The term ‘African designer’ can be ambiguous and reductive. Synonymous with tribal prints; the artistry and craftsmanship of traditional African techniques can often languish in the shadows of the fashion world. We caught up with London based luxury knitwear designer, Korlekie, to find out how she’s bringing these traditional techniques to the fashion forefront.
Why the name Korlekie?
I was born in the UK to Ghanaian parents. Korlekie comes from my father’s tribe, the Ga-Adangbe and means ‘Queen of Eagles’.
Is your African heritage expressed in your designs?
Being African is an intrinsic part of me, and I’m also inspired by other things. So, I wouldn’t say my designs are ‘African-inspired’ they just reflect who I am.
Is there an expectation to use prints in your designs?
Some people have a narrow view on what ‘African’ is and expect to see printed fabrics in my collections. When they don’t, they ask, ‘so what’s African about your collection?’ African textiles are more than just wax prints, which originally came from Asia and were exported by the Dutch who brought them to Africa.
A white designer born in the UK wouldn’t be asked, “so what’s British about your collection?”
I’m an artist and like to create my own fabrics; that’s how my passion for knitwear came about. Wax print fabrics can be restrictive; as they are repetitive, when you cut the fabric it’s difficult to get the prints to align. Through making my own fabrics I understand how the fabric works and have the creative freedom to make timeless, sustainable pieces.
Knitwear encompasses many things, including embroidery and beading. I also use new technologies such as 3D printing.
You describe yourself as a luxury knitwear clothing brand. What does luxury mean to you?
Luxury is about quality more than wealth. It’s craftsmanship skills, paying close attention to intricate details that enhance and maintain the quality of design.
I use a range of fabrics to complement the theme of a collection. It can be anything from teddy bear fur to hand woven Kente cloth.
Your latest Pure Red collection symbolises “boldness and sensuality”, why did you go for this theme?
The collection is called ‘Pure Red’ because of what the colour signifies, power, passion, love, danger. Red is empowering and bold; Korlekie designs are statement pieces and celebrate the female body; they are not for the faint-hearted!
How did you source the Kente fabric used in the collection?
I worked with a social enterprise called Nubuke Foundation in Ghana. I sent them my own unique colour ways and patterns to create artisan Kente cloths that were designed into kimono style jackets.
What’s the process you undertake when designing a garment?
Depending on the garment, it can be a long process. A tailored blazer can take around three days if the fabric has already been made and dresses can take around a week.
When a customer requires a bespoke outfit, it’s good for them to know what they want to express through their outfit, then I’ll do the rest.
What is the ethos of Korlekie?
Cutting-edge design celebrating sensuality with a traditional British and bold Ghanaian flair.
What are some of the signature designs, within your garments?
These range from leather braiding to expressive sensual knots. We also have accessories including head warmers, bags, belts and chokers.
You’ve dressed a range of celebrities including, actress Esosa from web series ‘An African City’ and singer/presenter Alesha Dixon, how did this come about?
Being in the right place at the right time and word of mouth, enabled those connections to happen. Alesha Dixon wore a sample of an emerald dress I made for her music video, which she also wore to the Brit Awards and ended up buying it because she liked it so much!
I’d love to make a dress for Solange; she’s really come into her own and has a distinctive style.