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Unfurling Africa in The Big Apple

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It’s a Thursday evening in September and the upscale Pier 59 Studios in Chelsea, New York City, is abuzz with excitement.

Backstage, models spin about, heels clattering, as wardrobe stylists determine the best silhouettes and sartorial choices for specific outfits. Makeup artists layer on the highlighter and hairstylists do last-minute blowouts. Cameras flash and roll as photographers and journalists scramble for quotes and interviews.

The plates of assorted healthy appetizers – chicken salad, baby carrots, and celery with ranch dressing – are disappearing faster than the goody bags with coconut hair products, portable chargers and gym socks.

In many ways, Harlem’s Fashion Row is like any other New York Fashion Week (NYFW) show. In many other ways, it’s absolutely unlike any other.

“I didn’t have to bring my own foundation this time,” says Naqisha Cummings, a Caribbean model from Boston, in a clear reference to the tone of her skin. “I just knew they would have my shade.”

Mariah Mckenzie, an African-American model from Queens, New York, nods in agreement. “It’s usually not this diverse. Not at NYFW. Today’s show is more ethnic. It’s a really good stepping stone for minorities.”

And indeed, it was intended to be. Founded to increase diversity in fashion, Harlem’s Fashion Row (HFR) has transformed from its modest beginnings in 2007 to emerge one of the most prestigious industry platforms for emerging minority designers and fashion creatives.

In an industry where people of color make up less than one percent of designers in major online and department stores, HFR is significant.

Backstage, its founder Brandice Henderson is doing the rounds – looking into minute logistical details, networking, giving interviews. Earlier that day, NYMag had published a compelling profile calling the entrepreneur a small town native who started out with few connections and “fashion’s best advocate for black designers”. Today, fashion’s force of nature is decked out in a red dress, glittering necklace and rather comfortable-looking brown flats.

“I’m super-excited,” says Henderson. “This is HFR’s eighth year. And I’m about to birth a child. This feels like a new beginning.”

Harlem itself is a cradle of new beginnings. The historically black neighborhood was the seat of the Harlem Renaissance – a socio-cultural and artistic revolution in the black American community. Today, that community includes a prominent and growing African diaspora.

Indeed, in certain neighborhoods in Upper Manhattan and the Bronx today, as in pockets all over America, Kru, Igbo and Yoruba are the most commonly spoken non-English languages. From burgeoning sabar dance classes to the plethora of restaurants selling jollof rice and injera, from the proprietorships in Le Petit Senegal to events like the International African Arts Festival, signs of Africa’s soft power are everywhere in the world’s financial capital.

Africa has woven itself into New York with the gentle intricacy of Maasai beadwork. And today, Africa is the showstopper here in Chelsea.

The Fashion Deli, a globally focused retail platform that first opened in Cape Town, is showcasing four South African designers at HFR.

“African fashion and lifestyle elements are no longer viewed by western audiences and buyers solely as ‘traditional’,” says Thulare Monareng, the Founder-CEO of The Fashion Deli. Attired in black, high heels and tribal-inspired jewelry from her own company, she has a relaxed sophistication about her. She looks very New York and international – the kind of lady who is so well-travelled she carries cities with her.

“Africa is now influencing global mainstream fashion and lifestyle trends,” she says. “Take Balmain’s African inspired resort 2015 collection, Louis Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2013 collection inspired by the red Shuka worn by the Kenyan Maasai people, Sergio Rossi’s Zulu-inspired Spring/Summer 2014 footwear collection, and Vivienne Westwood’s Spring/Summer 2015 handbag collection inspired by the West African Bogolan prints.”

Armed with multiple degrees including one in Fashion Buying and Merchandising from the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York, a wealth of corporate experience in her native, South Africa, and experience with her own eponymous designer label, Monareng, came to realize there was a gap in the international market for African luxury and for ethically produced, sustainable and conscious products.

“There’s a lot more to African fashion than just wax prints,” she says. “I want to present an alternative narrative of African designers.”

And so, under bright lights on a long, ivory runaway, the alternative narrative began to unfold. If the audience was previously unfamiliar with African fashion, or didn’t know what to expect, they were about to have their hearts stolen and minds blown. The thoughtfully-curated array of gorgeous ensembles elicited sighs of wonder, gasps of surprise and frantic iPhone photography from the onlookers.

From veteran designer Marianne Fassler came prints found from and inspired by the cityscapes and citizens of her native Johannesburg. Fassler’s love for her modern, cosmopolitan city, which she described as a place to find one’s “personal gold” truly shone through. Every garment featured a palette that positively burst with vivid colors and prints that came together with a giggling playfulness. Dramatic pleats and paneling prevailed. Flirtatious flowing and sheer fabrics abounded.

Where Fassler’s brand drew from the urban jungle, Katherine-Mary Pichulik’s accessories label PICHULIK, drew from the colors of the South African environment. The pieces were designed and inspired by African tribal ornamentation, making symbolic use of color, beadwork, basketry.

“The sacred nature of making jewelry and its link to ceremony and initiation inspire a powerful way of making ornamentation that serves to not only adorn, but alchemize and empower the wearer,” says Pichulik.

From Celeste Arendse’s SELFI brand, inspired by the subconscious, came the SELF AWAKE collection featuring geometric silhouettes in a palette that was entirely black and white and primary colors. Everything was digitally-printed.

“The collection explores the connection between the self and technology,” explains Arendse. “What we see and what we touch.” Even something like the use of primary colors was inspired by early 90s video games.

Futuristic and forward-thinking, Arendse’s collection certainly subverted the Western notion of Africa in fashion and rewrote the script. Presumably in JavaScript.

The Adriaan Kuiters label featured sophisticated unisex and androgynous garments in neutral colors and sleek silhouettes. The collection exuded timelessness, being both current and classic. The designers Keith Henning and Jody Paulsen experimented with gender lines, using women’s items on men and men’s on women.

If there’s a running theme throughout The Fashion Deli’s collection, it is that of the old and new worlds cocooned in harmony. It’s a universe where nature and cityscapes, humans and technology, the traditional and the contemporary are simpatico.

Contemporary African fashion, it seems, doesn’t seek to conform to global ideals, but rather, seeks to disrupt and improve them.

“South Africans are now looking directly in our backyard for inspiration, because it’s so rich and diverse.” says Arendse. “I feel really lucky to be living in a time where countries can merge so easily. The new generation understands the power of technology and are able to communicate their messages directly without agencies. The youth in South Africa are expressing their own style on social media which is so unique and is certainly being noticed on global platforms. This will only strengthen us as creators.”

Amina Nuwame, a Senegalese model who Monareng met in Harlem, and who found herself debuting at HFR, considers herself lucky. She had to hide her love for fashion and modeling from her family until they found her on Walf Fadjri TV and eventually caved. It’s been a long journey to New York City since then.

“There’s a lot of talent in Africa. But we need more opportunities to get discovered globally,” she says.

“Africa comes from a rich lineage of craft and has a large network of incredible artisans,” says Pichulik.

The possibilities for African designers it seems are endless.

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Forbes Africa’s Best Photographs In 2019

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[Compiled by Motlabana Monnakgotla, Gypseenia Lion and Karen Mwendera]

Image 1:

Kabelo Mpofu, an entrepreneur, took over his mother’s shop in Meadowlands, in the South African township of Soweto. He is hopeful of making the family business a success despite big retail stores opening up in the townships and swallowing up the corner groceries.

Image 2:

Africa is the youngest continent in the world. Every year, South Africa observes June as Youth Month, honoring the anniversary of the Soweto Uprising on June 16. In this image, the country’s sprawling township of Soweto comes alive with youth dancing in the winter weather to local and international music at the Soweto International Jazz Festival, an annual confluence of history, art and culture.

Image 3:

Women hold up placards against gender-based violence during a ‘Shutdown Sandton’ campaign; this after a spate of brutal rape and killings in South Africa.

Image 4:

Car dealerships were among the businesses set alight in Johannesburg’s Jules Street, during the spate of xenophobia attacks in South Africa in August this year. The spark that fueled the raging fire began in Pretoria, the country’s capital, when a taxi driver was shot dead by a foreign national who was selling drugs to a youngster in the central business district.

Image 5:

Sibusiso Dlamini, the co-founder of Soweto Ink, works on one of his regular clients at his tattoo parlor founded in 2014 with his long-time friend, Ndumiso Ramate. In 2019, Soweto Ink held the fourth annual tattoo convention, and for the first time in partnership with BET Africa, to break tattoo taboos in Africa.

Image 6:

Mmusi Maimane, the former leader of South Africa’s opposition party, Democratic Alliance, is about to cast his vote in front of local and international media houses who had wrestled to get the perfect shot in his hometown in Dobsonville, Soweto, during the elections in South Africa in 2019.

Image 7:

The brother of South African journalist, Shiraaz Mohamed, begs for government intervention after Mohamed was kidnapped in Syria on January 2017 by a group of armed men. The group demanded more than $500,000 for his freedom.

Image 8:

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa with his body guards at the Sandton Convention Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa, where the three-day South Africa Investment Conference was held in November.

Image 9:

In a world that’s embracing new technology, inspiration is being found in bug behavior. The hard-bodied dung beetle is now key to robotics research, in Africa too. Astounded by this discovery early this year is Marcus Byrne, a researcher at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg who has been studying dung beetles for over 20 years. He holds up a metallic replica of a dung beetle in his hand in his office at the university.

Image 10: 

Mzimhlophe Hostel, a hostel among many others in Soweto, erupted with service delivery protests prior to the elections in South Africa. In the same vicinity, an informal settlement was also allegedly set on fire. Brothers Mduduzi (32) and Kwenzi Gwala (22), pictured, had arrived in Johannesburg looking for employment. They sold African beer, but their shack was set alight while they were still at church. They lost all their stock and possessions.

Image 11: 

A thrift market in the heart of Johannesburg’s central business district, not too far from a busy taxi rank, known for its pavement robberies. Despite the crimes, thousands of small entrepreneurs trade in this raucous market every day.

Image 12:

ANC, DA and EFF supporters dancing and chanting outside the Hitekani Primary School in Chiawelo, Soweto, South Africa, as they await South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to cast his vote in his former primary school. 

Image 13:

Tenants in the discarded Vannin Court in Johannesburg look on from their balconies as jubilation erupts on the ground floor.

Image 14:

Vestine Nyiravesabimana makes money weaving intricate baskets made of grass to feed her nine children in Kigali, Rwanda.

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Can Diddy’s Ciroc Recipe Work On Alkaline Water?

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The first time Sean “Diddy” Combs took a sip of Aquahydrate alkaline water—given to him by pal Mark Wahlberg at a Las Vegas boxing match in the early 2010s—he found it to be an ideal antidote for evenings spent consuming adult beverages.

“I went out that night and had a Vegas night, and I woke up and had a Vegas morning,” Diddy told me in 2015. “I drank two of the [Aquahydrate] bottles and it was, like, the best tasting water that I’ve tasted. And it really, honestly helped me recover.”

Diddy became the face of the company alongside Wahlberg shortly thereafter, and the pair invested $20 million in Aquahydrate over the years while billionaire Ron Burkle’s Yucaipa added another $27 million.

READ MORE | Hip-Hop’s Next Billionaires: Richest Rappers 2019

They aren’t the only ones with lofty ambitions for the brand: last week the Alkaline Water Co., the publicly-traded purveyor of competitor Alkaline88, bought Aquahydrate in an all-stock deal that valued the latter at about $50 million.

For Diddy, who ranks No. 4 on our recently-released list of hip-hop’s top earners and boasts a net worth of $740 million, alkaline water holdings are just a drop in his financial bucket. His Diageo-backed Ciroc vodka—and its myriad flavors, from Red Berry to Summer Watermelon—is responsible for the lion’s share of his wealth. But it’s clear he thinks alkaline water, flavored variants included, could swell his portfolio. So do his new partners.

Diddy
CRAIG BARRITT AND ALEXANDER TAMARGO/GETTY IMAGES. DESIGN: NICK DESANTIS/FORBES

“You put both these brands under one public company, it makes a ton of sense,” says Aaron Keay, Alkaline’s chairman, of the Aquahydrate deal. “We see synergies on distribution, we see cost-savings on cost of goods. On production, on logistics, on staffing. … And we don’t see both brands actually then competing for the same target market.”

In the past, flavored water has enriched investors including some of Diddy’s hip-hop world comrades. A little over a decade ago, 50 Cent famously took Vitaminwater equity in lieu of stock as payment for his endorsement—and walked away with some $100 million when Coca-Cola bought its parent company for $4.1 billion in 2007.

A ten-figure valuation for an alkaline water company seems an outlandish target even for the notoriously bombastic Diddy. But Keay notes Alkaline clocked $33 million in revenues over the past fiscal year and had been expecting $48 million in 2020; now, with Aquahydrate on board, he projects closer to $60-$65 million. That compares favorably to Core Water, which was doing some $80 million as of last year before getting acquired.

“For two or three years, Core Water was just another clear water,” says Keay. “Then they added about a half dozen flavors. Sales doubled. They got bought for $500 million. I mean, for us, $500 million would be a big number off of where our market cap is right now.”

Diddy appears to be an ideal ally in achieving that goal. With Ciroc, once a middling vodka in Diageo’s roster, he was able to articulate importance of the brand’s defining trait: it was made from grapes, not grains (never mind that this might technically disqualify it from being considered a vodka). His contention, according to Stephen Rust, Diageo’s president of new business and reserve brands, is that grapes are simply sexier than potatoes.

“One of his favorite things [to say] is, ‘If you can have a vodka that comes from a history of winemaking, why would you do that versus the history of coming from potatoes?’” Rust explained in an interview for my book, 3 Kings: Diddy, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z, And Hip-Hop’s Multibillion-Dollar Rise. “That’s Sean.”

With alkaline water, Diddy has demonstrated a similar knack for sizing up a product and extracting an elemental notion that passes muster with consumers (if not necessarily scientists). If “you’re full of acid,” Diddy once explained to me, you need to “get your body leveled out.”

Vodka and water, of course, are two very different products, and the same tactics won’t necessarily translate from one business to another. Flavored water itself seems to have been over-carbonated of late, as the recent struggles of brands like La Croix show; Alkaline’s shares have slumped this year as well.

Perhaps that’s why Alkaline is looking beyond its flagship bottled water business. Future plans call for a move towards cans in a nod to environmentally-conscious customers, as well as expansion into the nascent CBD-infused beverage space. Keay figures Diddy and Wahlberg, along with fellow celebrity investor Jillian Michaels, should provide a boost across the board.

“Once the FDA makes a ruling about how CBD is going to be distributed through those chains and channels, those guys are going to want trusted brands, brands that they know already have a consumer following,” says Keay. “And that was another big reason why it made sense to bring [Diddy, Wahlberg and Michaels] in, because it’s only going to help.”

Zack O’Malley Greenburg; Forbes

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The Highest-Paid Actors 2019: Dwayne Johnson, Bradley Cooper And Chris Hemsworth

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A bankable leading man is still one of Hollywood’s surest bets, even if your name isn’t Leonardo DiCaprio. While the lucrative twenty-twenty deal ($20 million upfront and 20% of gross profit) doled out to the likes of Harrison Ford and Tom Cruise may be more or less gone, Hollywood still has its big-money brands, those actors who can promise an audience so big that they command not only an eight-figure salary to show up on set but also a decent chunk of a film’s nebulous “pool”—or the money left over after some but not all of the bills are paid. 

Dwayne Johnson, also known as the Rock, tops the Forbes list of the world’s ten highest-paid actors, collecting $89.4 million between June 1, 2018, and June 1, 2019.

READ MORE | Marvel Money: How Six Avengers Made $340 Million Last Year

“It has to be audience first. What does the audience want, and what is the best scenario that we can create that will send them home happy?” Johnson told Forbes in 2018.

It seems he makes the audience happy. Johnson has landed a pay formula as close to the famed twenty-twenty deal of yore as any star can get these days. He’ll collect an upfront salary of up to $23.5 million—his highest quote yet—for the forthcoming Jumanji: The Next Level.

He also commands up to 15% of the pool from high-grossing franchise movies, including Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, which had a worldwide box office of $962.1 million. And he is paid $700,000 per episode for HBO’s Ballers and seven figures in royalties for his line of clothing, shoes and headphones with Under Armour.

READ MORE | ‘Black Panther’: All The Box Office Records It Broke (And Almost Broke) In Its $235M Debut

While Johnson’s deal is the biggest in the business right now, he’s not the only one with a lucrative deal. Robert Downey Jr. gets $20 million upfront and nearly 8% of the pool for his role as Iron Man, and that amounted to about $55 million for his work in Avengers: Endgame, which grossed $2.796 billion at the box office. 

That gross was so big that it secured spots on this year’s top-earner list for Chris Hemsworth, Bradley Cooper and Paul Rudd, in addition to Downey; together, they earned $284 million, with most of that coming from the franchise. 

“Celebrities such as Downey and (Scarlett) Johansson currently have extreme leverage to demand enormous compensation packages from studios investing hundreds of millions of dollars in making tent-pole films, such as The Avengers series,” entertainment lawyer David Chidekel of Early Sullivan Wright Gizer & McRae told Forbes. 

READ MORE | Worldwide Box Office, The Best It’s Ever Been

Cooper is the rare actor who can thank a bet on himself for his 2019 ranking. The actor earned only about 10% of his $57 million payday for voicing Rocket Raccoon in Avengers. 

Seventy percent came from A Star Is Born, the smaller musical drama that he directed, produced, cowrote and starred in with Lady Gaga. The movie was a passion project for Cooper, and he forfeited any upfront salary to go into the film and Gaga’s salary. It paid off—the movie, which had a production budget of only $36 million, grossed $435 million worldwide, leaving Cooper with an estimated $40 million. 

The full list is below. Earnings estimates are based on data from Nielsen, ComScore, Box Office Mojo and IMDB, as well as interviews with industry insiders. All figures are pretax; fees for agents, managers and lawyers (generally 10%, 15% and 5%, respectively) are not deducted.

The World’s Highest-Paid Actors Of 2019

10. Will Smith

Earnings: $35 million

9. Paul Rudd

Earnings: $41 million

8. Chris Evans

Earnings: $43.5 million

6. Adam Sandler (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

6. Bradley Cooper (tie)

Earnings: $57 million

5. Jackie Chan

Earnings: $58 million

4. Akshay Kumar

Earnings: $65 million

3. Robert Downey Jr.

Earnings: $66 million

2. Chris Hemsworth

Earnings: $76.4 million

1. Dwayne Johnson

-Madeline Berg; Forbes

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