PARIS, France — Many recent international fashion collections have been 'inspired' by African culture and crafts. But why have we heard so little about designers originating from Africa itself?
Enter Laurenceairline, a small Paris-based menswear label, founded less than a year ago by Ivory Coast-born Laurence Chauvin Buthaud, who seems poised to make her mark on menswear.
“I mix different materials until I find the perfect balance, but it all starts with the fabric,” says Buthaud, who is known for combining graphic African textiles with sleek, sophisticated construction.
Importantly, Laurenceairline avoids the traditional 'tribal' clichés often associated with African inspired fashion, and instead, re-imagines the continent’s cultural inheritance in a way that is distinctly modern and international. For Autumn/Winter 2012, the brand’s second season, Buthaud mixed African influences with Japanese polka dots and Scottish plaid.
The entire line is also made in accordance with ethical manufacturing practices in a workshop in Ivory Coast, which Buthaud founded herself, along with a training programme for local employees. “We started up a real training centre there; we train people on their sewing techniques and then we offer them a job with us in the factory,” she says.
Though Buthaud was born in Africa, she spent most of her childhood in Switzerland before moving to Paris, where she worked with Louis Vuitton, as well as French fashion journalist and television personality Agnès Boulard.
In 2006, she returned to her birth country and launched an ill-fated womenswear line. But an encounter with male “blufunk” musician Keziah Jones, who commissioned Buthaud to make him an outfit for an upcoming show, proved to be a critical turning point. “I saw the energy I had during the process and it gave me a new dose of motivation,” she recalls. Instead of returning to womenswear, she started a shirts-focused menswear label named Laurenceairline.
Why the name? “Because I feel like I spend most of my life in planes,” she says.
Since launch, Laurenceairline has grown swiftly and expanded from shirts to tailored pants and jackets. The line now has 18 stockists in countries including Japan, South Africa, Belgium and the United States.
“Brands like Laurenceairline help to demonstrate the creativity, practicality and quality of fashion coming from Africa,” says Enyinne Owunwanne, founder and creative director of Heritage 1960, a New York-based e-tailer specialised in fashion and homewares from Africa. “Their strong and unique design perspective, coupled with their ethical approach to manufacturing, is the future of fashion.”
For this month’s Spotlight, Buthaud created a custom BoF logo featuring an African print that symbolises her close relationship with the continent.
As for the future, Buthaud plans to open a school and a cultural center in Abidjan to enable greater dialogue between Europe and Ivory Coast.
“It will help people here to develop their cultural knowledge and appreciation, and ultimately it will help Laurenceairline.”
Julien Neuville is an Associate Contributor at The Business of Fashion. Photography by Cyrille Robin. Photographic Assistant: Aurélie Coudière. Stylist: Julien Neuville. Production: Akim Mousterou. Model: Karl.