After months of post-election conflict ground their country to a halt, Ivorian designers hit the catwalk in Senegal this week with a burst of colour and a determination to move on.
Two designers will showcase their creations at the ninth Dakar Fashion week which kicked off Wednesday night, among styles from Senegal, Morocco, Mali, Ghana, the United States and France.
"For those of us lucky to survive recent events, this is a chance to show what Ivorians can do. That we are determined to move forward," Ivorian designer Alain Niava told AFP on the sidelines of a press conference.
He said during the height of the conflict in late March and early April, when millions remained in lockdown as forces backing rival parties fought openly in the streets, "we weren't thinking about creation."
"We were on the floor, thinking of our survival and of where to get food," he said.
Niava, who describes himself as "a dresser of first ladies," regularly provided outfits for Simone Gbagbo, wife of ousted president Laurent Gbagbo who refused to cede power to the country's new leader Alassane Ouattara.
Simone, a controversial figure in Ivorian politics who has been investigated for human rights abuses, was arrested alongside her husband on April 11.
"Simone Gbagbo was not a difficult client, she let herself be dressed," said Niava, who said she accepted makeover suggestions easily.
He dresses first ladies from Chad, Burkina Faso and Ghana, a job which can sometimes leave one feeling "desperate," he said.
"When you go to a fitting with a first lady, you know when you go in, but you never know when you leave," he said, saying the fittings sometimes take hours in between more important meetings.
The most memorable fittings were with "Madame Houphouet", wife of the first Ivorian president Felix Houphouet-Boigny who ruled for three decades, Marie-Therese.
"The fittings were always solemn, prestigious, everyone would be there. We would hold her clothing and she would just slide into them. She was a grand lady."
For Dakar Fashion Week 2011, his collection of evening robes will provide a burst of colour.
"By definition, we are Africans and Africans love a lot of colour. We are not going to present you with a sad and sombre collection," he said.
Patrick Asso, also from Ivory Coast, was more secretive about what he would be showing: "Come and see on Saturday," he said, the Fashion Week grande finale.Reuse content