Global Fashion according to Essence Missed the Mark

September 9, 2015 2015 Edition

by Atim Annette Oton

This summer, Essence released a new edition on Global Fashion and lots of folks seem to have loved it. I am happy that Essence has finally left the United States and has begun to cover the world more seriously. It started its journey by choosing to begin in Tanzania’s Serengeti – Take a look at the Essence. Do you hear the jungle too?

After looking at it and re-looking, as a Global African, a Afropolitan, I was disappointed. Why? Well, I am seeing vignettes that I have seen before – almost 30 years back, so nothing is new or innovative here. It’s that tired old jungle baby theme still playing that old song. Ironically – it’s the black version of Taylor Swift in Africa. Sorry to say that but this black African is tired of the west shooting pictures in our landscape, our jungles and our parks. Seriously! And we talk about others representing us badly or with stereotypes. It’s an old theme that gets us no where except backwards.

Joiee Thorpe’s version of Africa and Island Girl (see her other shoot here – her other shoot) is simply playing on old stereotypes. Africa is not a country, Africa is not Tanzan and Jane, and we are not a jungle, this time the black versions shown in magazines with black editors and style folk. Years ago, I stopped reading Essence and occasionally see it at when my mother at the end of the year buys a subscription of $10 at Christmas. I remember why I stopped reading it. The version of black America and the black world it put in its pages was and is still is jarring to me. I seriously miss Arise Magazine, ironically styled by a British woman but published by a Nigerian (yes, it had issues too). It told a more forward looking fashion and global African story.

With all the African Fashion designers in Africa, it would have been a treat to see one curate the Global Fashion Issue. As a Nigerian, I would suggest Nigeria as a place to find a designer but that would be myopic on my part and I am a global African – so please take a look at Ghanaian designers, Ethiopian designers and Kenyan designers, we have a continent full. And if you have to start in southern Africa, designer David Tlae of South Africa could have styled a slamming edition.

Now, in defense of Joiee Thorpe, she may be able to curate for the US audience but for the global audience, but she really missed the mark here and so Essence missed an opportunity to shift its audience. Africa is not the poster child of jungle images. We do have cities and towns that can be our backgrounds. We come with such richness.


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