Remember the Claire McCardell Museum Visit post?

Remember the Agatha Ruiz de la Prada Museum Visit?

Did you enjoy Tamara de Lempicka’s  luscious paintings and carefully sculpted forms?

I love a day at the museum, and strive to remember that fashion is, or can be, art.

I always feel reminded of that when my neighbors from Bangladesh take walks around the neighborhood….flowing wraps, beautifully emotional floral patterns blowing with the breeze, beaded embroidery, loose layers, golden bangles, intense colors, block prints, batiks, sheer, lightweight cottons, radiant silks….


I completely lost myself there.

In 1997, in NYC, I anxiously entered the Gagosian Gallery to meet one of the greatest photographers of the 20th century, known as the Grandfather of African Photography, Seydou Keita.  He was quite elderly, seated, and seemed to bombarded with visitors, so I was shy to shake his hand, but I did. I was so excited to be in the same room with this artists.  In 1998 he worked with Bazaar magazine to create this brilliant editorial spread.

1998 bazaar magazine Seydou Keita, Malian Photographer

You’ll see why below.

Today I will share his work with you.   A Malian photographer (West African country) who became rather popular in the West in the 1990s, which is when I caught wind of him, when I came back from Paris, OBSESSED with African Fashion, food, music, dance, beauty, fabrics, hairstyles…. as you probably know.

SKPEAC has global exclusive rights over the entire photographic work of Seydou Keïta, ensuring the preservation and promotion of this unique artistic heritage and extending his legacy through books and exhibitions in collaboration with leading museums and collections worldwide.

I am going to post his works here, to speak for themselves, as they really do.

As your tour guide, I will keep my comments to the same kind I would for Claire McCardell:

pointing out the same wonderful interplay of straight grain and bias cut, and stripe, plaid, and pattern work.

Only in this case, the designers are custom dressmakers, and the Photographer is master Seydou Keita.

You’re going to love this.

Seydou Keita, Photographer

Seydou Keita, Photographer , MaliNotice the circular “cowrie shell” pattern (HUGE motif!).  Notice the interplay of horizontal and vertical strip, and the gathered peplum effects at the waistlines.

May I point out the decorative strip near the hem of the skirt at left, with the stripe turning in the opposite direction, in a different scale of stripe? This is so rhythmic and dynamic!  Her outfit has at least 5 sizes of stripes in it!

I always loved the long, narrow straight skirts that are popular in West African fashion, as well as the pure, light, crisp cotton fabrics. I can’t imagine a more elegant fabric, personally, than cotton!

Another detail here that is super-popular in African fashions that I saw in Paris (actually, they weren’t skirts: they were two yards of fabric tied on as a skirt… a style I still use today) is the way the selvedge is used as a hem (see the look at the right: the white band at the hem is the selvedge. So the skirt actually has the straight grain going around the hips, rather than running vertically like in traditional Western fashion, AND the becomes an important part of the textile design, usually touting the name of the fabric house but also adding a striking contrast and design details to the skirt. And the hem doesn’t need finishing because the selvedge is already finished, while Westerners are forever cutting off, hiding,  or throwing them away!

african print fabric with selvedge edgeHere is the white selvedge visible on this African Print fabric, which might be from Holland VLISCO is one of my favorite brands..., an incredibly high quality fabric. Usually these fabrics are printed so intensely that the wrong side and the right side of the fabric have the same color intensity. The prints that are really from Africa sometimes are much lighter and softer, which is also nice.

Back on topic:

Seydou Keita, Malian photographer

The print on the left looks Western… look at the beaded necklaces, the shells in the hair… the bare shoulders, these are like cotton ball-gowns….

Seydou Keita, Malian Photographer

Claire McCardell would have loved to wear this one!!!  a bias front, circle skirt dress with a straight-grain plaid bib, and a straight grain ruffle all around the hem. How brilliant this is a a fashion photograph, showing off the garment silhouette and details!

Seydou Keita, Malian PhotographerHello!!! Look at the sophistication of this design!!! From the head wrap to the dress details, light and dark interplay (emphasized by the black and white photography)… and the way the gathered pattern across the top of the bodice condenses the plaid, while running the brighter lines in the opposite direction as in the bodice and skirt. And those little bits of trim at the shoulder!! AMAZING!

Seydou Keita, Malian Photographer

This fabric panel with an engineered print/ border print is laid with the pattern near the  hem, then pleated into the waistband. More off the shoulder loveliness and a lace, fringed backdrop.

Seydou Keita, Malian photographer

A lace print, polka dots, “oversize” checkers with print and stripe, horizontal and vertical even and uneven stripes….

all come together. One thing I always noticed in Paris with the African women’s fashion was that when people came together, the beauty multiplied. Like in this image, the clothes vibrate off of one another, creating a harmony….

Seydou Keita, Malian Photographer

You can see the selvedge again, on the dress on the left. Wide ruffled sleeves were very popular the past few years on runways, but when I think they have always been a staple in the African fashions I’ve seen. I used to go to a lot of Ghanaian festivities in NY and I saw this in Paris too, over the span of 25 years the element continues strong, as do cut-out necklines. These dresses have hourglass silhouettes, but aren’t skintight. I LOVE THAT.

Seydou Keita, Malian Photographer

You know what? I’m just speechless here. A bold, wide striped circle skirt? Speechless.

Seydou Keita, a Malian Photographer

I love the roomy, wide dresses that let the body move and be, freely.  Caftans, rather.  (CLICK THAT LINK TO READ A THOROUGH AND WONDERFUL HISTORY OF CAFTANS!!!)

seydou keita, Malian photographer

Bias cut fitted bodice, large-scale gingham fabric, full skirt.  Finely patterned head wrap.

Seydou Keita, Malian Photography  master(Correction: I just found an article, a few weeks later, crediting this photo to Nigerian Photographer J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere I’m keeping it in here for further research) Laura

Now that’s something new!! Shorter wraps as skirts. Loose tops tucked in, the look at the right is my fave with the stripe pattern just going in every direction.  It may be a hand woven. or strip woven fabric.

Seydou Keita, Malian photography master

Peplums, peplums, peplums! Stripes running horizontal again. I love this silhouette!

Seydou Keita, Malian photography master

I believe this background, and I believe that it inspired Africa Fashion Week when they chose this projected background for their runway show, which I illustrated this look from last year. I’m sorry that I do not know the designer’s name, please let me know if you do so I can update.

fashionillustrationtribe laura volpintesta afw designer african fashion week runway illustration gouache

These photos are just one more lovely than the other.  This photo features the background he used in many photos, and an eyelet type of fabric dress with those angel-wing sleeves.  Eyelet, as well as African Laces , and African “Swiss ” laces,  ( you find them hanging from the rafters of the fabric stores in the garment district in New  York City)  are a common theme in African fashions, pretty and also giving a nice ventilation all over.Seydou Keita, master Photographer from Mali

How gorgeous is this? A fine white ruffle inserted at each tier of the skirt, with a full wide ruffled hem, detail this full, dramatic skirt. Look at the fine tile pattern on the floor.

These fashions are beautiful, and you don’t need me to tell YOU that Seydou Keita is IT.


I hope you are as moved by his art as I am by writing this article, bringing full circle the experience of falling in love with his work, and then meeting him once, and now here we are.

Please share, like, comment, and spread the word of his great work.


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