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Tammy Violet Frazer
18 Dec 2014 00:00
A key ingredient in African luxury is remaining close to the source, writes Tammy Frazer. (Flickr, Creative Commons)
The African continent used to be known for trade-route crafts and curio-shop artefacts, but there’s a new wave of African items making
themselves known in the fashion capitals of the world. What are the secret fairy-dust ingredients that elevate our
handmade products to luxury?
African creators have remained connected to the source. We
did not mechanise during the industrial age and the consumer era or entrench
industries that can only make something if it can be reeled off in multiples of
We retained the skills and the ethos of “handmade”. In Africa, you can still walk into a workshop and meet an
artisan who can make something tailored just for you. Another key element in African luxury is design.
African’s heart is an entrepreneurial spirit: we are survivors of struggle, malleable
enough to embrace change and celebrate doing things differently.
We collaborate, cross-pollinate and share ideas.
This became apparent when working with wood, glass and
porcelain artisans and with industrial designers. My medium is scent, but it
needs to be packaged and it’s never been done in Africa before.
We started from the bottom up, with one of the biggest
packaging hurdles — liquid and vanishing smells. The artisans embraced the
challenge with innovation, a rare commodity in the developed world where buyers
generally visit retailers to report back on what others are doing and find a
way to do the same.
The third magical ingredient is creativity. Luxury is about
never compromising on the creative idea. In a consumer market where budgets and
briefs guide product development, luxury is a pristine world that elevates our
mind laterally and aesthetically. It is a place of freedom, abandon and whimsy. Where, then, does African luxury go, and grow?
“Hard luxury” — watches and jewellery — are not part of the
African lux lexicon. Here our focus is soft luxury — fashion and clothing,
especially leather goods — and exotic consumables (like tea). For craft goods,
buyers expect replications of a traditional look, so there is little room for
new design and aspirational purchases, both of which are cornerstones of
To set ourselves apart, I believe it is important to embrace
ideas immersed in local references; experimental (the French would call it
avant-garde) human stories portrayed with refinement. I translate these into
fragrance by sourcing the raw materials grown and harvested on the continent.
I elevate perfume ingredients that for too long have been
classed as oriental fragrances, but that actually come from Africa. It is these
resins and tree gum exudates that are our precious commodity in fine fragrance.
African fragrances are fresh (in an orange citrus manner)
with warm resinous honeyed tones, hints of grasses and undulating hay. They are
masculine in a way that matriarchal women can pull off. They are more natural,
rich and earthy.
We actually make things here in Africa, so it’s not about
sitting in a brainstorm with a marketing department to choose fonts and imagery
to craft a brand. Here, we are connected to the materials that make the
products that are luxurious.
Luxury and the future of it for Africa feeds into the
natural resources we have at hand, the processing of them, and as much
consumer-ready production as possible. It is about finding the reverence and
provenance of these materials and artisans, and presenting them proudly to a
global market that is eager for the new — and the real.
Read more from Tammy Violet Frazer / Frazer Parfum
Follow her on Twitter: @frazerparfum
Read more from Tammy Violet Frazer
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