L’Officiel’s Voyage to Africa

L’Officiel champions the forward African fashion perspective in their bold September issue. The mag calls upon Jenke Ahmed Tailly as guest editor-in-chief to curate inspiring imagery and gather stories on the incredible talents that emerged from the rich continent. Model legend Iman Abdulmajid, entertainer Ciara, & editor Shala Monroque join top models Ajak Deng, Adesuwa Aighewi, Anais Mali, Grace Bol, Maria Borges, & Riley Montana for a jam-packed fashion display that doesn’t spare on extravagance. We spoke to the leading stylist about the passion project and see some of the visuals captured by Ellen von Unwerth below.

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When did you first begin editing this issue?
The conversation started about a year ago when my friends, editor-in-chief Marie-José Susskind-Jalou and fashion director Vanessa Bellugeon of L’Officiel Paris, mentioned that the last project I had done was their 90th anniversary issue with Beyoncé on the cover and that they desired for me to have an editor-at-large position. I was reluctant, but open to continue talking and seeing what project we could do together. Then, I offered the idea of doing a special issue but only if I have full control. This September issue is dedicated to Africa and its legacy; it seeks to answer the question of how do you pay tribute to this great culture that people receive inspiration from? I moved back to Paris for about six months and started to work on the concept to figure out what I really wanted to say as an African person with a global perspective about my culture. The first person I called was my heart Iman – everything was kind of based on her as my main character. After that, casting the other models was easy. One thing very, very important to me was that these models would reflect of universal beauty.

The styling in the issue was geometric and very bold. Were there any specific references regarding this style choice in relation to Africa?
I wanted to capture a voyage—a sort of “Once Upon A Time”—the Africa that I know I have in my heart. How would I tell that story? I wrote a treatment for the whole issue and for each story there were like chapters in a movie. When I finished writing all of my concepts—for me Africa is everywhere. I can look at a Japanese designer and see something that is influenced by Africa.

How was it collaborating with photographer Ellen von Unwerth?
It was very important for me that I was in control of this project. Normally, a stylist collaborates with a photographer, but this was something I both created and developed. For me, the photographer was coming to really execute the vision that we have. For this issue, what is the relationship with Africa and black culture? And to me Ellen being a woman and if you look at her body of work, she has an intricate collection of black girls that she photographs divinely so I thought she would be perfect for it. I loved working with her; I worked with her as creative director of Beyoncé’s “IV”, which I also shot images for the magazine.

How was it curating the different stories and articles outside of the more visual pieces of the issue?
I would have several meetings with the editorial team of the magazine and tell them the creative minds from cinema to literature that I really wanted to explore within the issue. From Valérie Schlumberger, mother of actress Léa Seydoux, who moved to Dakar when she super young and has a boutique there called CSAO, which promotes the work of African artisans to David Adjaye, an amazing Ghanaian-British architect. There is certainly a mix of content, a great collaboration with the journalistic team.

Do you feel that there is a perspective about Africa that hasn’t been told and that your creativity on this issue provides that point of view?
What makes up my added value creatively is my background. So for me it’s really important to showcase that. There is tremendous progress that has been made in the industry but we’re still lacking so much. This was a natural choice and having this opportunity to do an entire issue on something that is important to me which was diversity. Many countries in Africa are on the rise and it’s no different than when China was a burgeoning market – as its GDP grew you saw many luxury groups opening mega retail shops throughout the continent. It will soon been the new hot market.

Photos by Ellen von Unwerth for L’Officiel
Guest Editor-in-Chief & Stylist – Jenke Ahmed Tailly
Hair Stylist – Tomi Kono (London: Julian Watson Agency London, New York: Julian Watson Agency NY) & Astou Toure | Makeup Artist – Vicky Steckel | Nails – Daria Hardeman
Set Designer – Evan Ellsworth Jourden | Casting Director – Jorge Morales

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