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Trace: 10 years and Iman’s “I Am African” campaign

January 31st, 2007 | 2 Comments | Posted in Art, Books/Magazines, Business, Charity, Fashion, General, Music, Politics, Travel

Kelis on Trace MagazineI recently picked up the 10-year anniversary issue for one of the most consistently inspiring magazines, Trace Magazine. For as long as I can remember, the editors at Trace have been putting out quality , insightful product, while reporting on unconventional people and places. One of Trace’s strongest points is in it’s ability to highlight style as it exists in different parts of the world. The magazine was one of the first publications which I found that represented Africa in a modern, stylish manner. It might have to do with the founder/editor Claude Grunitzky’s Togolese background or his understanding of what he calls “transculturalism”. He says, “Modern transculturalists are people who can move and learn and function by discovering and influencing cultures that are not their own”, and that has been the focus which has enamored the magazine to progressive people all over the world. They’ve been able to stay relevant for 10 years now and still keep their edge. In the publishing industry, that’s an enormous feat. The 10-year anniversary issue includes an interview with supermodel/entrepreneur Iman where she expands on her feelings about the “I Am African” campaign controversey. Congratulations guys on another inspiring issue.

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Tommy Hilfiger and the chaos of NY Fashion Week

January 31st, 2007 | No Comments | Posted in Business, Events, Fashion, General

Kof at NY Fashion WeekIt’s that time of year again when any and every person in the fashion industry turns their attention to the tents at Bryant Park for New York Fashion Week. As a veteran of the chaos that descends upon an already chaotic New York City, I too have begun to feel the anticipation of what the Fall 2007 season will bring. For those of us who work in some capacity in the fashion industry it’s a week of constant excitement and anxiety all in one. Beyond the flashing bulbs of the press and celebrities there are a herd of organizers who bear the brunt of making sure the shows go on without a hitch. And with that pressure comes attitudes and personalities which continually make things difficult. From pretentious publicists, to over zealous security guards, to the narcissistic creatives, fashion week is never without it’s drama. But it’s those same personalities which make it all worth it in the end. Those personalities (and the talent behind it) keep you on your toes and fuel the press which in turn sells products which employ us the following season. Now we can all agree that some of the drama is unwarranted, but that’s what makes fashion , well, fashion. It’s the over the top events that create the fantasy which we all buy into when we consider shelling out $500 for a pair of designer shades (well I wouldn’t, but you get what I mean). Now don’t get me wrong, that’s not all there is behind the scenes. As much as there are trying people involved, there are a slew of people who are there to work and support each other to create a healthy industry. Every season I meet amazing people who are a piece of the puzzle needed to make a show or collection successful. Fashion week is always full of ups and downs and each season we all dread it, but as soon as it’s over we wish it weren’t. It’s an overload of creative energy and inspiration that can’t be matched. For a week every six months, we all come together to create an event which influences many other industries throughout the world. As much as fashion week won’t end world hunger, it’s a crucial element behind numerous people who will. And it’s seeing master designers like Giorgio Armani, Diane Von Furstenburg, and Chado Ralph Rucci at work which has drawn me every six months for the last 3 years to the tents at Bryant Park. Who needs school when you can learn from the best when they’re at their most vulnerable. Here’s to all those Africans, from models to tailors to publicists to security guards, making it happen so those masters can shine.

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Africa’s Second Life

January 29th, 2007 | 7 Comments | Posted in Business, Events, Fashion, General, Music, Travel

African Second LifeOn Friday I picked up the February 2007 issue of Inc. Magazine and began reading the cover article on Philip Rosendale, CEO of Linden Lab and creator of Second Life. Though my initial experience with Second Life some months ago was not the best, I have been quite intrigued by it’s possibilities as a business platform. Reading stories about American Apparels successful store opening and concerts and chats by artists such as Talib Kweli, all in taking place in Second Life, has had me trying to get my head around this virtual world. I must admit that one of the reasons I abandoned my Second Life persona was I (the second life me that is) ran into a brick wall, literally, and couldn’t get around it. Funny as it may sound, that’s exactly what happened. Reading Mr. Rosendale’s explanation of Second Life the ability it gives you to create a whole new identity and/or brand extension, has got me thinking about getting over that wall.

What does this have to do with Africa you ask? Well one of the things that drew me to Second Life in the first place, besides the business opportunities, was the ability to create your perfect world as an extension of your real world. From a development perspective I see Second Life as a tool which can allow African’s to extend and re-invent ourselves in a world where anything goes. I know that sounds all Matrix-like but bear with me for a second. If Second Life can allow you to create an ideal personality, visit anywhere, and communicate with anyone without the restrictions of geography, government, or language, then it can certainly level the playing field for re-branding Africa. This is not a far fetched notion as Sweden has already announced it’s opening of a Second Life embassy. In a recent article, Mutumwa Mawere, a Zimbabwean born South African businessman, wrote “I am acutely aware that it is difficult to take nationalism out of many Africans but the Second Life offers us an opportunity to go beyond the confines of where one is born to the reality that through others a better Africa is a not a pipe dream.” This statement I guess is key in exploring the possibilities of Second Life. While I’m not one to take on a non-African personality, I think that involvement in Second Life could possibly allow Africans to realistically compete with anyone else without the limitations of the real world, and ,as Mr. Mawere, notes, possibly create a new African identity. Of course I’m saying all this from an office space in NY City with a T-1 connection, but as the global tide changes I think we all need to think outside the box and look to new ways of creating a second reality.

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Dover Street (African) Market by Duro Olowu

January 26th, 2007 | 2 Comments | Posted in Events, Fashion, General

Duro Olowu wins 2005 British Fashion AwardsNigerian/Jamaican designer Duro Olowu has been busy. Since wooing fashion royalty with his “stunning fluid dresses”, and winning the 2005 New Designer of the Year award at the British Fashion Awards, he has continued to take his Africa-influenced designs mainstream. Now comes news of a new Duro Olowu boutique in the ultra fashionable Dover Street Market, owned by Commes des Garcons’ Rei Kawakubo. Olowu joins cult brands like Number (N)ine, Undercover, and Visvim, and popular brands like Givenchy, Lanvin, and Thom Browne in one of the most creative fashion spaces in London. The Duro Olowu boutique is sure to be a hit when Olowu makes his debut this February 12th at London Fashion Week.
Anyone willing to sponsor a ticket for me to attend?
Duro Olowu boutique: Dover Street Market

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This week in African Style 1/20 – 1/26/07

• Oprah Winfrey defends her South African school in open letter.

• Dakar Rally takes drivers through Portugal, Morocco, Mauritania, Mali and ends in Dakar, Senegal.

• Bill Gates and Africa’s green revolution.

• Fashion Television reports fromCape Town Fashion Week Spring 2007

• The World Economic Forum is under way in Davos, Switzerlad and the World Social Forum gets under way in Nairobi Kenya.

• China’s President on tour to teach Africa how to fish.

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Do immigrants work harder than native borns?

January 23rd, 2007 | 2 Comments | Posted in Books/Magazines, General, Politics, Travel

The Wall street Journal’s Sara Schaefer-Munoz points to a recent Financial Times column on immigration which mentions a private wealth manager who says that foreign-born recruits to his company are more motivated than his own children. This raises another point to the notion of illegal immigration raised by fashion designer Antonio Miro’s recent runway show. The columnist talks about how immigrants do their best to assimilate into their adopted country and work diligently to make a life for their children, all while maintaining their cultural identity. I’ve copied and pasted the article below for convenience. A very good read.

The new model Americans
By Chrystia Freeland, January 20 2007
When I was 10 years old, a group of actors came to our school and posed as would-be immigrants. We children were given the role of immigration officers, with a quota of immigrants we could admit and a list of desirable characteristics in new Canadians. We had to decide who could come to our country – and who couldn’t.

The idea, I guess, was to teach us to identify with would-be immigrants. It worked. Indeed, the actors’ stories were so moving that we children were spurred to political protest. Immigration quotas were wrong, we declared, and we intended to admit the entire group.

In the decade and a half I spent working in a Europe struggling with the basic concept of integrating people from somewhere else, I liked to think of my childhood indoctrination as a symbol of North America’s different attitude to huddled masses, yearning to be free. Now that I’m back, I realise it is not quite so clear-cut. I am reminded of the New World’s own ambivalence whenever I cross the US border, as I did last Saturday at Newark Airport, where I was fingerprinted, photographed, questioned and, at last, reluctantly admitted, by an official who seemed anything but immigrant-friendly.

The same is probably true of the marketing managers at Toys R Us, whose classic new year promotion got fouled up by the country’s confused attitudes towards new Americans. Yuki Lin, born in New York at the stroke of midnight, was initially declared the winner of the $25,000 savings bond the toy chain promised to the US’s first child of the year. You might think that Ms Lin, who like six out of 10 New York infants was born to immigrant parents, made a particularly apt victor. But then someone discovered that her mother was not a legal resident. Toys R Us decided that the little girl was disqualified.

A Chinese-language newspaper reported the story on its website and a Chinese-American corporate lawyer took up Yuki Lin’s cause. By January 7 Toys R Us had relented.

The drama ignited the blogosphere. One popular line of argument was captured by a self-described grandmother of five: “Most Americans realise we all were immigrants at one time in our history, some legal, some illegal.” This is the central fact about the New World and one I have been reminded of as I read Mayflower, the new history bestseller. The Mayflower voyagers are quintessential immigrants: “We think of the Pilgrims as resilient adventurers upheld by unwavering religious faith but they were also human beings in the midst of what was, and continues to be, one of the most difficult emotional challenges a person can face: immigration and exile.” Nathaniel Philbrick, the author, says that roughly 10 per cent of today’s Americans can trace their descent to the Mayflower. But, as his account suggests, it is Yuki Lin’s parents with whom those hardy early settlers might actually have more in common.

Indeed, at least in the view of some Americans, the country’s truest citizens are those who have just arrived. One of the Toys R Us bloggers wrote that over the past five years his “red-neck white trash” neighbours had been replaced. ” . . . 14 houses on my street, not a one of them occupied by native-born Americans”. The result, he said, was that a street that had once been visited by police every day had become peaceful.

“Rowdyruffian’s” anecdotal account is at odds with popular fears about the connection between immigration and crime. But a study of crime in Chicago between 1995 and 2002 by Harvard’s Robert Sampson found that violence among Mexican-Americans was significantly lower than among both non-Hispanic whites and blacks.

You could call this perception that newcomers behave better than the locals “immigrant envy”, and you can find it in fancier circles, too. At a dinner party I recently attended a Manhattan private wealth manager complained that his children lacked the drive and the work ethic he saw in the young, foreign-born recruits to his bank.

Even as they struggle outwardly to assimilate, some immigrants themselves worry about maintaining their outsiders’ edge. That is the fear of Yelena Petrovna, the Russian immigrant mother in Gary Shteyngart’s novel The Russian Debutante’s Handbook, who excoriates her under-performing son for failing to best the “stupid native born”. I suspect my foreign-born parents have had moments of similar concern. As my two daughters – now two generations beyond the immigrant experience – start school, I start to worry, too.

My PTA has invited me to a lecture on how we are “Crazy Busy – Overstretched, Overbooked”. I was tempted to go. But then I came across this quotation, in Mayflower, from the Pilgrim travellers: “We are well weaned from the delicate milk of our mother country and inured to the difficulties of a strange and hard land.” They sounded a lot like my own immigrant grandparents, who were far Crazy Busier than I am but didn’t spend much time complaining about it. Nor, I am prepared to bet, do Yuki Lin’s parents. I might be one of the “stupid native born” but my new year resolution is to try to act as if I’ve just come off the boat.

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2007 Academy Awards African nominees

January 23rd, 2007 | No Comments | Posted in Events, Film/Television, General, Travel

Djimon HounsouThe nominations for the 79th annual Academy Awards were released this morning, and I’m elated to see African film is carrying on it’s influence from the Golden Globes to the Oscars. I’m even more excited to see that Djimon Hounsou was nominated for his role as the Sierra Leonean fisherman in “Blood Diamond”. Yet another milestone for the African film industry. The Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2006 will be presented on Sunday, February 25, 2007, at the Kodak Theatre in Hollywood, California. For the full list of nominees go here

Note: * Indicates actor with African heritage or film where Africa is central character

Best Motion Picture of the Year
* Babel (2006): Alejandro González Iñárritu, Steve Golin, Jon Kilik
The Departed (2006): Nominees to be determined
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006): Clint Eastwood, Steven Spielberg, Robert Lorenz
Little Miss Sunshine (2006): Nominees to be determined
The Queen (2006): Andy Harries, Christine Langan, Tracey Seaward

Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role
* Leonardo DiCaprio for Blood Diamond (2006)
* Forest Whitaker for The Last King of Scotland (2006)

Ryan Gosling for Half Nelson (2006)
Peter O’Toole for Venus (2006/I)
Will Smith for The Pursuit of Happyness (2006)

Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role
* Djimon Hounsou for Blood Diamond (2006)
Alan Arkin for Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Jackie Earle Haley for Little Children (2006)
Eddie Murphy for Dreamgirls (2006)
Mark Wahlberg for The Departed (2006)

Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role
* Rinko Kikuchi for Babel (2006)
* Adriana Barraza for Babel (2006)

Cate Blanchett for Notes on a Scandal (2006)
Abigail Breslin for Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
Jennifer Hudson for Dreamgirls (2006)

Best Achievement in Directing
* Alejandro González Iñárritu for Babel (2006)
Clint Eastwood for Letters from Iwo Jima (2006)
Stephen Frears for The Queen (2006)
Paul Greengrass for United 93 (2006)
Martin Scorsese for The Departed (2006)

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen
* Babel (2006): Guillermo Arriaga
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006): Iris Yamashita, Paul Haggis
Little Miss Sunshine (2006): Michael Arndt
Laberinto del Fauno, El (2006): Guillermo del Toro
The Queen (2006): Peter Morgan

Best Achievement in Editing
* Babel (2006): Douglas Crise, Stephen Mirrione
* Blood Diamond (2006): Steven Rosenblum

Children of Men (2006): Alfonso Cuarón, Alex Rodríguez
The Departed (2006): Thelma Schoonmaker
United 93 (2006): Clare Douglas, Richard Pearson, Christopher Rouse

Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures, Original Score
* Babel (2006): Gustavo Santaolalla
The Good German (2006): Thomas Newman
Notes on a Scandal (2006): Philip Glass
Laberinto del Fauno, El (2006): Javier Navarrete
The Queen (2006): Alexandre Desplat

Best Achievement in Sound
* Blood Diamond (2006): Andy Nelson, Anna Behlmer, Ivan Sharrock
Apocalypto (2006): Kevin O’Connell, Greg P. Russell, Fernando Cámara
Dreamgirls (2006): Michael Minkler, Bob Beemer, Willie D. Burton
Flags of Our Fathers (2006): John T. Reitz, David E. Campbell, Gregg Rudloff, Walt Martin
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006): Paul Massey, Christopher Boyes, Lee Orloff

Best Achievement in Sound Editing
* Blood Diamond (2006): Lon Bender
Apocalypto (2006): Sean McCormack, Kami Asgar
Flags of Our Fathers (2006): Alan Robert Murray, Bub Asman
Letters from Iwo Jima (2006): Alan Robert Murray
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006): George Watters II, Christopher Boyes

Best Foreign Language Film of the Year
* Indigènes (2006)(Algeria)
Efter brylluppet (2006)(Denmark)
Laberinto del Fauno, El (2006)(Mexico)
Leben der Anderen, Das (2006)(Germany)
Water (2005)(Canada)

Best Short Film, Live Action
* Binta y la gran idea (2004): Javier Fesser, Luis Manso
Éramos pocos (2005): Borja Cobeaga
Helmer & søn (2006): Søren Pilmark, Kim Magnusson
Helmer & søn (2006): Søren Pilmark, Kim Magnusson
The Saviour (2005): Peter Templeman, Stuart Parkyn
West Bank Story (2005): Ari Sandel

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Illegal Senegalese immigrants model in Spain

January 19th, 2007 | 6 Comments | Posted in Art, Business, Events, Fashion, General, Politics, Travel

 Antonio Miro's  2007 runway illegal immigrantsIn a “show of solidarity toward immigrants” Spanish fashion designer Antonio Miro caused a stir during his Fall/Winter 2007-2008 fashion show in Pasarela, Barcelona yesterday, by allowing eight Senegalese illegal immigrants to model his collection. Mr Miro, who has featured prisoners in past shows, said he wanted to draw attention to the migrants’ plight. The show also featured a battered boat, commonly referred to as a cayucos (crowded open boat), similar to the ones that transport thousands of Africans to the shores of Spain’s Canary Islands each year. At least half of almost 30,000 illegal arrivals in Spain’s Canary Islands, off West Africa, in 2006 were Senegalese. Though Mr. Miro paid some of the immigrants for the work, featuring them has immigrant rights groups divided. Representatives of Senegalese immigrants have called the move frivolous and say the designer is celebrating the dangerous trip the migrants take. Pro-migrant groups though says it’s good that someone other than NGO’s denounce the situation the immigrants are going through when they come by boat to Spain. What do you think?

Via Fashion Week Daily

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This week in African style, 1/13 – 1/19/07

January 19th, 2007 | No Comments | Posted in General

• Helping Hollywood get serious about Africa: LA Times

• Evolution from Africa to Russia: NY Times via Pure Pedantry

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Peter Beard limited edition book

January 19th, 2007 | No Comments | Posted in Art, Books/Magazines, Fashion, General, Travel

Peter Beard limied edition rare bookSome years ago, I was walking through SoHo and came across an exhibit at a nondescript art gallery. I was struck by the large image of a man resting calmly in the gaping mouth of a crocodile. The man was laying on his stomach writing in a journal with his legs extending into the creature’s mouth. Being the ever inquisitive art student, I walked into the gallery and into my first experience with photographer/artist/writer Peter Beard‘s work. When you first happen upon Beard’s work as I did so many years ago, you are at first shocked. There’s blood, old photos, animal skin, and all sorts of other materials. Beard’s work is organized chaos at it’s best and an organic one at that. Beard first started traveling to Africa in 1955 and since then he’s been obsessed with Africa’s land, people, and animals. Beard is one of those artists who lives and breathes his work. He is easily compared to Warhol, in his art and celebrity, but his knowledge of and adoration for Africa sets him apart. Beard recently released a 500-page limited edition book of his work through Taschen books. Follow Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore’s lead and get yourself a copy. If you can’t afford it get a pair of Peter Beard sandals.

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