Designer Spotlight: Reminiscing The Legacies Of Kofi Ansah, The Pioneer Of Modern African Styles

The late Kofi Ansah, a legendary fashion designer and pioneer of modern African styles
The late Kofi Ansah, a legendary fashion designer, and pioneer of modern African styles (Photo credit: Citifmonline.com)

Are you among those who view fashion as frivolous? On the contrary, besides being a profitable business, the industry has meaning and substance. Most importantly, fashion has the means to transform lives. For example, the famous fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent once said,

“I have always believed that fashion was not only to make women more beautiful but also to reassure them, give them confidence.”

Well, that was the key to Kofi Ansah’s success. To clarify, this pioneer of modern African style recognized that to succeed in the fashion industry it was important to make people feel happy. This was by helping them feel unique, and good about themselves.

A Grand Celebration of the Life of Kofi Ansah

On 30th May 2014, notable personalities gathered at the courtyard of the State House in Accra to attend the funeral of an icon. Kofi Ansah’s burial was to be a state event. This was fitting for a legend who propelled African styles to the international platform.

Among those in attendance were celebrities like Kofi Okyere Darko, a Ghanaian broadcaster. The singer Becca and singer-songwriter Efya too were in attendance. As part of the program, the highlife musicians Gyedu-Blay Ambolley and Akosua Agyapon were on the ground to lift the spirit of the guests. Also, there was a fashion show to honor the designer who passed away in his prime.

Kofi Ansah’s Most Notable Achievements

In October 2003, Ansah’s company “Artdress Ltd” won the Ghana Quality Award Diamond Division for clothing and textile. This award shows recognition for the international level of quality attained by local manufacturers. In other words, it is a reward for excellence.

Ansah’s company also won first prize in the Millenium 2000 African Fashion Awards. The accolade was well deserved. Ansah’s work bears the mark of true craftsmanship. He excelled in the arts of quilting, embroidery, and applique. In 2007, Ansah designed the fabric for Ghana’s 50th Anniversary costumes.

Similarly, in 2008, Ghana hosted the African Nations Cup football competition. On that occasion, Ansah’s creations graced both the opening and closing ceremonies.

Ansah’s Early Life

Kofi Ansah was born in 1951. Interestingly, his father too was artistic because he was into photography. Also, he was a classical musician. With such a background it was fitting that Ansah ultimately attended the Chelsea School of Art in England. Ansah obtained a distinction in design technology and first-class honors in fashion design. Thereafter, he returned to Ghana in 1992.

Kofi Ansah early days
Kofi Ansah early days. (Photo credit: Kofi Ansah Foundation)

Pioneering Modern African Styles

Kofi Ansah’s reputation as the pioneer of modern African styles is fitting. As the name of his company suggests, Ansah viewed fashion as art. He believed that it encompassed not only clothing but accessories and hair too. Hence, he promoted the art of fashion by playing the role of mentor. Consequently, he became a source of inspiration for many designers.

Ansah believed in using his designs to tell a story and delighted in creating original items of clothing. As a result, he worked with vibrant colors and rich textiles to showcase the beauty of African fabrics. Also, he found his inspiration in the motifs and landscapes of the African continent.

Hence, Ansah produced clothing that was not only wearable but his flair and meticulous attention to detail won him many fans both home and abroad. Most importantly, it promoted the richness and creativity of African fashion.

Exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum

In June 2022, there will be a fashion exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. Its purpose is to celebrate the pioneers of African fashion designers. Kofi Ansah’s designs will be among those featured there. The directors of the Kofi Ansah Foundation expressed their delight at the honor. Bftonline.com released a statement from them,

“At the time of his passing he was a man still in the prime of his career, bringing his designs to the catwalks and boutiques of Rome, New York, and Johannesburg, in addition to his significant contributions to growing Ghana’s textile industry and his partnership work with contemporaries across the African continent… the Foundation, in collaboration with Fashion Forum Africa, are delighted that his life and legacy are to be recognized and celebrated within the V&A’s ‘Africa Fashion’ exhibition.”

Here are samples of some of Kofi Ansah’s iconic designs.

Kofi Ansah Monochrome looks
Kofi Ansah Monochrome looks (Photo credit: fatimasiddiqi/Kofi-Ansah-fashion/Pinterest)

Above, we see evidence of the designer’s eye for detail and exquisite finishing. On the left, the cuffs of the jacket are in a contrasting metallic grey hue that matches the collar. On the right, a beautifully coiled headdress tops a bareback halter creation that has a striking black and silver print.

Striking Monochromatic shades
Striking Monochromatic shades (Photo credit: fatimasiddiqi/Kofi-Ansah-fashion/Pinterest)

The above are veritable works of art. Ansah liked his designs to tell a story. In this picture, a tale weaves in and out in the form of rich textured fabric with patterns that differ and yet blend seamlessly. The gown on the left has sheer chiffon sleeves that lend a whimsical look to the creation.

Kofi Ansah’s Spring/Summer Collection at the Rome Fashion Week

Kofi Ansah presents his Spring/Summer collection at the Rome Fashion week
Kofi Ansah presents his Spring/Summer collection at the Rome Fashion week (Photo credit: fatimasiddiqi/Kofi-Ansah-fashion/Pinterest)

This elegant, timeless look demonstrates Ansah’s artistic flair and ability to craft modern African styles that had cutting-edge chic. The contrasting headgear adds the perfect splash of color to the grey and black ensemble.

Rome Fashion Week Spring-Summer-2009
Rome Fashion Week Spring-Summer-2009 (Photo credit: fatimasiddiqi/Kofi-Ansah-fashion/Pinterest)

The coppery earthy tones of this creation lie on a background of Ansah’s iconic tribal motifs. That, combined with the accessories and beautiful headwrap lends an unmistakenly African flavor to a contemporary design.

A further glimpse into the collection unveiled at the Rome Fashion week
A further glimpse into the collection unveiled at the Rome Fashion week (Photo credit: fatimasiddiqi/Kofi-Ansah-fashion/Pinterest)

This designer was way ahead of his time with this asymmetrical hemmed mini skirt shielded by a long-look embroidered jacket.  We can see Ansah’s craftsmanship in the spectacularly detailed work on the bodice and sleeves of the outfit.

Tribal Chic

Tribal accents.
Tribal accents. (Photo credit: Agence France Presse Source: BBC)

These dramatic looks combine African traditional looks with haute couture. Not only are the outfits one-of-a-kind creations, but they also have exquisite cuts and intricate embroidery. It is easy to see why this designer became a legend in the fashion circles.

Conclusion

The colorful send-off staged for Kofi Ansah was by no means the end of the road for this legend. His memory lives on. As aptly stated by the directors of his foundation,

“Ansah laid a roadmap for successive generations of African fashion designers to follow—through his creative use of textiles, his precise and exacting attention to detail, and his absolute refusal to compromise his creative vision.”

In recognition of this, in November 2015, he received a posthumous award from the ETV Ghana Fashion Awards for his “immense contribution to the fashion industry and the prestige of the nation”.

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