The Limelight: KENTE Gentlemen
[MIKARA] When did you know you wanted to become a fashion designer?
[Aristide] I still struggle calling myself a fashion designer. It's been such a foreign idea to me for so many years. Mainly because I never had any formal training or study. It's only very recently that I feel good calling myself one. Or actually friends and clients imposing the term on me. I used to draw a lot when I was a kid, but again it wasn't anything related to fashion. Call me what you want, I know for sure that I am a creative. And making clothes has been my latest and greatest inspiration.
[MIKARA] Were you always interested in creating menswear?
[Aristide] I was never really drawn to style or fashion up until my teenage years. Even then my concept of style was about wearing major brands and labels. I didn't have my own idea about it. I was mainly following trends. But still, growing up, I was amazed by father dressing up for work, or my mother collecting the most intriguing and colorful fabrics. The journey really begun back in New York, Autumn of 2013, when my mother sent me shirts tailored from wax prints fabrics. I hadn't been back home (Cote d'Ivoire) for over 6 years. And getting those pieces reminded me of home so vividly. Since then, I was looking for such clothing, something that would reflect my cultural identity and heritage in a contemporary, edgy, minimal, and elegant style. But I could never quite get what I was looking for. I therefore starting the brand with a group of friends, and we became the first clients of all of which we were putting together.
[MIKARA] What is your favorite part about being a designer? Creating?
[Aristide] It's to see something that you dreamed about literally come to life. From sketch to crafting, and finally admiring the final product. It makes everything seems possible.
[MIKARA] How has fashion made you express your new dimensions in your brand? Life? Confidence?
[Aristide] It's the social impact that really motivates me and broadens our horizons. The group of artisans, hand-weavers, tailors, and creatives of all kinds that we work with, are so dedicated to their work. It's both their livelihoods and their passions at stake here. It's something they have done for their entire lives. And the fact that we provide some economic opportunity, even to the smallest extent, is really touching to me. Some of them are mothers, wives, fathers and husbands, with real life responsibilities. When we get orders in, they get a direct and fair share out of that too. It's so brotherly to me. That too increases my confidence. Because I know this is bigger than just me. Much bigger. And it needs to get even bigger by the grace of God.
[MIKARA] What is your definition for fashion?
[Aristide] Fashion is what you make it to be. When you can afford it, or have the luxury to wear exactly who you are and what you want out of life, your clothing is an extension of you, of your origins, your personality, your emotions, your dreams.
[MIKARA] As you continue to build your brand, how do you want your clients to feel when wearing your garments?
[Aristide] I want them to feel and believe that the African continent is very capable of making beautiful things. And while we seek to honor our heritage, we also truly intend to bridge the gaps and extend appreciation to other traditions, cultures, fashions, and techniques of textile and apparel production, regardless of their origins. In all we wish to create something outside of the norm - something that speaks to us, but to you as well. As we sincerely all belong to this universal platform engaged in and for the exchange of ideas, cultures, and values.
[MIKARA] Describe THE perfect Kente Gentlemen client in 3-5 words?
[Aristide] Poetic. Colorful. Elegant. Cultured. Charming.
[MIKARA] Out of all of your products, what would you say is your favorite item to wear and why?
[Aristide] I love every piece. This is a tough question! If I really had to choose, I'd say Tradi-Jacket III -001 is a personal favorite. It's cool, casual, on-the-go, exciting, intriguing, handwoven and tailored to perfection (like every other piece). I love Baba I (Orange), Baba II (Blue) and Hibiscus as well. I even wrote a visual poem about the latter.
[MIKARA] What luxury designer/brand do you admire the most and why?
[Aristide] VIRGIL ABLOH. To see him where he is at right now is so inspirational to me. First, Virgil has firm roots from Ghana. Second, he's African, before being an American. And to see him, a reflection to many young African and/or Black creatives, reminds all of us that, regardless of where you come from, what you been through, what you studied or did not study, and how people may perceive you - even your very own folks - with hard work, perseverance, and dedication, everything is possible.
[MIKARA] In the next 3-5 years, where would you like to see the brand Kente Gentlemen?
[Aristide] It's a beautiful dream that for now I would like to keep for myself. :)