When I first met Selam, it was clear that she was ambitious, “I want to leave my mark” she said to me.
In life there are the wishful thinkers and the doers. It was evident she was bold from the get go. It speaks in the way she carries herself. Proud where she comes from and eager to always represent her identity in her designs, it is with that same vigor she does her work. Selam who has already successfully held four fashion shows in such a short period started designing when she was in the fifth grade, but it wasn’t until 2017 that she chose to fully concentrate on it coming up with the brand name Selam Vogue for her products. Her latest show and one she had been planning for quite some time was held last week.
Friday, 9th August, might have been the start of the new Premier League season, which might have got the attention of the younger generation to stay put in their houses and watch last year’s runners up Liverpool take on newly promoted side Norwich but inside the compounds of Expo-West- End, there was a highly anticipated Fashion show about to take place. For the last decade or so, I haven’t missed a single opening game of the English Premier league; it has sort of become a ritual. However, Selam Vogue and peers had a show that was a must attend.
Fashion is an industry, with the creative expression of designers, fashion houses, and brands. It’s an international business with a worldwide presence and the ability to cause economic waves. Take France, for example. Fashion is so important to the country socially and economically that the industry is regulated and supported quite heavily by the government.
In Eritrea, the fashion industry is in its infant stages. With no retail or manufacturing industry to back up the outpour of fashion ideas and designs, designers have to be creative in expressing themselves whilst trying to find a market for their merchandize.
Now, I have always said that the artist works out of sheer inspiration rather than necessity, and after gods they are the real creators of the physical world. It is true. Designers are artists; they get inspired by their surroundings and in return they inspire and influence what is around them.
Here, our designers are the physical embodiment of an Eritrean character. When we talk about being Eritrean, the first that comes to mind is that we are very proud of our identity. We are hard workers, we strive to achieve our dreams and we take what is ours; we neither wait for nor accept handouts. When we talk about the Eritrean designer, it is with that same Eritrean work ethic that they go about doing their day to day work. Throughout our history we [Eritreans] had to earn what was ours. We have never had anything handed to us; we literally had to take what was ours. Our designers are doing the same.
The demands with which the field comes, ours [Eritrean Designers] embrace it. Each design is modern in terms of cuts but with local and traditional fabrics. With almost no retail or manufacturing industry to back up their ideas, our designers choose to get acquainted with local tailors. Each design is Eritrean made, the idea, the fabric and the final product.
The Friday’s show saw the collaboration of five up and coming young fashion d e s i g n e r s , Selam, Semhar, Rutha, Judi and Saron, and four different m a k e u p artists, Suzi, Saba, Makda and Haben. Renowned for their culture-driven events, We s t – E n d hosted the show under the roofs and the dimly lit ambiance covered with white fabric.
The brains behind the show, Selam Tesfai, driven by her ambitions to leave her mark in her country, said “we have to complement each other rather than compete.” The air in the room had the same sentiment, each designer was there to complement the other, all with their romantic, yet empowered and aesthetic originality to their collection with so much of the Eritrean identity woven into their outfits. It was remarkable to see that these were Eritrean products. Yet I wasn’t surprised a bit. The current generation of Eritrean youngsters are trendsetters.
Tradition is passed down in the creation and construction of our clothes. The way things are made, the materials and the process are all embedded into our communities and cultures. The collection I saw on that night kept shades of the Tigre fabric on short skirts and elegant black dresses, the pattern and styles of the Tigrigna Zuria with a modern twist; evident of strength, optimism, boldness and passion. It is a symbol of what we as Eritreans feel everyday.
“I wanted to organize an event where designers can present our culture and identity through their eyes, all of which have a brash of modernity. I came up with the idea of fashion show collaboration between designers, musicians, photographers and make-up artists because art is a strong representation of a person’s identity. “It can be both cultural and personal, and it is something many people are interested in, so I thought this would be a perfect opportunity for all of us artists out there to have fun while displaying our cultures,” said Selam when she first told me about the show a month ago.
The night not only bears witness to a fashion show but it was also accompanied by up and coming young new musicians. Seare performed Melke’eya Amele’ya roughly translated to “Beautiful and Seductive”, Merry who writes and composes her own music from her own room performed a single from her upcoming EP, while musicians Hannibal, Ermias Teklezghi and guitarist Abiel all played a cameo.
As mentioned above, if artists are the medium through which the creator expresses one of his attributes in the physical worlds, then they should give serious heed to their call or vocation and pass the ‘aesthetic message’ in its purest form. They should never take their work lightly and should consider themselves as endued with a divine power to change the hearts of humankind
Art is not something that money produces, or something that is supposed to produce money. Art is an inspiration accompanied by a lot of perspiration. It needs detachment from all that is related to money, fame and the baser appetites of life.
Art is creation, from nothingness. It demands bold experimentation, the probing of the human spirit, the delving into the spiritual and physical needs of mankind. Real art should be able to talk to the heart and to the soul with the aim of changing attitudes, thoughts, and feelings for the better.
What I saw from the designers was the creation of a manifestation of the mentality of the Eritrean youth and Identity. There seemed to be a story behind every design, a romantic attachment. Every outfit a bookmark and resemblance of our culture and undoubtedly our city.