African Prints: on trend since two centuries

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African Prints: on trend since two centuries

African fabrics have impacted the fashion industry becoming an enormous fashion statement, with designers such as; Burberry Prorsum, Balenciaga, Roberto Cavalli and Bottega Venetta featuring the wax print designs within their collections.


The African theme has been described to be having a ‘moment’ within the fashion industry and has created controversy on fashion magazines such as Elle because of the loss of cultural appropriation for the prints within the European market. Designers have taken their inspiration to the next level with zebra prints, cultural prints, tribal prints and many other significant images on their collections.

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Roberto Cavalli SS16

Traditional prints have continued to inspire the catwalk with animal prints and Balenciaga brought modernity to the look with safari collection featuring techno sheen.

Although it has been receiving a lot of press and features with iconic brands, but what is the history behind the designs?

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Dries Van Noten SS16

The history of African prints began when wax dye resist fabric called batik were imported from the West Indies (Indonesia) to Africa in the early 1800s. Although it did originate from Indonesia, this was firstly taken to Europe, the Netherlands, by the Dutch VOC trading company. The company, later on moved their factories from the Netherlands to England in order to cut the costs. The African prints were also brought into Africa from Dutch European traders and West African men, slaves and soldiers, who were imported to Indonesia to strengthen the Indonesian army.

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Kenzo SS16

The prints were exported over to the West African market then later on into Central Africa by the name of Dutch Wax Fabrics as a cheap fabric source for consumers. They became popular and later on Africans personalised and customised the designs implying different meanings behind each drawing. Different prints representing different meanings were drawn then dyed on a cotton cloth material, cotton plant, a soft and fluffy fibre that grows in a boll, under natural conditions.

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Missoni SS16

Wax prints are the most expensive colourful African prints. They are the industrial version of the original Indonesian batik cloth, including the use of wax.

The African prints within high fashion have given a rise to the continent itself and the trend has been described cool and fashionable. Today, with celebrities such as Beyonce, Rihanna and Zendaya Coleman sporting the trend, this has made Europe a multi-cultural nation.

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African Prints: on trend since two centuries

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Written by Otillia Antonio

Otilia is an International fashion journalism masters student, make up artist and fashion blogger with a passion for exploring new cultures and travelling.

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