Whom is fashion for? And whom is fashion by? Talk of color, silhouette, sustainability, and inspiration generally dominates the discussion about clothes, leaving the human aspect of fashion overlooked. Think about it: In three words the skilled artisans who craft couture, les petites mains, are rendered invisible save for their agile fingers.
Studio 189’s collection film is all about celebrating the company’s employees, and making them feel seen. Shot in the studio in Ghana, the collection is shown in process and then presented to a front row of employees, one of whom, Lydia Mensah, shares her story. The video brings the viewer to Ghana, to the very room where the clothes are made, and it shows the impact of fashion apart from consumption and narrative. Rather, it speaks to the value of work and the interconnectedness of us all, and it does this with an overflowing helping of Studio 189’s signature—joy.
The brand was founded in 2013 by Abrima Erwiah and Rosario Dawson after a trip to Congo. While there they visited the City of Joy, a leadership community for female survivors of sexual violence. This, says Erwiah, “was the beginning of this journey, and it’s about turning pain into power and turning ourselves toward our joy.” It seems that both she and Dawson see this emotion existing on a continuum that extends from the past through the present and into the future.
Heritage is the theme explored in the latest collection. One of the ways it is expressed is through the use of Kente, the national cloth of Ghana that is associated with royalty and has tradition and symbols literally woven into it. This season’s direct references to African clothing and textile traditions make clear that this brand doesn’t cater to Western taste. “It’s about standing in your power,” says Erwiah, who adds that she’s noticed a change among consumers (and buyers), who are becoming less afraid of prints and patterns. These days, she says, people want “more human things, but also more joyful things, more colorful things,” and points to a long skirt with rainbow-colored tiers in the current collection as an example.
One of Studio 189’s missions is to be a bridge between the United States and Africa. On Inauguration Day that span extended all the way to the White House: Rosario Dawson and Senator Cory Booker attended the ceremony wearing matching Studio 189 masks.
Though it’s still a young brand, a graceful blouse and long flowing skirt seem to be a Studio 189 signature. A notable dress had a straight silhouette falling from the shoulders and an indispensable shirtdress. Shirts with full pants were chic. As always the patchwork upcycled denim pieces were marvels; this season, Erwiah notes, the technique also felt like a symbol of coming together and community. What you won’t find in this fall collection are cold-weather clothes. Erwiah couldn’t see the merit, she said, in asking “people to do things that don’t make sense for the life they’re living right now.” But she adds, “What did make sense is, you know, joy.”