Buffeted by tropical winds and waves, covered in brilliant blooming flowers, and home of birds legendary for their brilliant plumage, the island nation of Madagascar is the perfect environment to inspire the minds and hearts of fashion designers.
While the traditional Malagasy raffia textile arts and beautiful indigenous fabrics have influenced Asian and European designers for decades, native Malagasy designers are swiftly coming into their own on the global fashion stage.
Eric Raisina is the most prominent of these designers. His childhood passion for textile arts blossomed into a burgeoning career as Madagascar’s foremost fashion designer when he won the title Young Fashion Designer of the Year at the Antananarivo Fashion Week, and was sent to Ecole Duperré, Paris’ premier fashion academy.
Rather than focusing exclusively on the final design of clothing pieces, Raisina takes the rare and far more labor-intensive approach of learning how to design textiles themselves, from materials and weaves to cuts and colors, incorporating every element of fabric development into his final designs. This extreme attention to detail and total immersion in the entire lifecycle of a garment is what makes Raisina famous and unique among designers.
After settling in Bali, another tropical island nation perhaps reminiscent of the land of his birth, Raisina applied his artistry to that native Balinese material, silk, developing new techniques for working with this anciently revered fabric. His most famous result is “silk fur”, whose production is a trade secret. This fabric mimics the animal furs used by other designers, and reproduces the texture of the feathers and plumage of the exotic birds that Madagascar is so well known for.
But his skill in Balinese textiles does not overcome Raisina’s devotion to his island home. The “master of texture” has also applied his talents to native Malagasy textiles, and his innovations include a fine lace woven from indigenous raffia.
Raisina uses texture in the development of his final designs the way a painter used color, mixing subtle nuances with bold strokes to produce finished works of art. He is at the top of the Malagasy fashion game, due not only to his talent but to his unique standing as an internationally-known Malagasy designer.
Aside from Raisina, Madagascar’s fashion trends are set by individual Malagasies. There are traditional fashions, kreol fashions, and non-kreol fashions which are primarily imported from Eurasia.
Indigenous Malagasy fashions are based on the traditional lamba garment and raffia fabric and weaves. Extraordinarily versatile, and made in a variety of brilliant colors and patterns, the lamba can become a shirt, a skirt, a wrap, an alternative to trousers, a baby sling, a backpack, or a dress at a moment’s notice. It is the fundamental garment for both men and women.
In a sense, fashion design itself is indigenous to Madagascar. Malagasies pride themselves on their appearances and style, and fashion is not the province of one class or sex alone. Rather, each and every Malagasy takes pride in his or her appearance and in displaying creativity by using the body as a palette for clothing and accessories. Throughout the nation, in every town and village, Malagasy people sport beautiful traditional garments alongside every type of imported style, using the traditional lamba to brighten up contemporary jackets and trousers, as an accessory to Western blouses and skirts, as a woman’s dress or skirt or a man’s wrap, or as a creative and practical outer garment to replace a jacket or sweater. The popularity of the frippe, or clothing exchange market, ensures a rich variety of options for each person to build a personal style and extensive wardrobe. This native Malagasy fashion sense and love for personal decoration has naturally developed into a rich kreol fashion scene.
Kreol fashion is that splendid, creative Malagasy mix of indigenous fabrics and fashions with styles, garments, and accessories imported from Eurasia or the neighboring cultures of Africa. Kreol fashion is the standard during the nationally acclaimed Antananarivo Fashion Week (where Eric Raisina debuted his career as a fashion designer), where haute couture jewelry and clothing designs have a distinctively African flair combined with Eurasian flavor, and Malagasy artisans display designs based on everything from native textiles and bird plumage to European cutting edge fashions, to traditional Asian garments, to European hairstyles.
Non-kreol fashion uses the typical styles, fabrics, garments, and trends of European and Asian couture, rather than the inspiration of traditional textiles, though some non-kreol fashions are inspired by the island’s art and wildlife. Russian designer Anna Derichina, for example, uses the plumage of Madagascar’s birds as the inspiration behind her “Madagascar” clothing line.
Though somewhat new to the world fashion scene, the textile and design artists of Madagascar are a bold new presence on the global stage, and designer Eric Raisina reigns as the movement’s foremost trailblazer.