If you wanted to tell the story of Imane Ayissi, you could quite easily start
with Once upon a time... But as the story went on, you would soon realize
that it was not a fairy tale or the story of an African prince descended from
a long line of royal forebears, but rather the story of a boy from a family
whose noble air came from a hereditary taste for art, beauty, and elegance.
Imane Ayissi was born in Yaoundé, Cameroon. His father was a champion
middle-weight boxer in Africa and his mother was elected Miss Cameroon the
year the country gained its independence. At the age of 11, Imane followed
his brothers into the world of art.
Ayissi has had regular work as a model for several years, primarily free lance,
fashion shows, fashion photography, and advertisements for Gap, Motorola,
Gitanes but also photographic studies with photographers Alain Herman,
Gérard Valmer, Marc-Antoine Harmeau, Ernest Collins, Pascal Barin,
Laurent Durant, Wade H. Grimbly, Charles Ossola, and Marc Robin. In 1999,
he posed for a series of paintings by Sasmayoux. In the same year, photographer
Elias created a series of photos displaying the jewelry of creators from the
Place Vendôme in Paris around Imane: Van Cleef and Arpels, Christian
Dior, Cartier, Chanel, Boucheron, Harry Winston, Bulgari, Mauboussin and Fred.
These photos were published in French fashion magazines and presented in an
exhibit in Paris. Imane Ayissi has also appeared on stage in the role of Hypolite
in Britten's Phaedra with French actress Fanny Ardant, and in the role of
Balzac's servant in the TV movie Balzac with Gérard Depardieu. In 1999,
he played the man from the desert in Sting's video, and recently, he doubled
singer Seal in French singer Mylène Farmer video.
Imane Ayissi creates refined collections with a delightful mixture of materials
and accessories. He presented his eight collection Vogue Afrique at the Buren
Cirque in Paris in September 2002. « I started to design very early.
I used to cut rags and join cloths. My auntie offered me a sewing machine
and I started to make dresses for my mother and my sister. I learnt from nothing,
I didn't follow any course of design », he says. « When
I create, I like to tell a story, to mix movement and dance. I like theatricality.
In my collection Eternity, I told the evolution of clothes and men ».
His inspiration comes from « women, daily life, and Africa. Africa
is a spring of wealth for me, but I don't want to impose my culture. I chose
to live here in France because people understand my creations better than
in Africa, but one cannot impose its own culture. That is what African creators
generally do not understand. They overburden their dresses. Thus, they have
this label of African fashion. People think that's nice, but for an African
woman only. I want anybody to be able to wear my dresses, without the
impression being disguised. One must keep one's own culture, but one must
also adapt, and realise that we cannot live here the same way we do in Cameroon ».
Imane prefers subtlety. He mixes very European models and dresses, and African
jewels. Women who wear his dresses are « rather chic, smart, but
both African and European. And they want unique models. I never make copies ».
Through his work as an African dancer, he met most of the African artists
from the 80's and 90's: Gibraltar Drakus, Anne Marie Nazié, Marthe
Zambo, Mekongo Président, Keke Kassiri and participated in shows
by the National Ballet of Cameroon at the Conference of African Heads of state
in Yaoundé as well as in the Festival of Dijon in 1987 and the 1990
Soccer World Cup in Italy. In 1991, he toured with Yannick Noah to promote
the Association of Children of the Earth. Then he decided to stay in France
and collaborate on videos for Baba Maal, Nayanka Bell, and Marie José
Gibon from the group Kassav. He regularly works with Nabou from the group
Touré Kunda and dances for several shows with the percussionist Guem.
He has also given classes in African dance at the Pleyel Hall Academy of Dance
and the Academy of Choreographic Arts in Paris. In 1999, he was chosen by
Patrick Dupont to be an African dancer in his production « II danse
le monde », which toured Japan.