Xenson’s Futuristic Past enthralls
The sound of the drum could be heard at the Serena gate. In front of Victoria hall, drummers clad in white undershirts and Khaki pants went about their job with amazing energy. The foyer of the hall was crowded with guests and revelers sipping Redd’s, one of the event sponsors.
They exuded energy and high expectations. Their happy banter filled the place while cameramen snapped away at ladies dressed in high fashion; fodder for their respective tabloids.
Reviewed by Elizabeth Namakula
This was the sight that welcomed people into Xenson’s fashion show, which he called ‘Futuristic Past’, intending to bridge traditional fabrics and accessories with modern fashion trends.
The show scheduled to start at 7:30pm, but by this time the hall had just a handful of people. Two video screens were playing music videos and before one could take a seat they blared out “am a rebel, am a rebel”.
Expect the exclusive
Where it not for the advertised theme – futuristic past – one would have easily slipped into the notion that the show was about breaking away from the fashion norms, as Jackie Tumusiime, one of the girls helping behind the scene told me:
“Expect high fashion, trendy styles, haute couture. Nothing you can wear down the street.” She was proved otherwise.
A cross-shaped runway dominated the front of the hall. Behind it, a Xenson-banner glowed in red with giant Redd’s bottles displayed on both sides. Empty machine suitcases quickly pointed out the sound area with Steve Jean himself behind the sound board. Cameramen and videographers quickly laid claimed to the area as well.
Eleven minutes to 8pm, the hall started to fill up slowly. A few white people here and there, celebrities and radio personalities slowly poured in. One had to stretch one’s neck higher and strain one’s eyes to see them as the hall was in partial darkness. The crowd was mixed; there were the sophisticated, urban street characters, and then people who generally were just curious about what the theme would entail.
DJ Apeman faithfully mixed his music from a Mac laptop, and for another hour we endured loud R’n’B music and reggae oldies. Some waiters stood behind the crowd hoping to catch a glimpse of the event as it unfolded, while others served guests already seated. Redd’s was on the house, the rest of the drinks were for sale.
A Man and his Sewing Machine
After a good deal of waiting, we certainly were not prepared for what came next. Rather than see models strutting Xenson’s stuff down the catwalk, a sewing machine was pushed onto the runway. We wondered if this meant the past. A man came, sat on it and went about his business.
The MC finally introduced him as Latif, a designer known largely for good quality, casual wear. Soon his models, in dark green wrappers tied around their shoulders and long enough to cover their thighs, came and surrounded him. They had their right eye painted a white shade and their hair done in neat corn rows.
Soon we got to know why Latif had turned up with his sewing machine. He had a crazy feat before him: Design and tailor eight dresses in twenty-five minutes. His models surrounded him to garner support. Not that he needed it as he was the 2008 record holder of the fastest designer of trendy fashion wear in Congo Brazzaville and also the winner of practicing designers award in 2009.
Dressed like a security guard, Latif elegantly cut up a blue cloth with a pair of scissors. Next, he cut up the animal print material as he reached for the tape measure. Third, a purple material which he divulged into lines with chalk. Next was a print cloth which he measured. A glittery and shimmery cloth which he covered with another black garment followed. The red material was also pulled out and finally, a black cloth.
If he seemed crazy before, he was now scary. Throwing off each garment to a pensive model who had to dress up in front of the dumbstruck audience. His first finished dress was dubbed, ‘Super blade.’
Second came, ‘Kiwa Mirembe.’ Meaning, care free, a dress loosely tied up at the ends. The model’s efforts to dress up without revealing her unmentionables fell flat as we all had a peak at her underwear. No one could blame her; the dress was quite a puzzle. Unfazed, she didn’t give up. Finally with the help of her dresser, the stubborn dress fit and the result was well worth the effort. All this took place as the clock was tickling away.
Next came the long, red G dress and the two animal print dresses. The last model patiently waited for her velvet blue as we held our breath. Would Latif break his own record?
Yes, that is exactly what he did. In fact, all this took place within twenty minutes of the scheduled twenty-five. He finished to thunderous applause and his models to gaping looks. The long G dress was the best as a stunned audience clapped.
Introducing Stella Atal
Former Miss Uganda UK Maria Namiiro recited a poem on behalf of Stella Atal. It was about the ills of female genital mutilation, a practice that is still carried out in the Eastern part of Uganda. This recital came with a few ruffles. The former beauty queen pronounced her surname with an exaggerated British accent to the amusement of the MC and the audience. Soon it was time for Stella’s collection to be displayed and it was like it had needed no preamble.
Woven sisal ropes on bark cloth, calabashes on print materials, brass, cowrie shells and beads on lace. Stella totally enthralled and rocked the show. Her models were like gazelles on the runway. No eye dared to blink in that hall. She cast a spell on us with her classy and trendy designs using traditional African fabrics; organic cotton and recycled paper.
If you’ve never seen small traditional gourds woven on lace as a necklace or better yet, beads, gourd and sisal, all in one necklace on an African fabric, then you have cause to wonder at her creative genius. Animal horns worn as bracelets and gloves! Lace on bark cloth! The bark cloth in gathers and ruffles!
For a few fleeting minutes, she actually stole the show. At the end of her display, we wondered what Xenson was going to display that we hadn’t seen. A working mother of two, she named her fight against female genital mutilation as the inspiration for her amazing collection.
Can we have a drum roll please?
The Sabba international group from Senegal welcomed us back from Stella’s spell with intense drumming using the long drum used from midway to the top and blazing fiery screens acting as the background to the performance. These were followed by a band playing soft rock with a female vocalist half-heartedly singing ‘Someday.’
Shortly after ten, it was Xenson’s turn. He gave us netted lace on bark cloth, lace on animal print. He managed to blend royal white bark cloth and dark bark cloth rather well and accessorized his unique designs with necklaces made from woven wire and calabash. Traditional woven mats acting as wrappers.
Some outfits limited movement what with their accessorized pointed water reeds turning and intertwining! There was an outfit modeled by three models, more like a moving car as someone from the audience rightfully commented. Crazy! Crazy!
For all his amazing creativity, his models looked tired and miserable. It must have been the time, for when the show should actually have ended at 10:30pm, Xenson was just beginning to display his collection.
An interlude of traditional drumming from Sewanyana followed. He rotated, carried one drum on his back while he pounded the other half-heartedly. Not getting enough from the audience, he encouraged it to clap for him. But maybe his lack of definite rhythm and coordination prevented the audience from rewarding him with the applause he needed. It looked as though his entire performance was improvised.
The Urban present
It was time for Xenson to come back. Stepping away from now an overly done theme, he divulged directly to what he called the Urban present. Trendy designs made using jean material, with huge front zips. It was an exciting collection for even the once lackluster models warmed up to it. The outfits were accessorized with rubber and leather beaded bags that came in a square shape.
This is what redeemed Xenson back to his position as the owner of the fashion show.
His efforts to enthrall the audience paid off. Skaters clad in his outfits rocked the runway back and forth. Other male models tapped their feet while others came in with bare chests, showing off their hard earned six packs.
The bags in themselves were unique and quite a marvel. The ideal when you want to walk down the street and have every eye turned on you.
Another poetry recitation about translating experiences followed. By 11pm, the audience was tired but faithfully waited out Xenson.
When we thought he was exhausted, he proved he wasn’t done just yet. This time designs in white bark cloth accessorized with garlands of fiber dolls and sisal hair dominated his last collection. Every design was a piece of creative genius.
Rapping about HIV/Aids
Xenson who is also a fine artist and rapper won Redd’s first fashion show award and several fashion accolades from countries like Niger, Germany and Canada. Decked in an animal print jacket and his own designed jeans, he thanked the audience for coming and then turned to rapping, warning people about the dangers of HIV/Aids and how he couldn’t keep quiet about it.
The audience showed its appreciation by clapping till he and his models disappeared down the runway. Enthusiastic chatter ensured with people filing out of the hall. The foyer as before had photojournalists snapping away.
An excited Helena Lukoma couldn’t keep quiet about how much she enjoyed the show: “It was fabulous, quite an amazing collection if you ask me.”
Xenson’s ‘Futuristic past’ fashion show attracted other designers like Brenda Malaka and Anzo of Rapapa Fashion house: “I was glad to help out behind the scenes and I am happy with the outcome,” Brenda said.
Anzo stepped out quickly before any comment could be got from her.
Fashion is a journey
Dashing backstage, I was just lucky to get hold of an exhausted Xenson who almost couldn’t give an answer to whether the show came out expected. Upon being pressed though, this is what he said:
“Fashion is a journey. I wanted to create something and leave the interpretation to the people. I wanted my clothes to speak for themselves and I believe they did. Each person has walked away with something tonight, which was the purpose of the show anyway.”
Alice Nakato on behalf of Fenon entertainment also had this to say: “It was hectic but we are happy at the outcome and the number of people that came to support Xenson.”
The Uganda fashion flag is flying high
Like Xenson believed, each person walked away with something. To some it was fun, others marvel at how someone could come up with such crazy original ideas; others feasted their eyes on beauty and the wonder that is art. The list goes on and on.
One thing is for sure though, with the likes of Xenson and his contemporaries like Stella Atal and Latif, the Uganda fashion flag is flying high and whoever thought the fashion boom in Uganda could end pretty soon, is in for a shocker.
If anyone thinks otherwise, drop me a line below.
Elizabeth Namakula is a freelance writer living in Kampala, Uganda.
Photos of Stella Atal’s design by courtesy of Stella Atal.
Other photos by Thomas Bjørnskau, startjournal.org.