Looks from the African Fashion exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. (Photo Credit; The New York Times)

In the heart of one of New York City’s bustling boroughs, a kaleidoscope of colors, patterns, and history is unfurling at the renowned Brooklyn Museum in an exhibition entitled, Africa Fashion. The show is the largest-ever presentation on the subject, with more than 180 works, including standout pieces from the Museum’s collections.

The exhibition is a breathtaking celebration of style and heritage and has captured the attention of art enthusiasts, fashionistas, and cultural explorers alike. As you step into this immersive journey through time and tradition, you are transported to the vibrant tapestry of Africa’s diverse fashion narrative. The exhibit will run until October 22, 2023, so if you’re planning to attend New York Fashion Week, the Brooklyn Museum is only a quick train ride away.

Why the Brooklyn Museum’s African Fashion Exhibit is Important

We all know that fashion inspiration comes from many different sources. Designers are inspired by things like music, architecture, books, history and/or from the design and textiles of other countries and cultures. However, when cultural appreciation turns into cultural appropriation, that’s a no-no; like when Ralph Lauren got into hot water for selling  copies of designs from Indigenous communities in Contla and Saltillo, Mexico. And, when Anthropologie and Flaherty were also called out for their culturally appropriative fashion from Mexico. And, that is why this exhibit on African fashion is so important. By learning about African textiles and fashion, from the source, it helps to educate designers and hopefully will keep them from directly stealing from that culture.

The Evolution of African Fashion

The Africa Fashion exhibition was curated with meticulous attention to detail, and offers a sartorial time machine that whisks you through centuries of Africa’s fashion evolution. From the rich textiles of ancient civilizations to the contemporary haute couture donned by African designers today, each piece unveils a chapter in the narrative of African identity and self-expression.

Looks from the African Fashion exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. (Photo Credit: The New York Times)

One of the exhibit’s most captivating sections is “Threads of Identity,” where garments and accessories are displayed as living testaments to the power of fashion, in shaping individual and communal identity. It invites visitors to explore the symbolism behind each thread, bead, and stitch, discovering how clothing has long served as a canvas for expressing one’s tribe, status, and beliefs.

The Brooklyn Museum’s exhibition goes beyond mere aesthetics, embracing the rich cultural diversity that has woven the fabric of Africa. Traditional garments from different regions highlight the nuances of style that have evolved over time, while modern interpretations showcase how today’s designers are reimagining and reinvigorating these age-old traditions.

Strolling through the exhibit, it becomes evident that African fashion is more than just a visual spectacle – it’s a cultural ambassador that transcends borders and preconceptions. The exhibit’s organizers have ingeniously juxtaposed historical pieces with contemporary ones, illustrating how cultural heritage remains a wellspring of inspiration for modern designers seeking to blend tradition with innovation, without making cultural appropation mistakes.

Looks from the African Fashion exhibit at the Brooklyn Museum. (Photo Credit: The Cut)

A focal point of the exhibit is the spotlight on the rise of African designers onto the global fashion stage. Names that were once whispered are now being heralded as trailblazers, with their creations gracing international runways and red carpets. The exhibit showcases a curated selection of garments and accessories that reflect the ingenious fusion of traditional craftsmanship with modern aesthetics.

Beyond the visual feast, the Brooklyn Museum has curated a series of interactive workshops and events that invite visitors to experience African fashion in a hands-on way. From beadwork and fabric dyeing workshops to talks by contemporary designers, the exhibit fosters a dynamic dialogue about the past, present, and future of African fashion.

Lagos’s Acclaimed Concept Store Alára Pops Up at the Brooklyn Museum. (Photo Credit; Vogue)

As the final room of the exhibit comes into view, you are met with a stunning visual tableau that encapsulates the essence of the journey they’ve embarked upon. The room presents a dynamic collage of photographs, sketches, and quotes, revealing the profound impact of African fashion on global culture and consciousness.

The African Fashion exhibit stands as a triumph, weaving together threads of history, identity, and innovation into a rich tapestry that captures the essence of Africa’s diverse fashion landscape. This celebration of style and culture not only dazzles the eyes but also touches the heart, reminding us that fashion is an art form that transcends time, borders, and expectations.

Be sure to catch our video lecture series to learn more about the history of West African textiles:

poster frame of lesson West African Textiles_ Manjak Cloth of Senegal

UoF lesson- West African Textiles: Senegal-Manjak Cloth


So, tell us, which fashion exhibits have you visited this summer?

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Antonia Sardone

Antonia Sardone is a new contributor to the University of Fashion. She is also a freelance fashion consultant, stylist and writer. Antonia Sardone graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology with a degree in Advertising Communications, Marketing and Fashion Journalism. She is an industry veteran having worked for WWD for over fifteen years and has strong relationships with designers worldwide. Today, Antonia Sardone continues to write reviews for WWD as well as work with many contemporary designers on a variety of projects from helping to re-launch their websites to writing their brand books. She enjoys raising her children to be creative individuals, as well as styling, writing and traveling.