Mary Martin London’s collection at Africa Fashion Week London (“AFWL”) stood out for its eye catching beauty and innovation.
On arrival at the Freemasons’ Hall in Covent Garden I walked past the long queue that snaked around the building as a fabulously dressed crowd waited patiently to be admitted inside. Once inside the hall, I collected my press pass which excites me every year as I look forward to seeing the featured design on it. This year did not disappoint as I admired a beautiful red gown with gold detail on the waist. It would not be until later that evening when I would see the red dress on the runway, that I would realise it was a Mary Martin London design.
In conversation with Mary, she revealed that the collection was inspired by a news item which stated that some artefacts had been returned to the kingdom of Benin in Nigeria from Britain. Mary said “my whole collection was gold and bronze. I was looking at the Benin statues and realising they were Before Christ.” In an inspired moment, Mary put faces of black queens underneath her dresses and the Hidden Queens collection was born. “Some of my dresses have the artefacts of old brushes and combs on them” Mary said.
The collection took the audience on a journey. The first design to be showcased depicted a slave woman, “down by the riverside” said Mary, adorned in a white outfit with motifs of African queens in head wraps.
The next outfit showcased a dramatic change as the audience was treated to Mary’s signature ‘flapper’ dress. A resplendent gold dress with ruffles which would be received with great applause from the audience.
The pieces that followed included a gorgeous gown with images of queens’ heads that could be seen underneath an organza overlay and the striking red dress shown on the press pass.
Mary said of her collection “we start with the slaves and then we go into the queens and at the end we have the death of the queens because black queens are no longer visible”.
In conversation with a journalist friend of mine a few days after the show, we both remarked how Mary’s designs wouldn’t be amiss on the runways at London Fashion Week. So strong are the aesthetics in Mary’s designs that one can’t help but imagine them being worn by celebrities looking for a unique look when they are on the red carpet. It should come as no surprise that Mary has indeed dressed several celebrities, particularly those in the music industry, considering that she was a successful manager in the music business before becoming a fashion designer.
Mary revealed that she “strives to create something no one has ever seen before”. That can certainly be said of the Hidden Queens collection which took about six months to create. One of the most striking images in the collection was a dress with black netting and a huge ‘afro’ made out of black tulle. Mary said “I was very ill when I was making the collection. That is why I named the dress ‘Death of the queen’ because I had a feeling this might be the last dress this queen would be making but by the grace of God the illness didn’t stop me.”
There is no doubt that in Mary Martin London we have a designer who is truly inspired by Africa and is going to make her mark in the history books of fashion. Mary revealed that her ambition is to “have my pieces in the V & A museum one day.” I for one would be the first in line to see Mary Martin London’s designs exhibited at the V & A.
After our interview, I would discover that the current Oba (king) of the kingdom of Benin has said he would like Britain to return the 800 artefacts it has on display at the British Museum to Nigeria for them to be displayed in the Benin Museum. Time will tell whether Mary’s desire to have her designs showcased at the V & A museum and the Oba’s wish that the artefacts of the kingdom of Benin are displayed at the Benin Museum come to fruition.
Watch the video of the Mary Martin London show at AFWL below.