The Look: Seeking Style in the Markets of Abidjan, Ivory Coast
“If you want to shoot fashion in New York, you’re probably going to hang out in very trendy spots,” the photographer Émilie Régnier said.
If you want to photograph fashion in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, you do the same thing.
In the city’s vibrant markets, every day feels like fashion week, Ms. Régnier said. “This is the place you go to get your clothes, or to be beautiful,” she said.
Ms. Régnier, who lives in Paris, was born in Montreal and grew up in Gabon. This winter, while spending time in Abidjan, where she lived for a year in 2014, she wandered the city’s markets. Her target wasn’t necessarily fashion; instead, she sought to photograph women with style and attitude.
Most of the women she found are not wealthy. Many go to the markets to buy fabric to have clothing made by tailors; some shop for secondhand clothing. “There’s something very authentic about their styles,” she said of the women in this series.
Adjita Konaté was waiting to have her hair done when Ms. Régnier asked her to pose. “She was so beautiful that the photo doesn’t honor her beauty enough, to me,” she said. “There’s a sense of fluidity I found in the way she posed, the way the dress fell on her, her hair.”
Grace Labelle, above, “was wearing this unbelievable suit and I asked if I could shoot her,” Ms. Régnier recalled. She added, “She was born a model.”
Ms. Régnier saw Awa Konaté selling jewelry more than once. “I was amazed by the fact that she was actually selling jewelry and putting it on display on her head,” she said. “But also, to me, she was just so fitting. She had this perfect makeup. I love the clothes.”
Rose Sirie was also waiting to have her hair done when Ms. Régnier took this photo. “There’s something about her that was very harmonious,” she said. She photographed Ms. Sirie in front of a plain background. “When you cut the photo, you have a very limited perspective,” she explained. “So if it’s too busy, it doesn’t look right.”
Fatim Konaté was wearing her school uniform when Ms. Régnier spotted her. “She was coming out of school,” she said. Many of the women she photographed were on their way from one place to another.
Boris and Nina Guirierou were shopping with their son when Ms. Régnier noticed their matching outfits. “It’s actually quite common to have a couple wearing the same fabrics,” she said, because women buy fabric in bulk and use it to make more than one piece of clothing.
When Ms. Régnier spotted Aïcha Fofana, she thought of the Nigerian-born designer Duro Olowu. “Some of his current collection reminded me a bit of that,” she said, referring to Ms. Fofana’s look. “Of course, she doesn’t have a designer dress, but I really liked the reference.”
Assatou Coulibaly works in a market. “The women I met were either shopping or selling,” Ms. Régnier said. Some wear secondhand clothing; others have clothes made by tailors. And others buy clothes in the markets, “but you have to dig,” she said. “There’s a lot of clothes.”
The first time Ms. Régnier met Marina Moro, Ms. Moro was wearing a short red dress. “I was struck by her beauty more than by her clothes,” Ms. Régnier recalled. When she returned to give her a photo, Ms. Moro was wearing this “amazing” one-piece, so she asked to photograph her again. “She was wild,” she said. “The energy that came out of her was just fantastic.”
Alvine Enoh “had this amazing attitude,” Ms. Régnier said, adding, “She was like, ‘I don’t really care about you.’” As she photographed women like Ms. Enoh, the photographer didn’t give many directions. “The visual idea I have of West Africa, of the way people carry their bodies, is not the way Alvine behaved,” she said, adding that her outfit also reminded her of a look one might find in North America. “I could have photographed her in New York.”
Severine Cess was on her way to work when Ms. Régnier spotted her. The photographer was struck, first, by the details of the dress. Then she looked up. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, she’s so gorgeous.’”
“The women were very natural posing, and that was the most amazing part for me,” Ms. Régnier said. She photographed Taï Sora next door to the salon where she was working.
It was Valentine’s Day when Ms. Régnier spotted Naomie Monné, who had just come from work. It wasn’t her dress that attracted the photographer. “She’s kind of like this 1950-something beauty,” she said.
Émilie Régnier’s other project, “Hair,” will be exhibited at the Bronx Documentary Center this spring.