iStyle: A tribal gathering of African-inspired design

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Retailers and designers are riding a wave of African inspiration, writes Trish Lorenz

An exhibition of African design opens at London’s Platform Gallery (habitat.co.uk/platform) this week,showcasing the work of 16 designers. Called Graphic Africa, it overturns any preconceptions you might have about the types of pieces emerging from Africa today.

Stand-out pieces include colourful and contemporary mesh furniture by Cheick Diallo from Mali, striking modern lighting and furniture by Doktor and Misses from South Africa, hand-carved chairs and tables in reclaimed exotic wood by Senegalese designer Babacar M’Bodj Niang and eco-friendly wood-fired ceramics by Ghanaian collective Kpando Pottery.

The exhibition reflects a growing interest in all things African across fashion and interior design. Designers including Matthew Williamson and Malene Birger have embraced African prints on fashion runways, and Habitat is leading the way in the interiors world, with a range of Malian-made cushions launching in store this month.

Habitat’s senior designer Rebecca Hoyes travelled to Burkina Faso to collaborate with Malian designer Boubacar Doumbia on the collection. “In the UK, it’s very easy for textiles to be Asia-centric but it’s an over-saturated market now and we were interested in finding new approaches and designs,” she says.

Other retailers are also launching products: House of Fraser has African-influenced baskets; the Conran Shop has woven pieces that reference African techniques; and the V&A Museum shop’s African Pattern range explores the diverse range of colours and methods used. Boutiques such as London’s Darkroom have also launched African collections, and designers including Eva Sonaike, who is of Nigerian heritage, are being inspired.

“I’ve seen a real increase in interest in African textiles in the UK market in the past couple of years,” says Sonaike. “I think it’s part of a broader West African creative renaissance: the region’s design, music, fashion and film is attracting interest and drawing in people from all over the world.”

Graphic Africa runs until 20 October at the Platform Gallery.

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