So many fashion shows often keep their hosts at a distance from the audience, like an aloof sense of cool is the only way to present fashion. I love the choice of Hayley Gates as presenter for this show. Her interview style and approach is relaxed and personable, making you feel like you are there in person and living it as she does.
States of Undress is a different type of fashion show, connecting the idea of fashion with the actual people who wear it.
In the first episode, we visit the Democratic Republic of Congo and look at Fashion Week, which started there in 2013. It is much like other fashion weeks from around the world – it's an event for the elite and a showcase to try and bring global attention to the industry. In the DRC, they do use local models and designers.
There's a conflict that I found really interesting in the culture and how fashion week fits into it. At fashion week models need to be tall and slender for the international market to be interested, but in the Congo men like their women to have curves and butts. It signifies you are affluent and self-sufficient.
I'll admit to being jealous of the segment featuring Fanny Mandina at the Zando market. I'd have loved to have gone there, where Mandina bought the Pagnes - the name given to the fabulous wax cloth prints.
The segment where the show came alive for me was when the show focused on the ‘Society of Ambience Makers and Elegant People’, or Sapes as they are known. The group turn the art of dressing into a cultural statement. With this segment, the show exploded with colour for me.
There are several groups featured – the Punk Designer Label Whores lead by Kadhitoza: the King Of Sape who revealed his rules for fashion:
- Be well dressed
- Have nice hair
- Be well groomed
- Smell good
They're simple and obvious rules, but it says a lot about his philosophies. In one scene he explained that "We don’t care about much but we do care about our clothes! These we take to the grave". From any other fashionista, that would sound like a carefully rehearsed line. But Kadhitoza seems to live and breathe it as a life principle.
The Sape influence discussed in the show goes back to Papa Wemba in the 1960’s. They used to be paid in clothes by their white employers. They took the clothes and wore them with much more flair and attitude. For them, the fashion is innate and in their blood.
I was really taken with the world of the Sapeurs. They use creativity with a capital C and give real value to all of the things they find in the country, from seeds taken from the tree, to fur from the gazelle - they draw the line at the gazelle head mind you.
They create the most incredible clothing, headdresses and jewelry, but there is a performance associated with it. Just as important as the fashion itself is the statement that they make. Getting dressed and walking around is part of the experience. The streets are their runway.
What I hadn't expected when I watched it was the depth that is on screen. This is a show which is about fashion, style, and beauty, but it also explores political and social issues of gender, identity, and race. I cant wait to watch the next episodes.
Watch States of Undress on SBS VICELAND every Sunday night at 8:30pm. Or watch the first episode 'Congo' on SBS On Demand: