Anifa Mvuemba Invites D.C. to Dream at Her Debut In-Person Fashion Show

Hanifa debuted her first in-person show in her hometown at the National Portrait Gallery.
Priscilla Ward

Designer, Anifa Mvuemba, is known for her vibrant women’s brand Hanifa. She launched in 2012, after dropping out of a fashion program at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Md. Almost a decade later, and her brand has continued to distinguish itself with its bold colors and flattering silhouettes. She has built a loyal clientele through her joyous and feminine, size-inclusive commitment to design. 

Born in the Congo and raised in Washington, D.C. Hanifa, debuted her first in-person show in her hometown at the National Portrait Gallery. The show was titled Dream. Guests were invited to experience their wildest dream. 

The guest list included everyone from Kerby Jean-Raymond, the designer and founder of menswear label Pyer Moss, to a bevy of journalists, D.C. artists, and cultural architects. The evening called for color, and the assignment was understood. It was a pre-show of its own making. Many women came dressed in pieces from Mvuemba’s prior collections, Pink Congo Label and Hanifa Capsules, a testament to the community that continues to show up for the designer. 

The sterile Smithsonian tourist destination transformed into a whimsical runway. The plush pink catwalk was staged under moody pink fluorescent lighting. The room was filled with plants and the runway was lined with clear chairs with the designer’s name on them. An orchestra played renditions of Beyonce’s “Sweet Dreams” and Drake’s “Laugh Now Cry Later,” as attendees waited for the show to start. 

The show began with a moving short documentary chronicling the designer’s journey to building Hanifa, making clear that Mvuemba’s impact far exceeds clothes. The video shared her connection to home and the trial-and-error of running a business. When the video ended the first model strutted powerfully down the runway wearing a sapphire blue patent leather trench coat called the “Brooklynn Patent.” The trench coat was paired with white knee-high boots called “Zoe,” Mvuemba’s first foray into footwear design, dropping on her site weeks before the show. Additionally, she paired her strappy “Zeta” sandals in three different colorways with mini dresses and floor-length looks.

The designer’s 35-look collection featured familiar signatures like ribbed knitwear, bold colors, and abstract patterns. However, she didn’t shy away from introducing new drama-infused styles. Like so many of her Black designer contemporaries, she played with denim. There were over-the-top cuffs, a skirt with a deep sexy slit, and a show-stopping halter style denim ball gown. The fun didn’t end here, a dress covered with fringes and voluminous bossy sleeves took over. The show featured women of various shapes and sizes, a nod to the designer’s commitment to size diversity. The designer leaned on her D.C. community for model casting and content creation, calling for models, hairstylists, and makeup artists on Instagram in the weeks leading up to the show. Eighty percent of the models were based in D.C. showcasing the outpouring of talent the city has to offer. 

Mvuemba has continued to exhibit intentionality and ingenuity throughout her career, and her debut in-person show was proof of this. When 2020’s New York Fashion Week shuttered due to the pandemic, the designer took to Instagram Live to launch her collection, Pink Label Congo, utilizing 3D models. She sent shockwaves through the fashion world and helped to set a new precedent for the industry. 

Beyond her growing label, she’s also launched and oversees CBYAM: a creative agency that pulls from her experience and working expertise in navigating the industry as both a businesswoman and creator. The platform offers practical mentorship and provides substantial input on strategic and technical initiatives emerging designers are pursuing. CBYAM is educating fellow entrepreneurs from the start and helping them on the path to discovering voice and value propositions to successfully run their brands.

Mvuemba is doing more than just dreaming. She’s turning dreams into reality and helping fellow creators embrace their limitlessness along the way.

(Photos: Credit Shaughn Cooper)

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