When we last wrote about Namsa Leuba, it was to wonder at her award-winning graduation portfolio, Ya Kala Ben, which depicted Leuba’s reimagining of ritual costumes from her mother’s village in Guinea. This fall, the young Swiss-Guinean photographer has set her sights on the fashion world–another highly-coded tribal culture–with an incredible spread commissioned by New York Magazine‘s style blog, The Cut.
New York‘s editors approached Leuba about being part of their Out of the Box series (“See what happens when we give a photographer a rack of designer clothes and tell him he can do whatever he wants with them.”). They sent Leuba a huge crate of fall knits, ranging from Carven sweaters to Thom Browne jackets.
Leuba, who describes herself as a “tinkerer,” recruited women off the streets of Paris to stand as models (she even stands in for a few of the shots), and set about designing detailed scenographies for each garment. “A photo takes me a while, because I think about the composition, the background, and what I’m going to put in,” she tells The Cut. Each image is the result of hours of styling–stretching and distorting the pieces to fit her vision with planks of wood, plastic packaging, broom heads, and spray paint. Leuba has traded traditional Guinean costumes for $800 jackets, but her vision remains largely the same.
“Each of the women in these images represent African statuettes, but using a high-fashion aesthetic,” she says. Each photograph contains its own narrative. Covered in neon warpaint, carrying symbolic props, her subjects look more like religious icons than models. In one shot, the models’ feet are wrapped in cloth–“to prevent their power from escaping,” she explains. In another, Leuba models a rainbow striped dress, her face covered in cloth and a mohawk jutting from her head, saying, “it’s a ‘punk’ statuette.”
We get the sense that Leuba is crafting her own religion as she goes, a mythology that is based on a European perspective, but yearns for a connection to Africa. In two wildly disparate cultures–high fashion and her ancestral religion–she finds striking similarities. After all, isn’t fashion, at its most fundamental, a worship of the body? Several months ago, Leuba wrote that the costumes in Ya Kala Ben each represent a “prayer.” Couldn’t the same be said of what people are wearing to the shows in New York this week?
Check out the full spread, plus Leuba’s explanations, over on The Cut.