Africa’s Best Designer Has Never Left Tunisia




Salah Barka is a 35-year-old designer who grew up in a family of 10 siblings in a village in southern Tunisia. He’s never left the country. After failing to obtain his baccalaureate for entrance at a university, Barka taught himself how to sew and began working as a costume designer. He got his entire fashion education online, and he set up his first studio in his mother’s house. There, he used fabrics typically reserved for girls and local jewelry, while scanning the blogs to check out looks by Azzedine Alaïa (a fellow Tunisian, he reminded us), Alexander McQueen or John Galliano.

You would have never guessed at Barka’s background from his runway show at the second Tunis Fashion Week. Here, Barka is the cool kid on the block, with an army of fearless club kids around him, and a soundtrack by forgotten but still menacing 90s rock group Prodigy. Barka shows both men’s and women’s collections: the look for men is ultra-pop, like Jeremy Scott without the literal references and the fascination with branding. Men came out with balloon silhouettes, even for the body suits—all with pink piping, even on the ribbon sandals. Barka’s clothes for women intentionally conflate trendy voluminous forms—high waists, harem pants, and bold Russian prints—with local historical references, like Berber ornaments or Dido, the Queen of Carthage. “The history of the region, 3000 years of civilizations living, migrating, can still be sensed today,” explains Salah. Aptly enough, his collection was called “Miles Away,” because “My references range from Arabic tradition to London designers, for example.” But one reference will remain for Barka: “The way I discovered fashion: from home, miles away.”