Following the thread of our In Vogue: The 1990s podcast, we are closing out the year and heading into the new one with a series of newly digitized archival shows from the decade that fashion can’t—and won’t—let go of. Lamine Badian Kouyaté’s Xuly-Bët spring 1995 ready-to-wear collection was presented in September 1994 at Le Palace nightclub in Paris.
Xuly-Bët’s Lamine Badian Kouyaté radiates positivity—which, time has proven, has nothing to do with the fact that he once had a studio in the disused radiology department of the Hôpital Ephemere. Rather he sees riches and possibility where others see rags.
Born in Mali, Kouyaté moved to France to study architecture and edged his way into fashion in ways that feel very of this moment. His first shows were guerilla pop-ups: He transported models in buses to walk outside of bigger designers’ events. He aligned himself with the street through collaborations with artists. And most significant, Kouyaté was upcycling before that was even a word, making one-offs from existing materials and garments.
His career kicked off in the 1990s. The press aligned Kouyaté with both grunge and deconstructionists like Martin Margiela and Ann Demeulemeester. Neither designation felt right.
Kouyaté’s practice is rooted in African dress traditions like reuse and customization. Then and now, Xuly-Bët designs often carry the legend “Funkin’ Fashion.” Asked how he defines funk, the designer says that it “was an emancipative step for Black populations [who] created a movement for their own leisure and pleasure, not copied on white criteria. Music made by Black people for Black people. In that I find creative energy; a freeing energy even. It’s what’s always nourished me in funk.”
Kouyaté was if not the only, then one of just a few African designers working within or alongside the fashion system in the 1990s. Two decades on he’s still at it, and the industry is only just now starting to catch up with him. In addition to his other innovations, Kouyaté pioneered athleisure through his collaboration with Puma for spring 1995. The designer, who received Puma’s faxed invitation to collaborate in the middle of an interview, told the reporter that the joint venture “wouldn’t be workout gear, more like funky clothes inspired by sportswear.” Funny how the look he envisioned in 1994 is also the look of 2020.
In his own words, Kouyaté walks Vogue Runway through his spring 1995 collection.
“The show took place at Le Palace in September 1994, followed by an after-show at Le Bataclan with Cathy and David Guetta as DJs! We indeed did a live [performance in the show space], but right after the show. Jenny Blue played, and I had this band, This Is Not a Machine Gun, in which I was the bass player, so I jammed after the show!
I had gotten really interested in the idea of recycling sports fabrics. These are modern fabrics and I had a passion for these synthetics materials, the fact that they were not biodegradable and that you could reinvent them instead of letting them rot. I had a real interest in these sports brands which are Mastodons in terms of volume; sport being really popular, they had a large access to the public.
[The idea of this kind of collaboration] was utterly new. I had more of a feminine approach than these brands; women were left apart from that movement touching sportswear clothing. Truth be told, there wasn’t even any activewear back then. The wardrobe was so masculine. This collection allowed an opening onto the women’s wardrobe by making it more “active.” I thought there was a part to be taken. I started by recintrer [reworking] these sport jackets by giving them a more feminine dynamic. The main idea was to create a collection that would talk to girls since it didn’t exist. Which is why with Jacintha’s look, for example (Look 33), we derived a dress into a jumpsuit! We also worked a lot on soccer tops that we often turned into blouses or jackets (Look 25).
[I’ve always loved stretch because of] le confort! This is where my passion for these materials comes from, a comfort impossible to find in natural materials, a performance [material] where you can move. It’s a form of emancipation, to free yourself from clothing that no longer has that plush weight.
We collaborated with FFF, which stands for “Fédération Française de Fonck” on the collection’s prints [including the baby’s head (Look 9)]. It was the band of the moment, led by Yarol Poupaud. The baby was their symbol [and was] on FFF’s album cover.
We used to do a lot of collabs with artists I liked. Sibyl Buck’s skirt (Look 16) gives all the definitions from the French dictionary of chien. The dog is the symbol of Aurèle LostDog [aka] Aurèle Ricard, an artist with whom we created two pieces. There is the yellow skirt (39), a T-shirt turned into a skirt. On the white crop top that goes with the yellow skirt you read “N’Doumbelane.” That comes from Western African stories; N’Doumbelane was the city of animals, a freeing space. 100 Dakar [the print on Rachel Williams’s skirt (Look 18)] were Senegalese graphic artists, we did quite a few collaborations with them.
The accessories in this show are quite funny; very symbolic, all of them. My American friends who had this brand Ballistic did most of them. There was also a girl with whom I got along really well, whose brand was DS; she made those rosaries with the pearls.
[How has fashion changed since 1995?] It took the place of the big Mastodons of sportswear and fast-fashion. It became so much more popular with the influence of brands such as Off-White and Balenciaga who have brought the fashion out of the private salons of the haute couture…but not without its avatars. There is a perversion in that omnipresent fashion system.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.