Who’s HauTe: Interview with Imane Ayissi of Imane Ayissi.
Imane Ayissi! Can’t pick the name? Well people start familiarising yourself because this man is currently making waves particularly with his latest release for A/W 2012. Personally, I am in love with his elegant display of sensuality through fabric and sophistication illuminating from his garments. Each piece exudes beauty in itself and accentuates this further in each of the wearers.
Imane, was born in Cameroun and moved to France in 1990 where he gained much respect for his amazing creative expression through fabric. Imane is all about emphasizing the grace and beauty in women through each of his luxurious pieces, illuminating the sensual features of women through innovative manipulation of his well draped fabrics- particularly silk. His tendency to create current collections inspired by his own personal story and culture is evident in this A/W range, dubbed “Idoutt”.
Idout meaning “long dress” in the Ewondo language, will be a type of ‘capsule collection’ (a limited edition between two collections) which goes easy on the African aesthetics but rather tends to a more visible blend between Asian, past western culture and African cultural forces. Ayisi claims to draw his inspiration from sources such as 1930’s evening glamour with a hint of Gothic appeal and explains that “…[my] monochromatic collection was a way of challenging the cliché that African creations are always multicoloured and overloaded with ornamental accessories…” Whichever way you view Imane Ayisi’s collections it seems as if they are managing to maintain strong international appeal.
…HauTe sits down and has a chat to the well spoken man behind the talent.
HFA: First off are you able to tell us and those out there who don’t know Mr. Ayissi, what brought upon your interest of fashion? Did you always eventually want to be a fashion designer?
Imane: Since I was a young boy in Cameroon, I have always been interested in fashion, but it’s hard to say why. I think there are so many reasons, maybe only psychoanalysis could help me understand why ; ). But one of my influences in fashion was my mother. She was, and still is, a very elegant woman. She was the first Miss Cameroon in 1960, and following this she worked in air companies, thus having the opportunity to travel a lot. She would travel a lot to Paris in particular and brought back wonderful dresses from French couturiers such as YSL, Guy Laroche…etc. She was kind of a Goddess in my child eyes.
So really I’ve always been interested in working in fashion, it was a very attractive world for me. However when I was living in Cameroon I didn’t really know if I wanted to be fashion designer, model, show organiser …or whatever.
HFA: Now you were born in Yaoundé, Cameroon and moved to Paris in 1992. Tell us a bit about your other occupations, we hear you have endeavoured into dancing, modelling and acting?
Imane: In Yaoundé I started to work as a dancer because it was a kind of tradition in my family, (my grandfather was quite a well-known dancer and one of my brothers had created a family ballet) so naturally I started to work with him. After this I worked in the Cameroon National Ballet. While I was dancing I would participate to festivals, travelling for the first time in Europe. At the beginning of the 90’s, I worked as a dancer for the Yannick Noah European tour and then decided to stay in Paris for a while working still as a dancer, and as a model. The beginnings were not easy, but finally I had the opportunity to work with pop singers like Mylene Farmer and Patrick Dupont on his World tour.
It was the same thing with modelling. In the 90’s in Paris there were already black male models, but they were usually American or from Caribbean. I was a little bit different, maybe less sophisticated, more natural and the agency were not interested, but finally I worked with Couturiers or luxury brands such as Yves Saint Laurent, Valentino, Claude Montana and Gianfranco Ferre, …etc.
HFA: Returning back to fashion, when did you get your big break and how many collections have you now released?
Imane: I made my first collection in 1993, but of course it was quite different from the collections I create now. I was quite “innocent” in that job and now I realise that there were few things I didn’t understand about the fashion world. But I learnt a lot in working as a fashion model companies, and had the chance to meet people who helped me and whom I have learned a lot from.
At the beginning my collections were only “couture” collections: the garments were sold only “sur-mesure” to few clients. Now in my collections shown in the Haute Couture fashion week, there are still “couture” pieces but also ready-to-wear pieces. I have now released 19 collections; it means that at the beginning I didn’t create two collections a year like now. I also have a “Permanent” line, made of classical pieces, renewed each season by new fabrics or details.
HFA: Where would you say that your inspiration stems from– particularly your most recent A/W 2011-12 range?
Imane: The AW 2011-12 collection “Idoutt” was maybe a little bit different from others because the inspiration was more abstract. It’s a collection of mostly eveningwear, and the inspiration is fluidity, movement, and geometry. Actually I tried to research into the strength of some very minimalist geometrical African masks from the 19th and beginning of 20th century.
HFA: On first glimpse of your collections I noticed that they have moved away from the common use of Ankara and other African printed fabrics. What are your favourite fabrics to use and why?
Imane: Usually when you are an African designer there is a kind of pressure to use these kind of supposed African printed fabrics. Some people criticize me as not a “real” African designer because I don’t use this kind of fabric. For me, the fact that I’m from Cameroon makes me -as a fashion designer- as free as any English, Belgian, Japanese, French or American designer. I feel totally free in my inspirations and to use any kind of fabrics I like. Also if these kinds of fabrics are used in Africa, they are not more African than anything else. Historically they come from Asia (actually from Indonesia) and they were imported in the 19th century in Africa by Dutch merchants. Still now they are usually made in Germany, Austria or Netherlands and Imported by African countries.
As a designer I think I’m more an architect, than a colourer. For me it’s the silhouette and the movement of the garments on bodies that are important, so I choose fabrics in order to correspond to the silhouette I imagine. I can use any kind of fabrics but I prefer beautiful plain fabrics of natural materials like silk, wool, cotton, satin, crepe.. etc. Also because environmental issues are nowadays a crucial problem for our societies, I try as much as possible to find eco-friendly fabrics
HFA: In your most recent show in Paris you released your S/ S collection for 2012, what story were your pieces generally trying to tell to the audience when they were presented on the runway?
Imane: The “title” of this collection is “Mimbak”. It’s the Ewondo (from the Cameroon language, my native language actually) a word for scars, especially ritual scars, but also for stripes. Scars are a sign of accident or suffering, but ritual scars in Africa are the sign that you belong to a community, a culture. So with this collection I wanted to talk of Africa nowadays, a continent with a lot of problems, (but also made of modern countries), open to the rest of the world, with a lot of potential, assets, and a quite preserved nature. That’s why I choose some fabrics (actually in raw silk) which look like the earth, tree bark or stones… or which were printed with natural products such as octopus ink or cocoa.
HFA: Your use of technique and craft in your work is amazing, with your collection at Vogue Afrique, Paris 2002 really capturing my attention. There was a great amount of ruffles, shrilling, gathering, pleating and layering used often in conjunction with one another. What do you think is the most important aspect when it comes to designing garments? (Particularly for women).
Imane: I sometimes use intricate techniques, but for me the most important thing is the silhouette, the shape, and the relationship between the garment and the body. As I said already I ‘m more an architect or a stylist. When I design a collection, I always think first of the kind of silhouette I want, and details arrive usually after. So I can use ruffles or pleating, but it’s always in order to build the silhouette I want.
HFA: Now you have a thing about designers “overburdening” their pieces, explain what you mean by this.
Imane: I think it’s maybe a problem with designers from countries without a strong or old fashion culture. They think that designing means to put the most ideas you can have on a silhouette, and that to appear as creative and perhaps “rich”- you have to overburden what you create. But [to me] it’s wrong. Of course overburdening can be a style, (it’s the essence of baroque or rococo style), but it’s not easy at all, because you must overburden and balance at the same time.
What is important is to create a coherent silhouette with a strong idea, something you can easily read and understand, even if it’s full of subtle and even almost invisible details.
HFA: Critics describe you as being able to “…reveal the body without undressing it and suggest the body rather than showing it…” How do you do this? And in what ways do you aim to help those you dress with “increasing their seductive power.”?
Imane: Some designers, and sometimes the best ones, are more interested in garments than in bodies. For me the body is at the beginning, we are our body. It’s a wonderful “machine” and we have to be proud of our body. But because we are very sophisticated animals, we have to transform our body to make it more attractive, I mean not only in a seductive or sexual way, but also in a social way. So garments can help to transform your body into something cultural and interesting. But it’s a balance, if you transform your body into something totally artificial (with fake hair, fake nails, covering make up …etc) your are not human anymore.
So, what I want to do, is present subtle silhouettes, that suggest that you have a body but in a cultural way. In some of my previous shows I sometimes showed naked breasts, but it wasn’t at all aggressively seductive, it was to tell a story for example. So of course garments can help you to be more seductive, and in my opinion it’s one goal of fashion, (but first, please take care of your body). People should be more careful with their body, maybe they should spend less money on garments and more to do with sports or nutrition.
HFA: I’m sure like many other designers you have also stood on the shoulders of other giants. Which African and Western designers inspire you the most and what about them inspires you?
Imane: Of course, Fashion is a culture and you can’t build your style by ignoring the past. So I learnt from all the big names of international fashion (starting with the French giants such as Chanel, Vionnet, Balenciaga, Dior… ) But if I have to choose three or four, I would say, Vionnet because of her technique of “bias”, her very ingenious geometrical patterns, and the same kind of subtle body revealing I try to create. Azzedine Alaïa also because his techniques are wonderful, and he is the first designer who created sexy style which is not vulgar. Yves Saint Laurent because he’s the best example of the French style: innovative but always balanced and chic. Also Chris Seydoux because he’s the first African designer who succeeded in Paris (he even opened a store in the Saint Honoré Area), and was the first African designer to understand how the international fashion world works. For me he is still an example.
HFA: What is Mr. Ayissi looking to bring forth in the future and what should everyone look out for?
Imane: Finding solutions to continue to improve the human civilisation without destroying the environment.
See the rest from Imane Ayissi’s recent collection below”
To find out more about Imane Ayissi, please visit their website www.ImaneAyissi.com
– Amy Iheakanwa