Magazine article New African

Africa's Fashion Queen: Oumou Sy (Inset), Senegal's Famous Made in Africa Couturier Continues to Delight Her Customers and Inspire Her Fellow Designers, Leading a Revival of Traditional African Fabrics and Fashions to Create Thoroughly Modern Collections. Stephen Williams Went to Meet Her in Dakar

Magazine article New African

Africa's Fashion Queen: Oumou Sy (Inset), Senegal's Famous Made in Africa Couturier Continues to Delight Her Customers and Inspire Her Fellow Designers, Leading a Revival of Traditional African Fabrics and Fashions to Create Thoroughly Modern Collections. Stephen Williams Went to Meet Her in Dakar

Article excerpt

I last met and profiled Oumou Sy three years ago, and on a recent trip to West Africa I was determined to talk to her again and learn what direction her work had taken.

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Against all the odds faced by an African designer, she had scaled the heights of the global fashion industry. But while international fame had come her way, with regular fashion shows in world capitals and her ready-to-wear label Made in Africa established in France and Switzerland, she never lost sight of her roots--refusing to follow many of peers who, as soon as they found fame, felt it important to relocate to Europe or the US.

Instead, she continued to live and work in Senegal and not just in fashion--she had a hand in establishing West Africa's first cybercafe, was instrumental in launching the annual Semaine de la Mode (Dakar fashion week), and initiated a charitable foundation to help the many street children in Senegal's capital and the country's other major towns.

Along the way she dressed some of West Africa's best-known musicians, worked with renowned film directors, began training courses for young designers, and acted as an unpaid cultural ambassador for Africa's creative industries.

It was a little difficult tracking her down as she had moved out of her Atelier Leydi studio in Dakar's Medina district to work from her spacious home, northeast of the city centre. The ground floor of her home is now her workshop and showroom while the upper floor is reserved as her private rooms. But I finally tracked down her phone number and made an appointment with her private secretary. Thanks to Dakar's notorious traffic jams, I arrived late, but her welcome was as warm as our first meeting. "Let me offer you tea," she proposed, leading the way to her upstairs apartment, busily arranging our seating and a mobile fan so we would be comfortable.

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I quickly showed her a copy of New African Woman and she was delighted to see one of her own creations illustrating an article on African textiles, dashing out of the room to return with the material draped around her shoulders and a broad smile on her face.

Yet, while that smile was as I remembered and her positive and infectious energy as lively as I recalled from our previous meeting, I was aware of a lingering sadness--a sadness that I felt she was doing her best to conceal from her guest. …

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