The Language of Panos: Dress and Fashion in Angola
Xenia Flores Ribeiro
This essay discusses the relations between tradition and modernity, individual and collective identity within the perspective of dress and fashion in Angolan urban spaces, particularly in Luanda. The African textiles have been the subject of much study during the last decades and the renovated interest for the textile art in Africa is unquestionably stated by recent exhibitions on the subject. However, there is clearly a lack of information about the particular flavour of textiles in Angola. The need for diversity oriented studies, as well as the lack of publications on cloth (pano: in Angolan dress, the word pano refers to a piece of fabric, usually wax-printed cloth, of about 2 yards length), costume and fashion in Angola, urge the development of the present study, which is aimed to be a contribution to the understanding of the matter.
The apparently mundane subject of fashion reveals a complex representation of ideas on modesty or exhibition, individual or group identity, gender roles and social hierarchy. For most people, the cloth (pano) is part of their everyday garments and accessories. It is also a valuable cultural good, playing a part during social or political occasions, such as weddings, funerals, fests and commemorative dates.
The cloth (pano) is an important character in the aesthetics and codes of dress, along with jewellery, fragrances and oils, cosmetics, hairdressing, body changing or decoration. In different places and times, the cloth (pano) has stated a meaning beyond the functional source of dress and has served as currency, remedy, generation, family and society ties and as the key to the construction of individual and group identities. Dress expresses its meaning as it commits the individual with an important role upon society. It also contributed to the birth of a tribal feeling or ethnic identity during the colonial period, i.e., to the construction of new dimensions of group identity.
Angolan fashion designers are exploring new ways of approaching traditional techniques and models in order to mingle them with their own contemporary styles, developing a syncretism between the European and American models and traditional African models. They have invested their efforts in the opening of stores, ateliers and showrooms. They also promote their creations in fashion events, such as the ModaLuanda, Angola Fashion Week, Fashion and the most recent Fashion Business Angola. To identify these designers, to understand their work, their ambitions, attitudes and expectations towards the future of Angolan fashion will enable us to perceive the emergence of a culture of fashion in Angola and to sense the way it is, simultaneously, a sign of culture and expression of cultural change.
Textile, dress and fashion as a metalanguage and as a means of communication, particularly in urban centres, is the thread that runs through this work.