"It's a fabric that compromises. Using wax is always a message." The social history of Africa is told through drawing […], is a way of understanding societies, "anthropologist Anne Grosfilley, who recently published the book" Wax. 500 tissus "and to collaborate with a parade of the Dior maison.
Through the drawing of the alphabet, for example, this colorful fabric tells the colonial story. "At that time the alphabet was used to demonstrate that they were part of the new generation of literate people. Today this can also be a form of claim: with the influence of Boko Haram, girls do not have access to school," says Anne Grosfilley. has studied for 25 years African fashion and the history of the wax.
Nails and bag
African women use the designs stamped on wax fabric "as a means of non-verbal communication". The print of Madame Thérèse's fingernails pays homage to the wife of the first president of Côte d'Ivoire, who would have promised to disfigure her husband's alleged lover with his own hands.
The "devaluation" standard, with CFA franc notes, had a particular appeal after 1994, after the decision of the Bank of France to divide by two the value of this currency in force in 14 African countries. African women wore fabrics with these prints to show that they felt depreciated and devalued as people.
Among the latest sales success is the "Michelle Obama Purse" wax that reproduces a luxury leather piece worn by the admired ex-First Lady of the United States.
The fabric through which women express their hopes and their anger aroused the interest of the artistic director of Dior, the Italian Maria Grazia Chiuri, a committed feminist who, in April, included the pieces in the parade of the Dior cruise collection held in Marrakesh, Morocco.
Dior and refugee workshop
The pattern of birds in flight, inspired by the fabrics used by the singer and South African political activist Miriam Makeba, was one of the pieces that paraded through the Dior passerelle.
"The idea was not to work with pre-existing designs," explains Anne Grosfilley, who visited together with Maria Grazia Chiuri the Uniwax factory in Abidjan, "the only one with perfect African traceability: cotton grown in Africa, spun and woven in Benin and printed in Côte d'Ivoire ".
Although French designers Jean Paul Gaultier and Agnès B, in addition to the British brand Burberry, have used wax in their collections, the approach of Dior "is unique."
"This is the first time we have worked with wax made in Africa, with Africans creating new designs reinterpreting Dior codes," says the anthropologist. "A fabric considered African is as luxurious as other Italian or French luxury materials used by the Dior maison."
Concerned to avoid falling into the trap of cultural appropriation, Maria Grazia Chiuri opened her parade in the ruins of an old Marrakesh palace with a creation signed by the African stylist Pathé'O, who returned to putting the wax in fashion in Africa in the end of the years 1980.
As it does not originate in Africa and is not anchored in any particular country, the wax has "a pan-African force. All Africans, Afro-descendants and diasporas recognize it" and stars like Beyoncé and Rihanna have already used it.
True woven wax fabric with "its perfect imperfections, which have no right or wrong side" represents only 5% of a market full of copies made in Asia.
"True or false, people always want to say something with the wax," says the anthropologist, who wore a wax-lined jacket made by immigrants waiting for her regularization at the Talking Hands atelier in the Italian town of Treviso.
Click on the gallery and see some of the proposals from the Cruise collection of Dior presented on April 29th in Marrakesh.