first slave ships left West Africa, and Rosario and I just did an amazing journey with some of our friends, called Full Circle, in Ghana, where the President declared this year the ‘Year of Return.’ The slaves were in dungeons, they were being mistreated. They were sent to America and all over the world with this idea that they would never come back.”
Building on the symbolism of that anniversary, and the global call to action that came out of the remembrance of some extraordinary achievements and contributions made by Africans around the globe, Rosario flipped it when she declared that this particular collection amounted to “our Sunday Best,” which is about being present in this moment while recognizing where we come from.
The display of ancestral clothes making traditions and ancient fashion techniques was a fitting tribute to the spirit of sustainability that permeated the collection. From indigo, to batik, to recycled beads, the message from Rosario was crystal clear: “We don’t have to have lots of things, but we have to have quality things. We brought Africa here to you. We hope you come back to Africa with us, in celebration.”