Behind the scenes of Africa’s catwalks

CNN  — 

When photographer Per-Anders Pettersson first turned his lens to the catwalk, he wasn’t there for the models.

The award-winning Swede was on assignment in Johannesburg in 2009 to capture South Africa’s middle class. However, his attention was piqued. So much so that he spent 2010-2015 crossing the continent documenting the industry and all its quirks and foibles.

Pettersson attended more than 40 fashion weeks in 15 countries, from Rwanda to Botswana, Senegal to Nigeria, recording the intimate moments of a market spreading its wings across the continent.

“Pettersson’s images are not only set to challenge stereotypes in African fashion, which include animal prints and ethnic designs, but are also meant to confront the ‘Western gaze’, a media perception in which Africa is but a war-torn continent rampant with poverty, disease and ethnic conflicts,” says Allessia Glaviano, senior photo editor for Vogue Italia, L’Uomo Vogue and web editor of

African Catwalk, a collection of Pettersson’s photographs, is the first book to document Africa’s fashion industry from an exclusive behind the scenes perspective, says publisher Kehrer Verlag.

The images take in everyone from designers – like Gucci – making frantic, last-minute adjustments, to models coiffed, painted and primed for the catwalk.

“The diversity of aesthetics, cultures and crafts makes African fashion interesting for international labels and consumers,” Glaviano argues.

Front row guests watch a show during the Lagos Fashion & Design Week, Nigeria 2013.

Recent figures estimate the apparel and footwear market in Sub-saharan Africa is worth $31 billion, with home-grown designers attracting the attention of Beyoncé and fashion giant LVMH.

“African designers have a choice of assimilating themselves to international norms or standing out, and African Catwalk shows how the continent’s designers choose to rage against the traditional statutes of the global fashion machine,” says Allana Finely, an African fashion strategist.

“You come to understand the drive of the industry players to do whatever it takes to empower a new generation of creative personalities.”