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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Continent's Designers Exhibit Creations at All-African Show

ABIDJAN, Ivory Coast -- Silk-screened fabrics, raffia bustiers and Ashanti beads: Fashion from across Africa was put through its paces last week at K'Palezo, the first international trade show for the continent's clothes designers.

After initial hiccups -- empty booths, technical glitches, poor sound quality -- the first catwalk presentations showed off the work of the "black diaspora," as west African stylist Katoucha put it.

Niger's Alphadi got the show going early in the week with models in indigo veils moving to Arabic rhythms. Afterward, French-Senegalese Claire Kane paid homage to Che Guevara with fabrics emblazoned with stars.

Katoucha, once a top model from the stable of Yves Saint-Laurent, made waves with her "barbarians": women with breasts covered in raffia cups or yorouba masks and glistening bare-torsoed men wrapped in lengths of printed fabric.

A dozen mostly west African designers presented interpretations of traditional dress. Some offered western cuts embellished with woven material, orange kita from the Baule of Ivory Coast, golden kasai from Zaire, homespun from the Bandiagara cliffs in Mali's Dogon country.

Liberia's Abraham came up with a "boubou for the 21st century" with billowing sleeves and masks handpainted on to the cloth.

In K'Palezo, which means village square in Appolonian, a language spoken in the south of the Ivory Coast, designers hope to show themselves to be professionals, not just simple artisans.

Under the umbrella of the African Federation of Designers, which will hold its first general meeting at K'Palezo, they also want to make known their desire to be taken seriously by fashion houses and air their professional problems related to export and marketing.

Knock-offs are a great concern. "A small workshop could reproduce one of my lines 24 hours after it appears on the catwalk. We must be protected," insisted Pepita of Benin.

"Sometimes they improve on our ideas, but we have to make them understand it is industrial property," Katoucha said.