“People Underestimate the Power of Fashion”—Ib Kamara on his BFC Honor and Making Memorable Fashion Imagery

In 2015, Ib Kamara met up with the photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman in South Africa with a plan: create imagery to represent what menswear will look like 10 years in the future. Their collaboration, styled by Kamara using thrifted clothing and photographed by Moolman, restructures ideas of race, gender, and identity. They titled it “2026.” 

I’d say they overshot by five years. In 2021, not just menswear, but much of fashion is shaped by Kamara’s vision and taste. As the editor in chief of Dazed, he has created poignant pandemic imagery of vaccination, he’s costumed Rihanna as a joint, and he outfitted Harry Styles in archival John Galliano. His reach extends well beyond his own magazine: Comme des Garçons called on him to make headpieces for a recent menswear show, H&M asked him to creative direct its first circularly-designed collection, and Erdem, Kenneth Ize, and Lorenzo Serafini collaborate with him on their runway shows. For this, Sierra Leone-born and London-based stylist is being honored with the Isabella Blow Award at the British Fashion Council’s The Fashion Awards on November 29th.  

Kamara’s resumé is impressive, but it’s his imagery that really wows. With his frequent collaborator, photographer Rafael Pavoratti, Kamara has developed a freewheeling, yet poised look dominated by saturated colors and contrasting prints. The striking images that have appeared in Dazed, System, and Vogue Italia have little to do with fashion’s 2021 headwinds—camp, glamour, or celebrity—instead reading as sincere, emotional, and honest, like documentary photography of a world that doesn’t quite yet exist. 

That’s sort of the point. When we speak on a video call, Kamara gets most excited thinking about the future. “I think people underestimate the power of fashion and the power of an image—it can completely change your perspective,” he begins, retelling the story of his arrival in Europe and the harmful way the Western world portrays Africa in imagery. “I didn’t realize what poverty was until I moved to Europe. I was quite happy with what I had because I didn’t know any other life. When I came to Europe and saw all the images of where I came from, it really had an impact on me. When you create a picture, it can inspire, it can cause confusion. It can cause emotional damage or emotional positivity. Fashion has all of that in it. I always think, if we grew up in a time where we saw images that reflected us, I think the images we would create would be completely light years ahead of where we are now.”

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