In the ancient world the cowrie shell was a popular form of currency. The tiny mollusk was a significant feature along the African, Arab and Asian trade routes.
According to some African mythologies, the cowrie shell is a symbol of wealth, prosperity and fertility. And that’s exactly what it brought to Ivorian designer Lafalaise Dion.
Dion always dreamt of working in the world of fashion. While studying journalism at the Institute of Science and Technology in Abidjan, she rose through the ranks of Ivory Coast’s fashion magazines.
Her work in the industry inspired and motivated her interest and awareness of the fashion industry, and led to her becoming the Content Manager at ELLE Magazine Côte d'Ivoire.
Dion, the self-proclaimed ‘Queen of the Cowries”, recently saw one of her life dreams come true when Beyoncé donned one of her cowrie shell headpieces in her latest music video ‘Spirit’.
Seeing the megastar wearing one of her pieces opened up a world of possibilities for the designer. “I am delighted about it. It showed me that nothing is impossible on this Earth,” says Dion.
According to the designer the opportunity came about when she was contacted by one of Beyoncé’s stylists, Peju Famojure.
Famojure asked the designer to send her some samples for a highly confidential project that she was working on with the artist. It was only once the music video was released that Dion saw what the pieces were used for.
The designer recalls expressing a hope of this opportunity at the beginning of the year. “I wrote on a paper that Beyoncé was going to wear my creations one day. I entrusted my wish to the universe, and the universe answered back.”
For Dion, cowrie shells represent the African story. “It is the legacy left by my ancestors. It is a way for me to reconcile myself with the African spirituality, to show the world the richness and uniqueness of my culture,” says Dion.
After a trip to Accra, Ghana, Dion experienced an artistic awakening that led to the creation of her cowrie pieces.
Her love for cowrie pieces was born out of watching her friends work with cowrie shells. Without any prior knowledge in design, she embarked on a journey that would change her life.
Her collection features masks and headgear, and she is currently working on a series of body accessories that will be launched in August this year.
The piece worn by Beyoncé is titled 'Lagbaja', which according to the designer means 'unknown, mysterious, hidden and mystical'.
Dion sources her shells from merchants in the local markets of the Ivory Coast and it takes her about two to four days to handcraft her pieces.
The designer and the brand are based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire. These pieces are available in Los Angeles at the concept store Wervenice, as well as on the e-commerce website, Afrikrea. Her pieces will also soon be available on her website.
For Dion creating these pieces is a form of an activist expression, “Every single one of my creations is a message sent to my people. I ask my fellow Africans to accept, to carry their inheritance, to stop demonising their heritage or to be afraid of all of that, Those are African ancestral practices and they should embrace their story.”