Six months ago, Area was all about playfulness. This season, that flippant joy has given way to something more aggressive, more punk. Yes, tonight’s show was glitzy and fab-you-loussss, but beneath that purple-to-pink fur and those rainbow crystal earrings are layers and layers of meaning. What does it say? Post show, codesigner Beckett Fogg summed up her and her partner Piotrek Panszczyk’s mission as, “It’s about these dualities: How can they live not in contrast but in harmony?” They riffed on contrasts of color, silhouette, era, genre, ethnicity, femininity—you name it, they had a take it on it.
The clash of it all made for a lively show, with guests wrestling over each other to photograph their favorite looks. It opened in mostly black and white, a basic palette for Fogg and Panszczyk to experiment with texture and treatment, like crystal-strewn cable knits that deconstruct into fringe trousers and a pied de poule–inspired houndstooth that morphed into an A monogram. A ’60s couture theme ran throughout, with several references to André Courrèges’s Spage Age shapes at his own brand and at Balenciaga. Then came the text, cut out of silver plastic as dangling belts and printed on scarves made of found phrases that evoke protest. Soon apocalypse. Power play. “We have quotes in the collection that are quite heavy, intense, almost like a protest song,” began Panszczyk, “but do we really mean anything with it? Maybe not.” He went on to riff that maybe the customer is actually a hippie-dippie activist, or maybe she’s just wearing that Photoshop-printed tie-dye, itself a mutation of ’60s couture polka dots, because she thinks it makes for a good selfie. Meaning can be found anywhere, but there is also an inescapable meaninglessness to our contemporary world.
There’s the rub. In attempting such a high-concept show, Fogg and Panszczyk became stuck, at places, in an echo chamber. Certain ideas felt so broad, like the trendy tie-dye, or so specific, like a one-off fluoro orange jumpsuit, that it was hard, as a viewer, to get one’s bearings, to make sense of it all. Maybe that’s the point. In its eclecticism and diversity, this collection felt like a big “F you” to the system, to the rules, to the right way of doing things. For a while in the recent past, Area listened to what other people wanted. This show was pure, unfiltered Fogg and Panszczyk, administered intravenously while Madonna sung “Shanti” over a sound system on a Wall Street promenade. It was so surprisingly, sophisticatedly weird, you just had to smile.
When some of the most well-known faces from the African diaspora arrived for a recent vacation in Accra, Ghana, it looked like just another gathering of famous people. Actors including Idris Elba rubbed shoulders with supermodel Naomi Campbell, TV sports presenter Mike Hill, and author Luvvie Ajayi. Behind this meet-up of box office stars, fashion royalty and top creatives is a focused and ambitious strategy to make Ghana a major tourist destination. The country recently unveiled a 15-year-long tourism plan that seeks to increase the annual number of tourists to Ghana from one million to eight million per year by 2027. Ghana’s travel industry is projected to raise $8.3 billion a year by 2027, plus associated benefits, according to the plan.
VIP guests attended events chaired by Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, the architect of the plan to boost tourism and diversify the country’s economy through reaching out to its diaspora, while guests took part in conferences, festivities and trips across the country to discover its unique and sobering heritage.
The primary purpose of the festival was to forge closer ties between Ghana, the African continent and those of African descent living elsewhere.It’s 400 years since the first African slaves were taken from countries like Ghana to mainland America, marking the start of the trans-Atlantic slave trade route. This timing is based on the first recorded landing of a ship carrying Africans in Virginia in August 1619. An estimated 75% of slave dungeons on the west coast of Africa were in Ghana — millions of people were taken and transported on ships that departed from Ghanaian ports.
President Akufo-Addo’s Year of Return announcement pointed to Ghana’s tragic legacy as a reason for diaspora descendants to return and learn about this chapter of history. The celebrities who attended the Full Circle Festival were taken on guided tours of the slave dungeons.
“Every person of color needs to get on this pilgrimage,” said actor and co-organizer Boris Kodjoe who is of Ghanaian descent. “They need to experience this journey and get in touch with their emotional heritage, walk through the dungeons and see the ‘door of no return,'” he told CNN. Marketing rockstar Bozoma Saint John — who has a series of marketing coups like Beyonce’s halftime Super Bowl show under her belt — worked with Kodjoe, inviting 100 of the most influential members of the African diaspora to party with them at the festival over Christmas and New Year.
Saint John, who works for global media conglomerate Endeavor and previously had high profile roles with Uber and Apple Music, says the project is close to her heart.”As long as you have melanin and you are seeking a return to Africa, it is a must,” she told CNN.
“I really felt that I wanted to show people the country I know and love. I take it as a personal mission and will use my professional weight to help the mission.” Saint John says that returning members of the diaspora can expect joy on their trip to Ghana as well as moments of solemnity. Skyscrapers and restaurants feature prominently in her promotional material.
Year of return
The celebrity-attended Full Circle Festival was the opening act of a broader Year of Return, announced by President Akufo-Addo in September 2018.Speaking about the year ahead at Washington’s National Press Club Akufo-Addo said Ghana would open its “arms even wider to welcome home our brothers and sisters in what will become a birthright journey home for the global African family.”The Year of Return includes a music festival, an investment conference targeting diaspora Ghanaians, and the Right to Return initiative, encouraging African-Americans to seek citizenship in Ghana.This year-long initiative builds on a long tradition of looking outwards. Ghana, the first sub-Saharan African country to win independence from colonial rule, has a history of pursuing ties with Africans overseas. It dates back to the country’s first President Kwame Nkrumah, whose vision of pan-Africanism included alliances with diaspora communities. Nkrumah enjoyed warm relations with African-American icons such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X, who both traveled to Ghana to meet him. Writer Maya Angelou spent time in the country after its independence and civil rights leader W.E.B. Du Bois is buried in Accra. Ghana has also sought to incentivize diaspora returnees through legislation such as the Right of Abode law of 2000 that allows people of African descent to apply for the right to stay in the country indefinitely. It was followed by the Joseph Project in 2007 that encouraged Africans in the diaspora to return, officials have compared it to Israel’s Law of Return that allows Jews to become citizens.
These initiatives have had some success. An estimated 3,000 African-Americans had permanently settled in Ghana by 2014. By the time Saint John is finished with marketing Ghana to the world, she is hopeful it will have knock-on impact across the region and wants to reshape people’s perceptions. “We are going to use Ghana as a gateway to the rest of the continent,” she said. “There are beaches in Kenya as well as snow-capped mountains. We need to tell the story of all the amazing opportunities Africa has to offer.”
(CNN) Childish Gambino’s “This Is America” won Grammys for song and record of the year on Sunday, becoming the first rap song to win the prestigious awards.The artist — also known as the mutitalented Donald Glover — did not attend the event and reportedly declined an invitation to perform at the Grammys.”This Is America” beat out “Shallow,” “God’s Plan” and other big hits. The Grammy for song of the year honors song writers, while record of the year goes to the recording artist.
The song caused a stir last May when Gambino released its ambitious video, which was full of racial symbolism.Related: ‘This Is America’: The Childish Gambino video explainedThe Recording Academy has made an effort to diversify its membership amid complaints the Grammys have frequently failed to recognize rap and hip-hop artists in the major categories.Earlier this week in an interview with the New York Times, longtime Grammy producer Ken Ehrlich acknowledged, “We continue to have a problem in the hip-hop world.”It’s unclear if Childish Gambino’s wins on Sunday change that.