A Designer's Twist on the Afrocentric Wedding


By DeNita S.B. Morris

Afrocentric-style weddings are relatively common place these days in big cities and in small towns, too. Many couples jump the broom, add African symbols to their wedding rings and even go all out with African drummers, dancers and priests to celebrate their unions. So, naturally, a whole industry has sprung up to cater to such needs.

For example, there are many fashion designers who specialize in unique and culturally relevant wedding attire, from sweeping caftans of African cloth to traditional gowns with Afrocentric touches. But many couples don't know where to find top-notch designers who can make their dream dresses a reality. And, when they do find a designer, they come totally unprepared for what to expect from the process.

You would've been hard pressed to find an experienced Afrocentric wedding designer a few years ago. But the demand for those who can make dresses that blend African with American culture has grown substantially. For example, Nigerian-born Thony Anyiam, owner of Anyiam's Creations in Lanham, Md., a design house that specializes in wedding attire, has been helping brides and grooms create Afrocentric ensembles since 1991.

"The great thing about Afrocentric design is it can be personalized to suit your wants," Anyiam says. "There are no boundaries. You can make it special, different, creative and nothing like Jane's or Sue's dress might be."

Most brides come to Anyiam looking for a dress that blends traditional looks with a little African flavor. With hundreds of satisfied brides to his credit and features in many bridal magazines and books, Anyiam realizes that many brides who come to him want Afrocentric dresses, but they know little about the time, cost and planning involved. So, we got him to answer some of the basic questions brides have:

If I choose the "Afrocentric" look, am I limited to a dress that drapes the fabric instead of a more form fitting dress?

"Absolutely not. There is a big difference between the traditional African look and an Afrocentric look. The traditional African style typically has little or no European influence. The Afrocentric look is more contemporary and tailored similar to the Eurocentric look. It incorporates both the richness of the African culture and the simplistic style of the American look. It's an African American look. A good Black designer will be knowledgeable about color and style, which will best reflect the average Black bride's wants: something that looks good and reflects her cultural heritage."

What types of fabric, design or embroidery options do I have to choose from?

"The sky is the limit. The good thing about the Afrocentric look is that it's universal. For example, there are symbols like Adinkra symbols from Ghana, and other symbols from different parts of Africa that you can use. You can choose whatever symbols or colors best represent you and your groom. Colors do have meanings, too. But don't be afraid to use it. Color is in and there are many fabrics to choose from.

However, before you place any fabric order make sure that you see the fabric and touch it. Don't go by what you see in pictures or in magazines. Always get a sample of your fabric to avoid confusion later."

How much control do I have in the design process?

"The bride has absolute control. The bride is the one wearing [the wedding dress] and paying for it. I encourage them to pick out something that they will want to wear after the wedding, too. A good designer will advise them on what works and what doesn't. I also do sketches for the bride. I recommend that brides come in with ideas, so that I can better guide them. I don't want the bride to be surprised by the finished product.

It's also good to do your homework-know your style preferences and have samples to show from magazines. Try to narrow down your wants and have an idea about style and color before you go to the designer."

What should I bring to the initial consultation with the designer?

"The bride should come in to discuss her dress first. Don't come in looking for your dress and the bridesmaid's dresses, too. Once, the bride is taken care of, then we can take care of the other party members. Second, have some idea about the style and colors you would like to incorporate into your dress. Third, go to your local discount bridal shop and try on different styles that look good on you. Don't go to the designer and ask him what works for you."

Will the designer make sketches of my dress, and is there a fee for this?

"Most initial consultations are free. You want to be very specific in this first meeting. The more prepared you come, the better. Most designers will expect a deposit before they draw detailed sketches and invest their time searching for fabric samples for your dress."

How much time should I allot for a custom-made dress?

"[Starting] a year in advance is not bad. Expect to have at least two to three fittings depending on the style of your dress. The rule: The more tailored the style, the more fittings it will take. Also, bear in mind that if your designer is out-of-town, there will be mailing time."

Is it expensive?

"When you go into a designer's shop, don't expect to pay the same price as an off-the-rack dress. Custom-made dresses cost more. Keep in mind designers are charging for their time, materials and to create your dream dress. The Afrocentric look isn't like David's Bridal [a discount bridal boutique]. Every dress is different. Also, if you go to a reputable designer, expect to pay even more. The average cost ranges from $950 to $3,500 depending on the style and detailing on the dress. Just keep in mind that your dress will be one-of-a-kind."

How can I cut costs?

"One way to cut cost, is to buy a dress that you like from a bridal boutique and then have embroidery or other detailing added to it to Afrocentrize it. Make sure to buy a dress that is plain and without sequins. A plain, straight dress that's not detailed will work best."

What questions should I ask before hiring a designer?

"Get some background information. Request to see pictures. Find out how many weddings they've done. Also, ask if they have a referral. It's a very important time in your life. Try to minimize any disasters, like your dress not being ready on time, by checking the designer's references. Also, make sure that the designer does a final sketch of what you will expect to receive."

How can I find a designer that specializes in Afrocentric wedding attire?

"It's very difficult to find designers that specialize in Afrocentric bridal wear, because the bridal industry doesn't encourage that many black designers. The few that are in the field find it difficult to survive because the business is intense. You don't get a second chance with brides, because you're only as good as your next wedding. And you have to make sure that you deliver. Most of the designers that are in "Jumping the Broom" (a best-selling bridal book) are now out of business.

However, thanks to the Internet, I'm able to get business from all over the world. I just did a wedding in Brussels, England and I'm having a client come in from Tokyo next month. The Internet is helping businesses and others like mine grow. For example, you can go to my site and see pictures of everything from the bride, groom, bridesmaid and the mother of the bride, which will help you plan your wedding attire for the entire party. The key is scheduling enough time for the design process."

     Web site: http://www.anyiams.com


  Anyiam's Creations International