Last Thursday, I rushed to Montreal’s Place des Arts and waited during 3-4 painful hours for the show of Angelique Kidjo. As soon as she hit the stage, I noticed she was wearing what I have always called pagne. I later found out the proper way to designate that style is wax print. Whatever the name is, seeing an internationally known diva wearing this kind of clothing left me wondering.

Wax print colors look cheap

I have never worn a pagne in my entire life. I’m not even sure I exactly know what a pagne is. To me this word refers to African clothing made of printed colors. (I later learned that pagne is rather the way you wrap traditional outfits).

I have always said that one day I’m going to style my hair in a rebellious afro and wear a clothe made of wax print but I have never done so. I can’t.
I grew up surrounded by an elite who thought that pagnes and wax print are the reflection of a backward African society that failed to embrace the modernity of the Western world.

I was brainwashed to think that putting on a pagne meant wearing poverty, misery and a lack of education.

An african lady selling pepper in the marketplace. Capture from Mokobe's Safari music video.

In Africa, pagnes are sold like hot cakes. Anyone can buy a piece of printed material and demand to have it sewn by an affordable tailor. It is an inexpensive way to fill your wardrobe.

But pagnes are like sarees, hijabs or kimonos; they can look very cheap or incredibly expensive.

Let me say it once more: Wax print colors don’t look cheap

The person that made me seriously revise my opinion on African fabric is the American singer Solange Knowles. On many blogs, I have recently seen her with a simple but stylish summer dress. While wondering where in the world she could have found such fresh and unusual outfit, I have discovered three promising designers who wed African traditional patterns with modern trends.

1. Maya Lake: The NY Times recommended purchasing items from Boxing Kitten, a line created by Maya Lake. Featured in magazines, her designs have been worn by many celebrities.
I would have liked to see less flesh and more of these patterns but Maya’s dosage of shimmering colors is striking so I’ll keep quiet.

Solange Knowles
DJ Rashida
Beyoncé Knowles


Alicia Keys
Solange Knowles (bis)

Want more?
It gets better when you also discover that it is not only a black thing. Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas is not afraid of contrasts. Here’s her Boxing Kitten moment.

Not convinced yet? Here are two other designers.
2. JuneShop: Check out these pictures from JuneShop a line by designers Julie and Nellie. They promote diversity by using non-Black models too. I like that…

White model wearing JuneShop.

Is it more than you bargained for?
3.MYSISTERMADEIT Below is a white model wearing MYSISTERMADEIT, a brand created by Frances, a U.K. designer.

White model wearing Mysistermadeit.

Eye-candy is addictive. More celebrities wearing wax print.

Victoria Rowell (2nd picture, first row) went even further by having a picture of Obama printed on her dress. It is very common in Central Africa to have the picture of a politician printed on your clothing.

Verdict: I don’t think I will wear a pagne or any other type of clothing made of wax print soon. The initial reason was that I was afraid to look cheap. The current reason is that I’m cheap. Shame on me… (Yes, I forgot to mention that celebrity clothing are not always affordable.)

OK, let’s close with a gallery of the Vlisco brand.