Dressed to impress

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Yesterday, I attended a funeral for a leading musician from London’s African community. As I approached the Church where the service was held, I noticed something – a considerable number of the attendees, including the musician’s family members were dressed in green. In some cases they wore aso ebi  – outfits made from the same material, but in others, people improvised with their own versions of coordinated greenery.

The atmosphere was both sombre and celebratory, which was fitting for the occasion. The musician was well integrated into both African and Caribbean networks, so there was a fine turnout from a diverse range of Black people of a certain age group, obviously there to pay their respects as the musician was taken to his final resting place.

The event made me think about the ways that our people express themselves through their grooming. This musician never grew dreadlocks, but there were quite a few folk present at his send off who are likely to be adherents of Rastafarianism in the congregation. I noticed some creative ideas in the clothes worn by the musicians, reminding me of a time when I was a muse as a young man for an African clothes designer who now lives in Zanzibar.

In those days – the era of the New Romantics in mainstream British youth culture, I was able to present a distinctive image, based on my own selection of suitable fabrics, which the designer made into outfits. As a result of our collaboration, many creative practitioners of the era from the Black arts scene eventually bought clothes from this designer. In later years, some of these players spoke to me with fond memories about the clothes they bought and sometimes wore, but they had no idea about the role I played in helping to spread the consciousness.

Nowadays, there are highly successful Black British clothes designers and Savile Row trained tailors who run respectably large organisations. Some Black British models are making waves on the international fashion scene. But where do the designers and stylists draw their inspiration from? Wouldn’t it be nice to see an infusion of African aesthetics into high street dressing? Maybe the Afro-Futurism ethos of Black Panther could make a difference.