Loza Maléombho possesses the air of a deity. She’s intimidatingly beautiful – with an almond-eyed gaze, a statuesque neck and a regal profile.
“Are you making a video or is this audio?” she asks, in a mild tone. Her looks are sharp but she’s soft-spoken, even demure in demeanor. It’s a quality that translates into her designs, in both offerings past and present. When we meet her she’s just slightly distracted by the cacophonous chaos in the background at the Lagos Live Festival, where she sat down for an interview with Globetrotter. Loza’s just displayed her collection there – the energy high and the response overwhelming – but she quickly eases into the conversation at hand.
Hailing from Ivorian Corsican, Chadian and Central African descents, the Brazil-born and Cote d’Ivoire-bred designer moved to the US for a degree in Animation at the University of the Arts in Philly. Her next stop was New York, of course, for a fashion education – she interned with a few household names. Loza returned to Cote d’Ivoire in 2009, where she started, and now bases, her eponymous contemporary label and atelier.
It was a move prompted by the prospect of local empowerment.
“I wanted a purpose behind the brand other than just fashion,” she says. “I wanted to get into long-term economic development by working with women, training them, in order for them to have a lasting purpose.”
Loza’s collections are the physical embodiments of her love for Ivorian culture and heritage. With the recent release of her AW16 assemblage “Queen Pokou,” continues that tradition. This time, she reimagines Queen Pokou – leader of the Baoule people of current day Cote d’Ivoire – as a modern day regent. The result is an en vogue, modish ruler accessorized in gold, ruffles and armor-inspired uppers. It’s a careful balance of the masculine and feminine.
“I mix traditional and cultural elements of the Ashanti tribe of Côte d’Ivoire’s masqueraders, of Ashanti kings and queens,” she explains, “with woven traditional Kente [cloth] from Ghana and modern fabrics such as organza, velvet and taffeta to portray a tribal – yet futuristic and stylized – version of Queen Pokou.”
Loza infuses the accompanying portrait series – those images used as a backdrop for the collection’s wish book – with an overdose of aesthetic pleasure.
It’s myopic to to regard Loza as “just” a designer. Better as an all-around creative, digital artist and storyteller. And she’s steadily proving herself in these rights.
“Since the move in 2009, I have tried to express myself creatively in other fields apart from just fashion. I started this project called Alien Edits, a series of “selfies” with a creative angle to them.”
That’s a bit of an understatement – the series was an arresting collection of self-portraits for a selfie age, Loza’s striking features on display. And beyond, a deep social commentary, as she explained in an interview with Dynamic Africa:
“It came from frustrations about the US judiciary system with its on going discrimination against African Americans and frustrations about social issues that are class, race, culture, sexuality and religious stereotypes, all of which cause a state of alienation on its victims. … [Alien Edits is an] effort to empower [my peers] with messages of grace, royalty, empathy and elegance. Some symbols include the stretching of the neck for stature and pride and the constant use of the hand as a key element of grace and self validation… What better and faster way to communicate these ideas than with a selfie?”
The brilliance was apparent to the art community, and Alien Edits traveled. Before Lagos was lucky enough to take in Loza’s portraits on display, the exhibit launched in 2016 at the Subabiennale in Dakar, followed by another exhibition at the Gallery Guirandou in Abidjan.
As Loza’s digital footprint blossoms, her presence on the runway remains effecting, beautiful, strong. But there’s an ongoing evolution from runway to retail in the fashion world – Ralph Lauren, Micheal Kors and Proenza Schouler are now running see-now-buy-now operations, while others like Marcelo Burlon, Nonoo & Wes Gordon have adopted the online media platform approach – mostly by way of Instagram or Snapchat.
Loza’s new vision for her brand is towing a similar path: think digital.
“I’m leaning towards not showing on the runway anymore. I’d like to make Loza Maleombho a conceptual brand in every way possible, because I feel that with technology, you’re now able to have visibility and promote your work without actually having to be physically present on the runway,” she explains. “So I’m currently considering online streaming, installations, phone apps.”
That’s her most recent idea for brand conceptualization.
“And I’m trying to delve into art, into photography. I want to develop other projects. So conceptualizing the brand would mean that focus is not just oon the clothes, but on the entire Loza Maleombho universe.”
In that Loza way, she’ll be setting a blueprint for fashion in Africa.
Interview By Kennedy Ashinze
Words By Vane Karolle
Revised By Uma Ramiah
MORE FROM LOZA: HTTP://WWW.LOZAMALEOMBHO.COM/
ALL IMAGES C/O LOZA
This Article was originally published in Globetrotter Magazine.