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Finbarr O'Reilly
Mads Nissen
5-10 MAY, 2020

Exibition opening story

Finbarr O'Reilly
Dakar Fashion
Curated by Teona Gogichaishvili

With golden beaches, glitzy nightclubs, and a vibrant music and fashion scene, Senegal’s capital Dakar is emerging as a top global travel destination. The breezy seaside city is “West Africa’s center of style,” according to the January issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine, which also ranked Dakar number one on its list of “What’s Cool in Urban Hotspots.” The New York Times this week included Dakar on its list of 52 places to visit in 2019, reporting that the city is “bursting with positive energy” and that local “design and fashion creations would fit right in at New York showrooms.” This has long been the case even if it is only now gaining notice. I moved to Dakar in 2005 and spent nearly a decade based there working as a news wire photographer covering stories across Africa. This often meant documenting wars, coups, and disasters, but Senegal always remained a haven of peace and relative tranquillity in an often-tumultuous region. My photographic eye was always drawn to the vibrant colours and designs and, over the years, I photographed fashion around town. The city’s youth blends a deep respect for the traditional, flowing boubous worn for special occasions with cutting-edge styles of its own. Located on the westernmost point of the continent, Senegal is a country with a well-educated middle class and a statuesque, catwalk-ready Instagram generation that embraces African and American fashions to create an elegant and athletic style of bling and beauty. While Johannesburg, Lagos, Nairobi and Casablanca are at the forefront of African fashion, Dakar has become an equally important hub, with much of its energy driven by Adama Ndiaye, the 40-year-old organizer of Dakar Fashion Week, and a number of other international African Fashion Week events. "When I started it was a young girl's dream to build something in my country," Ndiaye says. Launched 17 years ago, Dakar Fashion Week initially had only a handful of aspiring local designers and models gathering in often run-down hotels. Now dozens of designers from around the world present their creations to thumping DJ mixes as drone cameras hover above runway shows broadcast live on national television. One of Ndiaye’s friends, Jenke Ahmed Tailly, an Ivorian and Senegalese stylist, works as Beyoncé's creative director and also advises Kanye West and Kim Kardashian. At the Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 charity concert in South Africa last month, Beyoncé wore one of Ndiaye’s creations, a Boyette Bag, based on the nomadic Tuareg style of embossed leather boxes. Africa's fashion scene has grown steadily over the past two decades, with sub-Saharan Africa's apparel and footwear market now worth $31 billion, according to data by Euromonitor. Industry challenges include managing clothing production costs, quality control, distribution logistics and reaching large markets. Such challenges are far from the minds of most Senegalese whose most pressing fashion concerns involve choosing the right outfit and looking their best, wherever they’re headed. Here’s a selection of images reflecting the variety of Dakar styles and fashion events I’ve photographed over the years.