Local traditions in fashion

October 2005 -

The international world of fashion has been turned upside down: no longer is it ruled from its strongholds in Paris, London and Milan – instead, nowadays the world of fashion is shaped by designs from all over the world. Thanks to TV and the Internet, designers can now reach an audience of millions. The exhibition 'Global Fashion / Local Tradition', which runs until early 2006 at Utrecht’s Centraal Museum, demonstrates the diversity of contemporary fashion, one in which the dividing-line between Western and non-Western fashion is becoming ever more blurred. The Prince Claus Fund paid for a number of designers to fly to Utrecht so that they could attend the September 17 opening ceremony.


Thando and Vanya Mangaliso and their South African label Sun Goddess

Talented young designers from all over the world are showing off their creations at the exhibition, which aims to bridge the gap between tradition and modernity. There is a social angle to the work of some of these designers too, as they create employment for a local population. For example, the collection from the China Lane label set up in 2002 by Shirley Cheung Laam makes use of the embroidery skills of the Miao tribe in Ginzhou. In this way, she is placing the time-honoured Chinese tradition of embroidery in a new context: "I want my designs to inspire a younger generation to seek their own inspiration from the past. You see, these days many Chinese seem to be fixated with the West, to the exclusion of everything else. I’m just pointing out that we don’t have to blindly copy everything foreign - we should instead be drawing inspiration from the traditions that our own country is so rich in."

The husband and wife team Thando and Vanya Mangaliso, who own the successful South African label Sun Goddess, draw inspiration from their forefathers’ rich cultural heritage. They unite the present and the past through their use of modern fabrics, rich decorations and above all a generous portion of African history. These days, traditional adornments such as shells and bones have been replaced by beads and buttons."It’s not only cheaper but more practical: after all, people do have to be able to wash their own clothes." However, Sun Goddess doesn’t just create original designs; it also provides jobs for the local population. As Thando puts it: "We don’t do fashion for the sake of fashion."

While it is true that these days designers weave their cultural background, their past and their clothesmaking craftsmanship into their designs, you do wonder how much this penchant for authenticity is just a temporary trend. Hopefully local fashion will gain more and more influence in a world where the McDonald’s of fashion - H&M - is threatening to become all-pervasive.