In a Celebratory Series, Photographer Toby Coulson Documents the Eccentric Fashions of Designer Oumou Sy
When photographer Toby Coulson met iconic Senegalese fashion designer Oumou Sy in Dakar, they decided to photograph some of her most distinctive garments. “The city has an amazing energy especially as the sun goes down. I thought it would be an amazing accompaniment to Oumou Sy’s theatrical and outlandish couture pieces,” Coulson shares with Colossal. Together, they observed the area for a few days to chose spots and time the sunlight.
The result is a captivating series of photographs, which were originally published in Document Journal, that captures the myriad textures and patterns of Sy’s unorthodox designs: A woven accessory envelops a model, lining her arms, head, and torso in circular sculptural forms. Created as a tribute to Issa Samb—a Senegalese painter, sculptor, performance artist, playwright, and poet—the patchwork-style jacket is so large that the wearer appears to be balancing on stilts as he towers above rooftops. While focused on the garments, each photograph also frames the beige architecture and sandy streets of Dakar.
Sy finds inspiration everywhere, opting to see creativity in all aspects of life and to communicate her ideas through the mundane. She explains in an interview:
I take what I can and make it my own. I enjoy working with different materials, things that surround me, that I come across in my everyday life. I’m a self-proclaimed hunter and gatherer of things; I look for natural elements to work with [such] as plants, herbs, barks, and natural dyes, using either traditional or modern techniques. I choose a material and look for a way to highlight it. I’ve never learned to read and write, and so my fashion is the most important vessel for the expression of my creativity.
The designer’s penchant for bold, dramatic fashion is informed by Senegalese culture, which prizes style and clothing as a mode of expression, beauty, and power. Coulson’s photographs translate those traditions and values through visual documentation. “It was very fulfilling to do a fashion shoot that wasn’t about selling the latest clothes and more about celebrating the work and influence on Senegalese culture of Oumou Sy,” he notes.
To follow Coulson’s photographs capturing the lives of people around the world, head to Instagram.
Share this story
Trendy Octogenarian Couple Sports Stylish, Eclectic Garments Left Behind at Their Laundromat in Taiwan
Many of us fret over the loss of a beloved sweater or discovering a lone sock, but we can at least find some solace in knowing that the garments abandoned at Wansho Laundry in central Taiwan are being worn to their full potential. The laundromat’s owners, 83-year-old Chang Wan-ji and 84-year-old Hsu Sho-er, have been fashioning the skirts, blouses, and trousers left behind into adorable, eclectic styles. Just last month, their grandson Chang Reef began sharing photographs of the octogenarian couple modeling their fashionable outfits—which often include matching shoes, graphic tees, and a range of accessories like hats, big sunglasses, and small leather pouches—on Instagram, where they’ve since gone viral. For more of Chang and Hsu’s backstory (they got married in 1959!), dive into this New York Times profile. (via Kottke)
Share this story
United Kingdom-based designer Alexandra Sipa creates spellbinding accessories and garments from waste electrical wires. The Central Saint Martins’ graduate initially was inspired to experiment with wires as textiles when her headphones broke, leading her to extract the colorful coils and cables to create wire lace.
The designer learned to craft vibrant lace from YouTube videos, books, and her own mishaps, and one of her enchanting dresses took 1,000 hours to complete. Many cultural and historical references are woven into her pieces, including her interest in extreme austerity and heightened femininity in Romania. “The aesthetic of Bucharest is a mix of French architecture, grey brutalist apartment complexes, and mega communist structures (like the Palace of Parliament), while the women are usually very careful about the way they look, getting all dressed up for a supermarket trip and loving the ultra-glamorous, ultra-feminine look.”
Objects of nostalgia, the ruffled garments evoke her Romanian grandmother’s damaged, garden fence. They mirror the endless colors that were revealed throughout the cracks. More broadly, Sipa’s work is dedicated to how her grandmother cares for her household objects, reinventing them with time. “Every time I visit her, there’s something changed around the house, something moved, something repainted,” the designer says. “She will make any object look like a treasure, no matter where it came from. That stuck with me.”
Sipa’s garments echo her views on sustainability, and she believes that otherwise unwanted products should be seen as an opportunity to create new inventions and discover unusual techniques. “As my practice is rooted in creating luxury products out of local waste sources, my collection tackles one of the fastest-growing sources of waste in electronic waste, reaching 50 million tons in 2020,” she explains.
The designer’s goal is the complete circularity of her garments. “The industry is becoming aware of the urgency for change due to the climate emergency and the increasing demand from consumers for more sustainable options,” she explains. “However, companies need to recognize the business opportunity in the circular fashion industry.” The designer also stresses the importance of recognizing the economic, environmental, and social impacts. “ Fashion needs to become more sustainable from the inside out, not only in the materials used but also ethically in the treatment and compensation of workers in the production chain and workers designing the clothes.”
Share this story
The immensity and depth of Mary Sibande’s multi-media artworks reflect the magnitude of her subject matter, which explicitly entwines the enduring effects of British imperialism and the apartheid. Through photographs, sculptures, and sprawling installations that scale floor to ceiling, the South African artist most often features a central Black woman, who is shown enveloped in purple roots or grasping thick, black thread dangling from a nearby portrait.
Named Sophie, the figure’s role is subversive and one that sheds light on the particularly “cruel history of Black female oppression and its implications in contemporary life—in particular, perception and ownership of freedom.” Sophie is dressed in color-specific costumes resembling Victorian-era clothing and often is wrapped in an apron, a garment synonymous with domestic work. Each bold hue is rich with cultural and historical contexts.
(Sophie) is first encountered in the traditional blue uniform of a domestic servant as she dreams of the possibilities denied to her by discrimination and inequality. Sophie is then transformed into a fantastical figure, enveloped in purple representing the bitter struggle against apartheid and the promise of equality. In her most recent incarnation, Sophie wears red, the color of anger, as she gives form to popular disaffection and continued civil unrest across South Africa.
Share this story
Concerned with the ongoing climate crisis, Queens-based artist Bea Fremderman imagines an apocalyptic world of the not-so-distant future. Her living sculptures of everyday objects and clothing appear to have been abandoned suddenly, allowing nature to take over as quickly as humans left. “I think of them as relics of the future,” she told Cultured in 2019. “With my work, it’s not doomsday. It’s about starting over, dealing with what we have, and trying to make anew with what we know.”
Fremderman plants chia seeds among pant legs, hoodies, and a lone sock that crawl over the apparel and envelop it in a thick carpet. The roving sprouts transform the items and helps question human consumption. “At the core of my work is this issue of new nature— what things are left behind, what will outlive us, how we’ve changed the landscape,” she said. “We used to create things out of rock that would break down, and turn into sand, which comes together and becomes rock again, but now we have things that don’t break down.”
Find more of Fremderman’s germinating sculptures on her site.
Share this story
Consumers are paying closer attention to the ethics and business practices behind the products they buy, and animated documentarian Samantha Moore is shining a light on one company creating everyday essentials. Last year, the Shropshire-based creator released “Bloomers,” a short film that chronicles the history of the Manchester-based lingerie company Ella and Me, which began production in the United Kingdom before moving abroad and back again.
From flowing silk to lace-trimmed underwear strung up only to be snipped apart, the detailed project colors mostly the garments, swaths of fabric, and spindles of string. The workers and machines remain black-and-white line drawings throughout the film as it walks through the manufacturing cycle from design to consumer purchases.
Moore helps illuminate the impacts rising production costs had on Ella and Me since its beginning as a mom-and-pop business. She documents its inception and even the employees’s familial connections to the textile industry. The animation is set to a diverse soundtrack that includes interviews with the company’s team, in addition to noises commonly found on the production room floor, like scissors slicing through soft cotton and the repetitive tick of sewing machines.
Since its release, “Bloomers” was nominated for the Best Short Film at the British Animation Awards 2020, was the winner of the Best British Film at London International Animation Festival 2019, and took home the top prize as the Best Documentary at ReAnima International Film Festival 2019. Keep up with Moore’s animated documentaries on Vimeo and Instagram.
Share this story
Editor's Picks: Illustration
Highlights below. For the full collection click here.