Rosario Dawson’s Studio 189 brings West Africa to New York Fashion Week


4:39 PMNEW YORK — During a Fashion Week in which Gucci faced public condemnation for selling a blackface balaclava, a label co-founded by two black women celebrated the African diaspora and the Ghanaian Year of Return.

“This year we celebrate the idea of going back home and returning with love and compassion,” said Studio 189 co-founder Abrima Erwiah after the presentation of its first fall/winter collection. She noted that 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of the first arrival of enslaved Africans to North America.

The brand responded to Gucci’s racist flub with a picture of the balaclava in question and a caption that simply read, “Seriously?”

The clothes and accessories of Studio 189 come from artisans in Ghana. The country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, declared 2019 The Year of Return, an invitation to members of the African diaspora to visit their roots, especially those descended from enslaved people forced to cross through Ghana’s Door of No Return.

The brand, co-founded in 2012 by actress Rosario Dawson and Erwiah, a former Bottega Veneta marketing and communication executive, aims to push social change through fashion. Last year, Studio 189 won the CFDA + Lexus Fashion* Initiative prize, which provides funding for brands focusing on sustainability.

Instead of walking down a runway, Studio 189 models stood in a line that ran the length of the catwalk Monday morning, kitted out in the batik prints and indigo-dyed wares for which the label is known. The results were twofold. Showgoers could get close and linger long enough to absorb the craftsmanship of the clothes and get a sense of the various weights and textures of the fabrics. But the arrangement also erased the traditional social hierarchy of a fashion show, in which who is seated and where can make just as significant a statement as the clothes themselves.

Designers Abrima Erwiah (left) and Rosario Dawson (center) attend the Studio 189 presentation during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on Feb. 11 in New York.


“This is our Sunday Best collection,” Dawson said. “It’s really about recognizing where we come from, so you’ll see a lot of ancient techniques that are still so beautiful today. It’s about being present in this moment in the Year of Return and being together. … It’s really about going, ‘Let’s make this something we can continue celebrating.’ We don’t have to have lots of things, but we have to have quality things.”

Studio 189’s presentation also included an installation on the provenance of the line’s clothes, tracing the supply chain from artisans in Ghana to the brand’s physical and online stores. Studio 189 has a physical store in New York and another in Ghana’s capital, Accra. The brand sources its indigo from Ghana, Burkina Faso and Mali, continuing long-established textile traditions established in West Africa.

“We have brought Africa here to you,” Dawson said. “We hope you come back to Africa with us.”

Models pose for the Studio 189 presentation during New York Fashion Week: The Shows at Gallery II at Spring Studios on Feb. 11 in New York City.

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