| | |

Lafalaise Dion has bejeweled Beyonce. Here’s her story

Lafalaise Dion has made her name, her brand. The self-crowned “Queen of Cowries” has worked with the likes of Beyonce, and has made appearances at the influential Chale Wote street festival and the prestigious Paris Fashion Week. It’s no exaggeration to say her work is opening eyes to the beauty and nuance of her native Côte d’Ivoire. 

The artist and designer uses the cowrie shells as both the building block and headliner in her work. The shells are used in many African and Asian cultures in a variety of contexts. They are a symbol of not only wealth, but prosperity and fertility. Incorporating the shells into her dresses, headdresses, and jewelry, fits within her push to celebrate African culture. Through her work and activism, Lafalaise promotes gender neutrality, inclusivity, and reclaiming of African pride. 

We caught up with the talented creator to pick her brain on Paris Fashion Week, balancing labor and leisure, and changing the world’s narrative of Côte d’Ivoire.

How was Paris Fashion Week, and what does it mean to you and for your culture to have been embraced by the international community?

Lafalaise: Attending the Tranoï Trade Show during Paris Fashion Week is always a delightful experience. As designers, we have the unique opportunity to connect with top-quality press and engage directly with potential buyers, enabling us to expand our reach on a global scale. 

In addition to facilitating B2B interactions, Tranoï provides a forum for designers to come together and network. This is an aspect that is particularly important, given that we may not have many opportunities to interact face-to-face otherwise. This is a time of year when we can discuss potential collaborations, share advice, and support one another like a close-knit family. Furthermore, the event offers a great opportunity to connect with our community of loyal customers. Meeting people in person, whose names and screen names we have interacted with online, is always a highlight for me. It reinforces the value of building relationships and connections with our customers, which is essential to the success of any brand.

This is why I always add the performative or art installation element to my fashion outings. This year, I had the opportunity to hold an evening at SOHO House Paris. 

After a talk with Guslagie Malanda, curated by the magazine Something We Africans Got, I gave an exclusive live performance of my new project in collaboration with Ramata Cissé “L’Amour est la Réponse” (Love is The Answer).

We are thrilled to see that our brand’s efforts are making an impact and that we are able to promote the richness and diversity of African fashion, while showcasing the immense talent that exists within our continent. It’s encouraging to see the fashion industry move towards becoming more inclusive and diverse, with designers from all backgrounds finally getting the recognition they deserve. This is particularly inspiring for young, aspiring fashion designers who may have previously felt that they needed to discard their African roots to succeed in the industry.

Moving forward, I am committed to pushing the boundaries of African fashion even further, and to inspiring the next generation of designers to embrace their cultural heritage and proudly share it with the world.

How have concepts of spirituality and your own spiritual awakening shaped Lafalaise Dion?

Lafalaise: My personal beliefs about spirituality and my own spiritual awakening have had a profound influence on Lafalaise Dion. I have come to understand that spirituality is not just about religious practices or beliefs, but it is a way of living that connects us to something greater than ourselves. My spiritual journey was a turning point that led me to question my beliefs and seek a deeper understanding of the world. As I connected with the divine feminine, Lafalaise Dion was born.

Lafalaise Dion emerged from my desire to reconnect with my cultural roots, my spirituality, my inner magic, and the divine feminine. Everything we produce – every piece, work of art, project, or event – is rooted in our connection to the Divine Feminine. For us, creativity and spirituality are intertwined. When we connect with the divine, we are rewarded with inspiration and clarity. This connection enables us to create works that promote healing, love, unity, and cultural pride.

At Lafalaise Dion, we are passionate about using our power of creation to make a positive impact in the world. By honoring our spiritual beliefs, we strive to make our cultural legacy thrive and inspire others to do the same.

What do you want the world to feel when they wear or even just look at one of your pieces? 

Lafalaise: Our brand places a strong emphasis on honoring the art of craftsmanship and sharing knowledge. Each Lafalaise Dion piece represents a tribute to the meticulous dedication and care put into its creation, 100% by hand. From the countless hours of work to the collaborative efforts that drive us as a team, to refining our techniques and fostering a sense of community… we hope to convey the sense of sharing, joy, and pride that accompanies the completion of each masterpiece. 

Our goal is to impart this feeling to our audience, so that they too may experience the richness of the creative process that lies at the heart of Lafalaise Dion. Furthermore, as a creator, my ultimate goal is to foster a sense of connection between the wearer and their personal identity, as well as their cultural heritage. I want my pieces to serve as a reminder of the knowledge, pride, and love that has been passed down to us from our ancestors.

The divine feminine and the relationship between humans and nature are at the core of African spirituality, and I strive to incorporate these elements into my work. When someone wears or even looks at one of our pieces, I hope they feel a deep sense of connection to their ancestors and cultural heritage.

I take pride in the little melodies or whispers that come from the cowrie shells clinking together in my pieces, as it feels like a blessing from our forefathers and foremothers. This connection to the past and the divine feminine is integral to my work, and I believe that it encourages women to be bold, unapologetic, and in tune with their inner selves.

My pieces embrace the mysticism that we all possess and serve as a step toward cultural reappropriation. I want to convey the beauty, talent, and magic of African history, legacy, and future. By wearing our pieces, everyone can feel empowered and inspired to embrace their cultural identity and heritage. 

What have been two of your most memorable achievements along this journey? 

Lafalaise: As a designer, I have had the opportunity to collaborate with ACNE Studios for the Paris Fashion Show, which was a really stimulating experience. Through my work with Lafalaise Dion, we are working towards redefining the perception and conception of African High Fashion and culture. We see our brand as a genuine ambassador of African traditional artisanal know-how, a means to celebrate and reclaim our history and promote the wealth and uniqueness of African cultures. Collaborating with well-known international fashion houses is an exciting opportunity for us to consolidate our mission and bring the world to celebrate African craftsmanship. 

Our collaboration with ACNE Studios was particularly impactful as we share a commitment to sustainable fashion practices. Lafalaise Dion is known for using natural materials and traditional craftsmanship techniques, while ACNE Studios is known for its ethical and environmentally-friendly production methods. Another key element of our collaboration with ACNE Studios was our mutual commitment to empowering women. While we focus on celebrating the divine feminine, Acne Studios promotes gender neutrality and inclusivity. By joining forces, we aimed to create a powerful message of women’s empowerment and break down gender stereotypes in the fashion industry.

Furthermore, we both have distinct artistic visions and design aesthetics that complement each other in a unique way. Our collaboration was an opportunity to blend African cultural heritage and contemporary Scandinavian fashion, creating a novel fusion of styles that could appeal to a wider audience.

In addition to our collaboration with ACNE Studios, another of my notable achievements is having two of our pieces displayed at the Victoria & Albert Museum as part of the “Africa Fashion” exhibition. The Amazon and Tanke Belt*, both featuring cowries, were not only exhibited but also acquired by the museum, joining their permanent collection. The thought of having my work preserved in a museum and creating a lasting impact is truly thrilling and serves as a great inspiration to continue promoting the safekeeping of our handicrafts and telling our stories.

(*The Amazon, a remarkable headpiece featuring strings of approximately 40 cowries that pay tribute to the divine feminine. The Tanke Belt, adorned with strings of about 30 cowries and named after the Yacouba word for dance.)

Tell us about your commitment to sustainable and equitable production. How do you do it, why is it important to you, and why do you think it’s a practice others should adopt?

Lafalaise: African spirituality values the relationship between humans and nature, which is often overlooked. Africans have traditionally used natural resources like raffia, cotton, and plant dyes to create stunning woven cloth. The earth is seen as a mother and the source of all life, which represents the Divine Feminine.

Cowrie shells are a representation of both the natural world and the Divine Feminine. At our workshop, we source our materials with respect to the environment and always strive to have little to no negative impact. We utilize organic and sustainable materials and work to promote a circular economy system. The cowrie shells we use can be easily recycled, and we take pride in creating pieces that can be reused to make infinite models.

Our team of professional women designs and creates each piece with care and attention to detail. When outsourcing, we prioritize local artisans, many of whom we have collaborated with for years. We believe in sharing knowledge and techniques to improve our craft and support the local community monetarily and through experience. We constantly seek new solutions to optimize our handcrafted techniques while prioritizing personalized and bespoke orders. Each order we process is unique and made with love, dedication, and special care. We are committed to slow fashion principles, which require intricate technicality and impeccable finishing. 

Our goal is to create timeless pieces that our clients will cherish for years to come thus encouraging a shift away from fast fashion and towards more sustainable consumption practices. We think it’s important for others to adopt sustainable and equitable production practices because they have a significant impact on the environment and the community. By prioritizing these practices, we can help reduce waste, preserve traditional techniques and knowledge, and support the local economy. Ultimately, these practices contribute to a healthier and more equitable world for all.

Clearly, you’re busy and in demand, with a slew of high-profile clients. How do you maintain balance and self-care while running a successful business? 

Lafalaise:As someone who runs a successful business, I understand the importance of balancing my busy schedule with self-care. Maintaining this balance is key for my personal and professional growth. To achieve this, I prioritize self-care activities such as regular exercise, meditation, and spending time with loved ones. Taking breaks throughout the day to recharge and avoid burnout is also crucial.

Having a strong support system in place is also important. I have a team of talented individuals who share my values and work ethic, as well as mentors and advisors who provide guidance and perspective. By delegating tasks to my team, I can focus on my strengths and recharge when necessary.

Setting boundaries and creating a schedule that prioritizes both work and personal commitments is essential for maintaining a work-life balance. I schedule specific times for meetings, designate certain days or times for self-care activities, and avoid overcommitting to projects or clients. It’s a continuous effort, but it’s crucial for sustaining my energy and creativity in running my business.

We don’t hear about the Ivory Coast often. What are three things you’d love the world to know about it?

Lafalaise: Certainly! Côte d’Ivoire is a remarkable country with so much to offer. Here are the top three things that I believe the world should know about my homeland:

Cultural richness: With more than 60 different ethnic groups, Côte d’Ivoire boasts a diverse array of traditions, music, dance, and art forms. The country’s cultural heritage is vividly showcased in its lively festivals like the Nihidaley Festival in my hometown, Man – a true celebration of Dan culture! or the Abissa Festival celebrated by the Nzima people in the southwest, and the Fêtes des Masques held in different parts of the country to name a few.

Spectacular landscapes: The landscapes of Côte d’Ivoire are breathtakingly diverse, spanning from sandy beaches and tropical rainforests to undulating hills and savannas. The country’s numerous mountain ranges, such as the Nimba Mountains, are home to unique flora and fauna while providing crucial water resources.

Hospitality and gastronomy: Ivorians are renowned for their hospitality and warmth. We welcome visitors with open arms and delight in sharing our delicious cuisine, which is a fusion of traditional West African flavors and influences. Mouthwatering dishes such as sauce graine (palm nut soup), foutou (pounded yam/pounded plantain), kabato (corn fufu),  spinach leaf sauce with smoked fish… 

In terms of street food, we have garba (attiéké with grilled tuna), choukouya (grilled meat), Baoulé Hamburger…

These are just some of the many delights that our cuisine has to offer.

If you could send one message about Africa to women across the African diaspora, what would you say and why? 

Lafalaise: My message to women across the African diaspora would be one of hope, pride, and resilience. As women of African descent, we carry with us the strength, wisdom, and grace of our ancestors. I encourage all of us to fully embrace ourselves; our heritage and recognize the unique contributions that we can make to the world as women of African descent. Our experiences, stories, and struggles are all part of a larger narrative of resilience, resistance, and hope that has defined our communities for centuries.

This is why I want us to prioritize self-love. It’s essential to have love, compassion, and acceptance for ourselves to break free from the oppressive norms of society and truly love ourselves. By doing so, we can transmit that love and build generations of healed women who will continue to fight for our complete liberation. 

Africa is a continent with a rich cultural heritage and a history of resilience and strength. As women of the diaspora, we can draw on this heritage and use it to empower ourselves and our communities. But it starts with loving ourselves first.

We must stand in solidarity with each other, supporting and uplifting one another, and working together toward a brighter future for all women of African descent. We must use our voices, talents, and passion to make a difference in our communities, countries, and the world at large. 

Follow @lafalaisedionn

Similar Posts