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Crafts: in Senegal, “Chanel came to remind us that we have talent”

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Bringing back parts of the historic Dakar or the Senegal of yesterday… Khadija Ba Diallo feeds this dream into each of her creations, convinced that working on the past helps shape the future and establishes African pride a little more. The Senegalese designer savors nothing so much as the moist eye of a former rediscovering on his objects the logo of Air Afrique – the great aeronautical saga of the continent – ​​or his Pinton cans filled with a T-shirt instead traditional sardine paste at the end of the month. At the head of her brand, L’Artisane, the stylist, holder of a master’s degree in business law and an MBA in luxury brand management, feels like a go-between, she who “likes to cut modern fabrics the old fashioned way” and whose centerpiece remains the modernization of his grandfather’s boubous.

At the Fundamental Institute of Black Africa (IFAN), on the sidelines of the “19M Dakar” exhibition, some of his creations tell by example how much transmission is an issue, in Dakar as in Paris. In the two capitals, this problem arises in very different contexts. Based on this observation, Bruno Pavlovsky believes he has “a lot to share, to create together so that everyone is enriched by the exchange and circulation of ideas”. It is with these few words that the president of Chanel’s fashion activities sums up the spirit of the relocation of 19M, a craftsmanship structure placed under his presidency.

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Inaugurated a year ago in the 19e arrondissement of Paris, 19M is a space where the brand has set up eleven crafts and their 600 craftsmen, embroiderers, shoemakers, pen makers… These 25,000 m2, designed by the architect Rudy Ricciotti, want to make visible the craftsmanship without which exceptional haute couture clothing would not see the light of day. From January 19 to March 31, the 19M Paris, which more than 20,000 visitors have already visited, relocated to Dakar, augmented by joint works by artists and craftsmen from both continents. The exhibition, free and open to all, will then return to France enriched by this adventure.

At the same time, in February and March, four one-week masterclasses will bring together around emblematic Senegalese know-how (boots, shoemaking, sewing, weaving and embroidery) around twenty students, a local craftsman, a 19M art house and one school from each of the two countries (when possible).

Ancestral skills are gradually being diluted in a 50% urban society, where you no longer learn your father’s trade

Today, Dakar has only one apprenticeship training center (CFA) and ancestral skills are gradually being diluted in a 50% urban society, where you no longer learn your father’s trade by trying to imitate him in the courtyard of the house. “Weaving, for example, was passed down from father to son in the villages. What will happen tomorrow if we don’t organize the training very quickly? », asks Aïssa Dione, business manager in upholstery fabric, who has worked for the biggest labels, in Paris and elsewhere, but is struggling to recruit in her Dakar factory.

The “little hands” of luxury

To continue this highlight (which will include a day of reflection with academics), Chanel will also set up skills sponsorship, financial sponsorship in connection with the Fund for Financing Professional and Technical Training (3FPT) in Dakar, and will offer scholarships for 150 young people. A way to extend its “crafts” parade of December 6, 2022, to note that it was not a simple parenthesis of lights and glitter but “one more thread woven between France and Senegal”, as summed up by President Macky Sall when he inaugurated the 19M Dakar.

A participatory embroidery workshop as part of the “19M Dakar” exhibition at the Fundamental Institute of Black Africa (IFAN).

In Paris too, perpetuating the tradition of the “little hands” of luxury has been a challenge for several decades. At Chanel, Bruno Pavlovsky began in 1985 to buy art houses to preserve their know-how, he who always considered that “the future of luxury was there”. And yet… “Twenty years ago, with the arrival of technology, our manufactures began to encounter difficulties in recruiting, summarizes the president of Chanel SAS. The creation of a center of attraction with Hermès, in Pantin, initially contributed to restoring visibility to this sector, before the hand trades became a possible second career and we started working directly with schools. »

If the situation has improved slightly, the specter of a British destiny remains in everyone’s mind. In this rich country in the nineteenthe century of artistic craftsmanship, half a century of relocation was enough for the most refined know-how to vanish, to the point that even the jacquard technique, invented across the Channel, is lost there in oblivion…

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To avoid slipping down this slope, 17 big names in French luxury have already created their school and the Colbert Committee, which brings together 93 luxury houses, has been multiplying initiatives for several years, such as that of last December, where “An event bringing together the different skills of 23 luxury houses and around ten professional high schools was organized at Station F [un campus de start-up créé à Paris par Xavier Niel, actionnaire du Monde] »explains Bénédicte Epinay, general delegate of the committee, delighted to have welcomed 4,500 secondary school students there and to have reconciled, here again, modernity and tradition.

A day made of resourcefulness

In Dakar, like a good part of the new generation of designers and owners of Senegalese brands, Fatima Zahra Ba is sorely lacking in trained tailors and dressmakers and has to juggle to honor her orders, “while so many young people are unemployed”, regrets this young entrepreneur at the head of the So’Fatoo brand. Like her, many bosses observe the systematic orientation towards training in the human sciences, when the traditional trades are lost and make it necessary to import consumer goods.

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Trained in the United States, Fatima Zahra Ba has designed a product that meets the desires and needs of the market. First imagined for her, her long, modest dress, the quality of the fabric and drape of which she worked on, playing on the beauty of the very classic woven loincloth, was well received in this 80% Muslim country – and by beyond its borders.

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However, her daily life as a manufacturer is made up of resourcefulness, like many other entrepreneurs, who deal with the local reality, driven by an enthusiastic faith and a love of their country. Sophie Zinga, the designer of the eponymous brand, who parades in New York, Paris and elsewhere, also chose this path paved with pitfalls and remembers the struggles to gather the skills necessary to manufacture her clothes on her return to Dakar. , when she thought she was drowning in labor supply.

“In all sectors of the craft industry, it is becoming urgent to train young people in a more organized way”, pleads Aïssa Dione

It is therefore difficult to continue to move forward without more institutionalized training, when the country will go from 28 million inhabitants today to 32.6 million in 2050, and when the economy urgently needs to develop in this countries where it remains 90% informal. “In all sectors of the craft industry, it is becoming urgent to train young people in a more organized way”, pleads Aïssa Dione, at the origin of a very successful project of Institute of crafts in Damnadio, the new city which must relieve Dakar.

Aïssa Dione, company manager in furniture weaving, in Dakar.

For Eyumane Assendulé Baculé, Managing Director of Bä Tisseurs, a community organization that supports the territorial dynamics of social transformation, there is urgency with the imminent exploitation of hydrocarbon deposits off the coast of the country, in 2024, and the prospects for development. which make Senegal one of the five most dynamic economies on the continent, with growth forecasts of 3.7% this year. “We have spent the last 60 years supplying our raw material to others, she regrets. So now, there is no more time to lose: we must access a creative economy by rediscovering our traditions. »

A booming ecosystem

There are many craftsmen who, like her, are aware that local craftsmanship must make it possible to create a real industry. It is also the intuition of the very influential stylist Bibi Seck, to whom we owe the interior design of the Scenic, Twingo II or Trafic cars, who repeats that “the industrialization of Senegal will go through crafts”. And for those who did not dare to imagine that part of their modernity could emerge from revisited traditions, the arrival of the brand with two Cs will, in general opinion, have placed the spotlight on an ecosystem already in full swing.

“By parading here, by organizing masterclasses there, Chanel came to remind us that we have talent, which we had perhaps somewhat forgotten. So now it’s up to us to value it”recalls filmmaker and stylist Selly Raby Kane, who works at “changing imaginations”. The ground therefore seems ripe in this capital where multiple initiatives respond to each other and where a boiling African pride emerges.

This article was written in partnership with the Gallery of 19M Dakar.

The “19M Dakar” program

The calendar is subject to change, more information on the Instagram account @lagaleriedu19mdakar

– January 28: clay and eucalyptus dyeing workshop, by Marie-Madeleine Diouf.

February

– February 4: embroidered jewelry workshop, by Maud Villaret.

– From February 6 to 19: residence of Emma Bruschi.

– From February 6 to 10: bootmaking masterclass, with Massaro.

– February 8, 11, 15 and 18: participatory workshops, by Emma Bruschi.

– February 11: khay and guediane dyeing workshop, by Marie-Madeleine Diouf.

– From February 20 to 24: sewing masterclass, with Paloma.

– February 25: participatory workshop led by CSAO embroiderers.

March

– March 4: embroidered jewelry workshop, by Maud Villaret.

– From 1er to March 12: residence of Kenia Almaraz Murillo.

– From March 6 to 10: weaving masterclass, with Lesage.

– March 18: natural indigo dyeing workshop, by Marie-Madeleine Diouf.

– From March 20 to 24: embroidery masterclass, with Montex.

– March 25: participatory workshop led by CSAO embroiderers.