Color Politics

Bisrat Negassi talked to Jason Campbell (JC Report) about fashion’s new color wave, her unique politics,
and the new found exposure.

JCR: As a new designer what are some of the issues you face with your business?
BN: I face the same issues that a lot of young designers face. I definitely don’t have enough money to make it easy to realize my creations. And of course money is really important. However, the less money I have, the more creative I am. To counter this money issue, my goal is to go into limited production making sure the fabrics, the finishing, etc is high quality, I’ll just produce less.

JCR: Does being a designer of African descent play heavily into your brand?
BN: I wouldn’t overtly say that, no.

JCR: Would you agree that we’re embarking on a multicultural era in fashion?
BN: In terms of designers, yes. People like myself are getting their feet in the industry. In music it’s been very multicultural but Europeans, Americans and Japanese designers have dominated fashion. Now with the arrival of Brazilian and African designers, things are opening up.

JCR: Do you feel any sort of responsibility to be a representative voice?
BN: Anything I get involved with — music, art, whatever — I always have this feeling of responsibility because of my background. Coming from Etritrea and with the things I went through in the war and leaving so many bad things behind me, it’s left me with a lot of guilty feelings. I definitely feel the responsibility to give back something to my country and represent my people.

JCR: To what do you attribute the lack of multiculturalism in the industry?
BN: Speaking for myself as an Etritrean, fashion for my parents for example, isn’t viewed as a real profession like engineering, medicine or becoming a lawyer. Nobody needs fashion.

JCR: There was an overwhelming show of support for your Paris show last month from the models of color in the industry, what was that all about?
BN: It’s understood that to get into the fashion industry is quite difficult and as an African designer more so. I think the model support that I got came from that understanding. And hopefully because they appreciate my work and want to help push me forward.

JCR: The story goes that Liya Kebede, the Ethiopian model, wasn’t able to officially walk your show due to the political conflict between Etritrea and Ethiopia. However, she did show her support by sitting front row and wearing one of your designs at the show, quite a lovefest?
BN: To my understanding, it wasn’t a political statement, Liya had previous commitments that precluded her from participating in the defile. I so appreciated that she came. And yes, there was a lot of love.

JCR: Some say the business of fashion is a brutal world and no place for political discussions of race…
BN: In my case, with my responsibility concerning my country, it’s difficult to separate my politics. And I find it interesting to use fashion to garner attention to what’s going on in my country.

JCR: How do you describe your design sensibility?
BN: Chic and legere for the woman with a young girl in her which makes a woman interesting.

JCR: What do you count as your influences for your designs?
BN: Besides the innate influences from all the cultures I’ve experienced first hand, Africa, Italy, German, America, daily life is inspiring. And the people surrounding me all have a similar identity, in that they came from somewhere else, moved somewhere else, and so on.

JCR: Claude Grunitzky of Trace Magazine calls this cross-cultural pollination transculturalism…
BN: And it’s affecting fashion, music, art, everything.