African Gold Miners Are Fashion Headliners

During New York City’s recent Fashion Week, the tents in Bryant Park-always a bit of a spectacle-reverberated to the beat of African drums and rang with the chants of an African praise singer in traditional garb. The singer and drummers provided musical accompaniment to a show called Africa Designs, which featured the works of five young African designers whose clothes were riddled with gold-from jewelry to accessories to the fabric itself.

The biggest surprise was the show’s sponsor: Anglogold, one of the world’s largest gold producers and the first gold mining company to make the transatlantic leap to fashion’s hottest runway. Africa Designs was the brainchild of the company’s two-year-old marketing department, which scoffs at the idea that gold miners are not part of the jewelry industry. “How can we manufacture a product and not care where it goes?” says Sarah Da Vanzo, director of strategic projects for Anglogold’s marketing department.

Africa Designs’ gold-laden clothes drew applause, murmurs, and more than a few gasps. Gold was woven into openwork wraps, belts, eyeglass frames, scarves, and even bootie-like foot thongs. Gold coins and medallions served as fringe to yellow and blue or purple and red combinations. Models sported chunky arm cuffs, chokers, neck plates, and fringe necklaces. The denim creations of South African designer Bonga Bengu were held together with gold safety pins, and Deola Sagoe of Nigeria used gold shells-an African symbol of wealth and royalty-as an accessory throughout her collection.

Luckily for Anglogold, fashion can’t get enough of yellow gold, which Women’s Wear Daily proclaimed one of the most important trends in fashion not only for fall and winter but also for spring and summer 2001. The Africa Designs show also benefited from the fashion world’s current romance with previously dismissed cultures. Like Brazil, which is enjoying a fashion renaissance, Africa represents a wealth of untapped talent.

“The fact that we secured the attendance of buyers from Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Neiman Marcus-three of the U.S.’s most prestigious fashion stores-illustrates the commercial potential of Africa Designs,” says designer Mark Eisen. “That could become a catalyst for accelerated trade between Africa and America. I am confident that some of the collection will be internationally retailed in January for Spring/Summer 2001.”

The show also attracted some heavy hitters from the press, including the New York Times, Elle, Harpers Bazaar, Vogue, ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox, and CNN.

According to Da Vanzo, the runway show-a major coup for a South African gold miner-is just the beginning. Anglogold, the world’s largest contributor to the World Gold Council, understands that to evolve and survive, it must embrace jewelry-its biggest customer-and fashion. Stagnant prices have diminished gold’s importance as an investment, so prices today must be driven by image and new products-like the Africa Designs clothes. To that end, says Da Vanzo, Anglogold is working on, a Web site scheduled to launch in 2001 that will sell everything gold to consumers around the world.

During the weeklong show of spring and summer collections, fashion’s elite left little doubt about the strength of the gold trend, and Da Vanzo urges jewelers to capitalize on that trend.

“We’re at the whim of fashion, which is very fickle,” she advises. “Capitalize on its fashionability right now.”