One humble Cameroonian artist, art director and photographer is a definite fan of Africa – going to great lengths to bring the continent’s unique style to the world’s attention – and his work has stirred up worthwhile debate on what is African beauty and why it needs to have a rightful platform on the global stage.
Mario Epanya’s inspiration started at an early age, watching his mother, a designer and boutique owner in Cameroon, at work. This awoke the artist in him, and he begun painting as a teenager, ultimately moving to Paris, the world’s capital of high fashion, beauty and art, in 2000 to launch his career. He started assisting at fashion shows and doing makeup for small magazines before securing a job at cosmetics company Dessange where he became its main makeup artist and hairstylist, working with stars like Denzel Washington, Jade Jagger, and Elijah Wood.
He eventually became one of the top make up artist in the business and a trailblazer in the field. 7 years later, he felt the need for change and with a camera in hand, quit Dessange to begin his own hair, makeup, and photography company, Mario Epanya Productions.
Mario Epanya won’t quit til’ Vogue Africa is greenlit.
In 2009, Epanya begun shooting a series of Vogue Africa covers. While these were unauthorised by Vogue’s publisher Conde Nast, Epanya was resolute in his quest to get the publisher to consider the region as worthy of its own magazine.
When interviewed Epanya said, “I read my first Vogue in 1979 and have been buying it regularly ever since. I always felt that African creativity was not represented.”
He continued, “I also realized that black women in Western magazines didn’t correspond to African beauty. Women in Western magazines frequently had light skin, fine features, and long hair. Today I think black women want to re-appropriate their image and don’t want others to dictate what is beautiful and what isn’t. Beauty is diverse and today we aspire to more diversity of choice. So when I got the idea to create the covers, I said, why not?”
While the covers are breathtaking – and beautiful, Epanya’s work was panned by fellow Africans who felt that Africa doesn’t need Vogue to feel validated.
According to Uduak of Nigerian Ladybrille Magazine, “Africa has always been and will remain fashionable. African fashion and lifestyle focused magazines have emerged, including Arise and Canoe, offering both Western and African fashion consumers more options. Nevertheless, many Africans and African designers still feel the need for Western validation via VOGUE Africa and similar Western fashion brands, rather than wholeheartedly supporting their own with their pocket book and patronage. African customers will buy VOGUE Africa, despite an African renaissance, before they do their own. It is the reality and psyche of Africans and sadly is what it is. Ultimately, and this is no slippery slope, African publishing businesses in the continent will be forced out of business.”
Mario’s reponse was emphatic. “Globalization is real and it’s time for Africa to sit at the table and propose what we can do instead of waiting to hear what we have to or should do. I say YES to Vogue Africa if it will permit dynamic creation in African fashion and YES to Vogue Africa if it would allow Africans to re-appropriate their identity, and YES 10 million times to Vogue Africa. Long live an open minded African continent that continues to make its voice heard. Amen.”
Since then, Epanya has launched an online title ‘Winkler’, and is still working towards the purchase of a license to create Vogue Africa himself.
Mario continues to work in Paris, ever enthusiastic and passionate about his craft. His humble spirit makes him relatable, but his drive makes him a luminary. Needless to say, his pioneering work is inspirational – here’s hoping his dreams come true, especially for an African fashion publication that takes the world by storm.
The Fashion Bomb