By Melissa Reed
The lights shut off and music boomed throughout the Decker Social Space. Students clapped and screamed as models stepped on stage for the College’s Black Student Union’s (BSU) annual fashion show celebrating African culture on Friday, April 15.
“I really like to see how people can take clothing and art and just really make it into a provoking, influential message,” sophomore African American studies and sociology double major Meme Cisse said. As the vice president of programing for BSU, Cisse helped to plan this year’s fashion show, which was titled “The Rise of an Empire.”
With the help of student-workers and clothing designers from the local area, Cisse put together a fashion show that focused on the evolution of traditional Africa into contemporary black culture.
As a West African native, Cisse said that many of her ideas for the show were derived from her African roots. She was also inspired by TV shows, music and clothes and tried to incorporate contemporary black culture into the event, as well.
“A big focus on the show is showing the transition of tribal, African-authentic clothes and really going into the modern side of things,” Cisse said. “The music is going to play a very important role because every song that we picked is either authentic to the designer or authentic to a certain message that we are trying to send.”
Clothing designer Sameerah Hartwell focused on female empowerment in her pieces for this year’s fashion show. Hartwell carefully selected music and clothing designs that challenged conventional fashion. Instead, Hartwell’s all-female ensemble was clad in a wide variety of style and clothing patterns.
“I think about a woman’s body — different shapes and different sizes, different heights — and try to bring out their best feature, no matter what size they are,” Hartwell said. “My clothing line signifies a powerful woman, a woman in charge, a boss.”
Designers Isaac Kwabena, Curtis Kwajo and Rilwan Adenrian of LiberNation Fashion worked collaboratively to create a variety of pieces that centered on modern-day African clothing. Originally from West Africa, the designers named their clothing fashion line LiberNation to bring together the ideas of liberty and nation.
“‘The Rise of an Empire’ signifies strength, transition and growth in the black community,” said Bree Henry, a fashion designer at Gideno’s Needle in Paterson, N.J. “As black people, we have transitioned from a certain place and we are rising, and we’re going to a new dimension, and our designs are exactly that. We blended the traditional African print with contemporary cloth so that it is more relatable to young people today.”
The fashion show employed traditional imagery from the African community to articulate a message of black empowerment. BSU welcomed all students to the show as an opportunity for people of different organizations on campus to come together to celebrate the culture and clothing of the black community.
“I’m hoping that students who may have an idea of what black culture is but not truly know it at its core — I hope that they really get something out of the fashion show,” senior communication studies major and BSU President David Brown said. “We always try to welcome all different types of people, but I think oftentimes what happens is people hear ‘black’ and ‘Black Student Union’ and they’re like, ‘that’s not for me’… By reaching out to all different types of organizations, I hope that those students come out and see that the events we have are for everybody. I hope that they see a different side of our culture.”