Fashion house Mille Collines celebrates all things Africa

The recent Mille Collines show at AFI MBFW Joburg takes an elegant and contemporary look at ubiquitous African curios.

Mille Collines is a truly Afro-politan label with its roots stretching from Kigali in Rwanda to Cape Town in South Africa. Their 2016 autumn/winter show at AFI Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg on Friday 11 March was their fourth in South Africa and the first since expanding their brand to include a South African base last year.

"Curio l city", their autumn/winter 2016 collection, is also their first show with Namnyak Odupoy, who joined Inés Cuatrecasas and Marc Oliver, the cofounders of Mille Collines, in March 2015 as designer. Odupoy comes with strong fashion-industry credentials that include successes as a model and stylist for Couture Africa in Kenya.

Cuatrecasas calls “Curio l city” cosmopolitan, elegant and artisanal.

We took our inspiration from the curio shops found throughout Africa and their disconnect with today’s Africa. We understand the nostalgia associated with curios and reinterpreted them to reflect the cosmopolitan, globalised Africa African women live today. We took the most obvious elements that non-Africans consider 'African' and expressed them in a contemporary way.

The collection is built around the needs of day in the life of a professional woman. It started with Mille Collines’ trademark relaxed resortwear before moving on to suits – a first for the designers – and sophisticated 3D beaded cocktailwear. There are flowing printed tunics and kimonos, tailored jackets and dresses as well as cocktail dresses, all in Mille Collines’ natural palette of sand, stone and indigo enlivened with flashes of bottle green, mint, banana yellow and peach. Easy-wearing Italian matt silk crêpe and wool, for the suits and waistcoats, and natural cotton transformed with prints traditionally associated with curios, particularly the patterns of Kuba fabrics from the Democratic Republic of Congo.

All the accessories also put an elegant spin on the ubiquitous curios. The models wore faux elephant hair bracelets, belts and necklaces made from rubber, leather and copper thread; leather handbags with woven panels made from recycled T-shirt yarn by Philani, a women's workshop in Khayelitsha and another in Nairobi, Kenya; 3D brooches and necklaces that echo African masks that have been hand-decorated with beading by a group of 25 Masai women; and beaded cuffs inspired by Masai motifs and given contemporary colours.

The laptop bags are by The WRen Design in Cape Town and made from recycled paper finished with a waterproof coating to which Mille Collines’ customised prints were added. Ballo, also from Cape Town, collaborated on the unisex, cow's horn, leather and wood sunglasses finished with beaded straps that double as necklaces.

To underline Mille Collines drive to advance African fashion and the industry as a whole, the designers chose to book only black models for their show. "We are alarmed by the fact that top international models like Ajak Deng still have to fight for equal pay and want to show our support in whichever way we can," says Cuatrecasas.

"Curio l city" will be available in April from the Mille Collines online store, which offers free delivery throughout Africa, and at the Mille Collines boutiques in Nairobi.