Oumou Sy’s fashion designs show off Africa’s playful, unpredictable spirit.
Although Oumou Sy grew up away from Dakar, Senegal’s cosmopolitan capital, and taught herself the fashion trade, she now reigns as the nation’s premier clothes designer. Senegal’s best-known musical ambassadors—Youssou N’Dour and Baaba Maal—wear her designs. Senegal’s top film directors—Djibril Diop Mambéty and Ousmane Sembène—use her costumes for their films.
Oumou Sy’s career seems to flow in all directions, just like her garments: many layers of bright fabric sometimes adorned by jewels, and perhaps crowned with an extravagant head-dress. But behind everything there’s a plan. In 1997 she set up a website and opened a cyber café-restaurant called Metissacana (www.metissacana.sn). Her aim: to hang a sign in a corner of virtual space, where her collection can be viewed and purchased. Shortly thereafter she set up Made in Africa, a workshop for the large-scale creation of African fashions. This made her designs more affordable for Africans, and jobs were created for 300 women.
Sy has worked with dancers, filmmakers, and artists in Paris, London, Vienna, Rome and New York. This year she’s working to conquer Germany with workshops, fashion shows, and exhibitions about Made in Africa.
Sy’s work presents an Africa to the world that is creative, playful, exciting and unpredictable. She also invites the world to see that same Africa in fashion shows she organises annually in Dakar. But the cosmopolitan life doesn’t detract from the source of her artistry: Senegal and a mother who taught her that dressing well is a sign of respect to others. “Every body is a creation of God,” Oumou Sy says. “Every body, every face, is beautiful. It is my job to ensure that the value of all that shines through.”