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As kente cloth has grown in popularity over the past several decades, machines sometimes are employed to make it. But machine stitching leaves raggedy ends on the reverse sides of the garments, much as tiny threads sprout from the back of a tapestry. Yet the unique -- and lengthy and complicated -- weaving process by through which artists in Ghana and elsewhere create kente cloth leaves no ragged side. It is all of a piece, this distinctive fabric that has come to be a symbol around the world of African-American identity.

Chapurukha Kusimba, associate curator of the Field's African anthropology department, said the exhibition "lets us delve into the achievements of Africa." Since the April 13 opening it has, he added, educated scores of Chicagoans about a material they have probably seen but did not understand: "Already, [they] are at the level where they know so much more than the average person in the Midwest."

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Kente cloth is more than mere fashion, Embil and Kusimba said. It is a canvas upon which centuries of African people have told their stories. It can show rank or prestige. It is a way of displaying the sacred within the everyday.

With kente cloth, Embil said, "Two people can communicate with what they are wearing -- without saying any words. You can visually talk to people." The patterns in the cloth have different meanings, tell a variety of stories.

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Through photographs and videotape, the exhibition demonstrates what kente cloth is and how it is made. Historians have traced it back to the 9th Century A.D., Kusimba said. The Asante (Ashanti) and Ewe cultures in West Africa are known for their creation of the cloth. That produced by the Asante culture typically is composed of primary colors and involves abstract geometric shapes, while the kente cloth from the Ewe culture includes words and pictures of more subdued colors.
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The cloth is woven from skeins of thread on small looms, a process requiring skill and patience, Kusimba said. "The fact that the making of this cloth is so complex," he added, "reflects the complexity of Africa."
TIFFANY AMBER

Folake Folarin-Coker, the creative director of Tiffany Amber, has been making dresses for Nigeria's rich and famous for 13 years. Last year, she was invited to her first London Fashion Week, after showcasing collections in Paris and New York.

Folarin-Coker belongs to a school of Nigerian designers who have attracted international attention by translating local prints usually found on stiff fabric onto flowy cloth that drapes the body.
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In her "Metissage" collection, she took it a step further by printing sequences of woven bamboo on silk to make a head-to-toe patterned ensemble. She also featured classic dresses, some referencing a military trend, such as a black flowing chiffon dress with long sheer poet sleeves and three rows of heavy metal buttons sewn on a black guipure lace with a wide and sturdy pattern. Lace, like prints, are widely used to make traditional clothes across Nigeria. Here, they found a new interpretation.
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TSEMAYE BINITIE

A Paris exhibition on Alix Gres, a peer of Chanel and Lanvin, was the starting point of London-based Nigerian designer Tsemaye Binitie's research.

His textured collection included a sleeveless black catsuit festooned with bits of hand-embroidered vinyl, creating a kaleidoscopic effect.

He then added utility to elegance by pairing a black backpack with a little white dress.

"I wear a baseball cap every day, a T-shirt and a backpack because my computer is in it, so I took those pieces from my wardrobe and interpreted them for women," Binitie said.

Binitie is a young designer who has worked for famed British designer Stella McCartney. He sells his designs in London, New York and Lagos.

"We do everything in London, but we are a global brand," he said.

LOZA MALEOMBHO

New York-based designer Loza Maleombho debuted a collection that draws from the nomadic Tuareg people of the Sahara Desert and Afghan traditional wear. She brought another twist by using popular West African fabrics such as the colorful Ghanaian woven cloth known as kente and the ankara print fabric popular in Nigeria.

It was an eclectic and wearable collection of browns and blues that reflected the young designer's own cultural mix.

"My inspiration is to mix different cultures, because that was how I was brought up," said Maleombho, who was born in Brazil, raised in Ivory Coast and later moved to New York.

OZWALD BOATENG

Ozwald Boateng, a British couturier born to Ghanaian parents, was the main attraction for those attending the event. He presented a collection inspired by a trip he made to Japan in 1990, while he was still making his name in fashion.

"It's a traditional English look, with a Japanese inspiration," he said.

Male models wearing the designs walked in dim lighting that dramatized the mostly black-and-white collection of a designer who has been called the "peacock" of British haute couture for his generous use of color in the past. Still, the feel was very modern and strongly masculine.

Color did make an appearance in some pieces. At the end of this finale show, the crowd gave a standing ovation when Boateng himself appeared on the runway in a royal green suit, canary yellow shirt and black tie with a matching straw. He walked the U-shaped runway, dancing at the end of his walk, to applause and cheers.

Boateng, the first black tailor to move to London's prestigious Savile Row area back in 1995, said he makes clothes for the man who wants his clothes to communicate who he is.

"My clothes help that happen," Boateng said.

THE MODELS

Like Boateng, South Sudanese supermodel Alek Wek, received rousing applause when she appeared on the catwalk, each time responding with a smile.

"I was very impressed designer after designer; the diversity and the shapes, the fabrics, the music and the energy," said Wek, who's now in her mid-thirties. "It's beautiful to be a part of that."

African models are eager to participate on the international playing field. Many of the Nigerian models who walked on the runway have day jobs to sustain themselves, with the local fashion industry still in its infancy.

Those local models remain eager to take up the mantle from Wek's generation and other African models who have come after her. However, it remains unclear when another chance will come.

Obaigbena announced at the show's finale Sunday that interest had been building up in Cape Town, South Africa and Nairobi, Kenya to host the next Africa-focused fashion week. With Nigeria's logistical challenges, Obaigbena and his partners may seek a new location where fashion _ not electricity _ remains the only concern. Unless the great number of designers and fashion lovers in Lagos can convince them otherwise.
It has graced on your father’s shoulders, and been worn at parties by your mother. Kente has come a long way from just being fit for Ashanti chiefs and other men of supreme status.

Said to have been created in the 17th century by the Ashanti people, Kente cloth is now a strong signifier for Ghana; and more so West Africa.

This silk and cotton cloth is now suited for all people. With African prints at its peak in the fashion industry throughout the past couple years; it is not uncommon to see African inspired styles placed before us in shops such as H & M, or magazines such as Grazia. From the weaving looms of villages such as Adanwomase and Bonwire, to the bodies of red carpet fashionistas such as Gwen Stefani and Solange Knowles. Since catching onto the wave of West Africa’s finest cloth, the western world has incorporated the pattern into its own styles. Shorts, mini skits, and even scarves, along with other forms of clothing and accessories have all been styled with a Kente feel to represent a cross culture in fashion.
For a long time, there has been a misconception that Kente must be gold. Often, Kente is embedded with colours that symbolise different qualities. For example: Blue represents harmony and serenity. Pink connotes femininity, and the more recognised colour gold signals strength and wealth. With the multitude of colours that can be incorporated into Kente, this shows that Kente is a fabric that is extremely versatile and incorporates many meanings.