Thursday, June 10, 2010

Out of Ghana, Some Royal Flourishes

The Sena dress, left, in black stretch wool with Kente detail. In descending order below, Gold Coast corset with black silk charmeuse lining and black silk string back closure; designers Edna Bassoon, left, and Cindy Gaston wearing a b&w Asante jacket; Badi shorts, and Asante jacket with black silk charmeuse lining. Photos courtesy of

STARING up at me from the bottom right corner of an expensive-looking invitation is a corset in green, white and black. In the pattern, green and white stripes alternate with black color blocks. Laid on top of the color blocks is a colony of white dots arranged in the shape of a diamond. I am besotted.

Little did I know that I was staring back at Luxury. The Gold Coast corset is one of 12 exquisite Kente cloth pieces, most in various colors, that I had the pleasure and privilege of fondling, cuddling and coveting when the 2009 Hemma Collection made it debut late last year. Each pattern, as well as color, has a meaning behind its charm and beauty. The classic Eastern fabric crossed with classic Western silhouettes spawns eye-catching hybrids. Joining Luxury, which is the pattern of the corset, are Duality Harmony Passion Compassion Strength and that old chestnut, Power. They are inspired by the Kente cloth that has been favored for several hundred years by Ghana’s royals and brought to the New World by the dynamic, Harlem-based duo of Edna Bissoon and Cindy Gaston.

To celebrate Hemma’s exposure in national media, including Essence and Lucky magazines, the collection is being brought to Soho USA from Noon to 7 p.m. tomorrow for a trunk show at AvaMaria. The collection is also available on the company Web site and two New York boutiques. On offer at the trunk show is a designer meet-and-greet, gift bag and, 10 percent discount on purchases.

As is the case for any designer collection, not all pieces will flatter all body types equally. However, the NYU grads who also studied design at FIT, created the multi-tasking Sena dress for just this purpose. “It is made of an imported stretch wool that creates a beautiful silhouette and hugs the curves slightly, allowing a woman to feel confident about her body and curves,” say the women who conceived the collection while students in Accra, Ghana during a Spring of much content. “We put a lot of time into perfecting the fit and cut of our garments and the Sena dress is a testament to that, as it beautifully fits any shape or size. The single Kente detail below the bust allows this little black dress the versatility to be used for any occasion whether work or a night out.”

When Yours Truly comes off of her strict money diet – depend on it – she shall make Luxury her own. And in so doing she will become that very special specimen known as a Hemma customer. “The Hemma customer is stylish, ambitious, empowered and knows what she wants in life. She is not afraid to stand out and be innovative,” EB gives me to know. “The Hemma woman is cosmopolitan and has an interest in fashion with a conscience. The Hemma woman also appreciates well-tailored garments that use luscious fabrics that feel as good as they look. And finally the Hemma woman pays attention to detail, whether it is the custom-made buttons or the attention to fit because detail is what differentiates an okay garment from a fabulous one!”

Consider the deets: The pieces are handwoven and custom-made in tradition-rich Ghana, which has given the world much, including Kente in the 17th century. Each takes two to three months to create. “There is no mass production,” EB asserts in a video about the collection on the Web site of Hemma, which means queen in Twi, the mother tongue of Ghana. In other words, there are no “shoppertunities” at leading discounters. The garments can be made for one’s own unique curves, and they are not the sole province of sizes 0-10. At this writing some highly skilled weaver may be working on the 2010 collection, including some pieces for men, that will debut in September during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week. Is Hemma working toward membership in the Chambre Syndicale de la Haute Couture with frocks that are a fraction of the price ($225-$475) of most such creations?

The garments look and feel as rich as they do in photographs. One can sense the love, care and attention to detail that goes into the crafting of each piece, even the fanciful Badi short in an au courant ocean blue and white pattern that translates into Duality. It is lush and cottony soft.

While the Brooklyn natives are no longer students in Accra, taking up medicine and law, respectively – they’re undertaking those courses at Columbia University’s medical and law school – a good deal of their business is there. So is a good deal of their heart. To help make the world a better place they taught at La Yahoushua, a local middle school. Five percent of proceeds from sales of the collection go to their Hemma Foundation through which their mission is to funnel funds to the school for learning materials and other bare-necessity basics. In conceiving the collection they also took inspiration from the La Yashoushua experience.

“ … We were able to grow very close with the school faculty as well as children and learned so many life lessons that inspired our first collection but that we have incorporated in our everyday lives as well,” CG says. “Ghanaian society taught us to slow down once and a while and enjoy the gift that life truly is. Things like hospitality, friendship, love and cooperation are some of the few things that this culture exhibits all of the time and it was astounding. We were both taken in as family at La Yahoushua and we wanted to display those same qualities we learned in Ghana through our collection.”

Their favorite is the Asante jacket, the first born. It was created for their own backs. “It has a meticulously tailored fit, hugging a woman's waist which creates a chic yet stylish look,” they explain. “It can be worn to the office or out on the town and will make any woman stand out in all the right ways.

The Asante jacket, whose pattern means Passion, also has a matching skirt. In the Asante and all of the pieces in the collection, EB and CG not only want women to look good and feel good, but to do good. “We hope that the Hemma woman spreads the word about this intricate fabric, Kente, because it is an art passed down over hundreds of years that we would like to see survive hundreds more,” the two assert.

“We also hope that others dedicate some of their time to supporting a cause that is just as close to them as education in Ghana is to us because giving back is transformative, not just for the receiver, but the giver as well.”

Learn more about The Hemma Collection at; visit AvaMaria at 107 Crosby St. (and Prince); learn more about Albertine and Darling, which also carry The Hemma Collection, at and

1 comment :

  1. This is an amazing collection with the right balance for the ambitious, trend setting cosmopolitan woman in the US! Thanks Hemma for bringing kente to the masses in such a stylish and innovative way!!!! Acnt wait to get that blazer :-)


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