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Raffia bows, 3D guipure flowers and gold plated embroidery: African and Asian designers’ take on Haute Couture

By Carlotta Busetto, BA Chinese

Spring Summer Haute Couture this year started like quite no other. From life-like animal heads emerging from evening dresses by Schiaparelli to Viktor&Rolf’s upside down gowns, it is needless to say that the extravaganza underpinning haute couture is finally back, after the hard hit of pandemic-related restrictions on the fashion industry.

Although there are signs that things are changing in favour of fashion beyond Europe and North America, well established designers, such as Elie Saab, Rahul Mishra and Imane Ayissi, are still not benefiting from the same inclusion on magazines and on social media, as fashion houses from the Big 4 (New York, London, Milan and Paris) are. So, here are a few names you may have or may not have already heard of, who brought excellent design to Haute Couture this season.

“Despite high fashion’s apparent rebirth, there is still one aspect that needs to be worked on: media coverage of African and Asian designers.”

Elie Saab – Lebanon

For this year’s spring summer haute couture week, Lebanese designer, Elie Saab, presented the “A GOLDEN DAWN” collection. The show invited spectators to abandon the mundaneness of their daily lives and surrender to the glamour of Saab’s gowns. The theme, this season, consisted in expanding the boundaries of haute couture by exploring the concepts of royalty, nature and female empowerment. Drawing inspiration from the natural landscapes and religious rituals of Thailand, Saab combined intricate gold detailing with 3D printed guipure flowers in bloom throughout the 70 looks. 

Apart from gold, royalty was also brought alive through crystal and rhinestone weaves of the capes and was given an otherworldly effect by adding draped silk. Nature was also reinforced through the turquoise swirls in the skirt part of the dresses, which resembled water streams.

Rahul Mishra – India

Rahul Mishra this season presented “Cosmos”, a collection bridging the living world with the mythical underwater city of Atlantis. Often inspired by themes of nature, on this occasion, Mishra was inspired by the scenes of the Netflix show “Cosmos”. Through hand crafted embroideries by over 1,000 textile artisans across India, the gowns illustrated images from both space and earth with an infusion of Atlantis references, such as coral reefs and other marine life. The pleats and ruffles were lined with gold plated and Swarovski crystal encrusted detailing, and sequins were added to complete the glimmering effect. The baby blue and aquamarine colours paired with the ruffles created an illusion of waves, while the handmade leaf details in some of the looks featured a combination of forest green and gold. 

Mishra is the first Indian designer to ever present a collection at Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week and has since been an outlet for introducing Indian dress making to mainstream fashion outlets.

Imane Ayissi – Cameroon

Similarly to Rahul Mishra, Imane Ayissi also holds a historic debut. In 2020, he became the first sub-Saharan designer to show as a guest at Haute Couture week. This time, he presented his spring summer 2023 collection with the title of “Agnieup”, meaning “beauty” in Ewondo (the language of the Ewondo people within Cameroon). Through a combination of silk and African textile techniques using raffia, Ayissi illustrated a notion of beauty that incorporates cultural exchange, as well as visual aesthetics. Speaking of raffia, the designer incorporated it by assembling it in bunches to resemble little bows and by attaching it in the hemline to create a fringe effect. The harshness of this material was contrasted with luxurious silk and the sparkles of the sequins, which elevated the monochrome tones of each individual look.

Every model walked down the catwalk wearing dramatic eyelash extensions and long crystal pendant earrings in a wide range of colours. 

The collections devised by these three designers embody artistic excellence and yet they have received very little media coverage. As priority is given to Western fashion household names such as Chanel and Dior, the average consumer in both Europe and North America is not exposed to the diversity that African and Asian fashion bring to the industry. In order to avoid falling into the trap of neglecting talented designers like Saab, Mishra and Ayissi, fashion, in all its areas but particularly journalism, needs to play its part in showing the public that beautiful design is not limited to Europe and North America. 

Photo Caption: Look 16 of the Elie Saab Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2023 collection on the runway (Credit:

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