In keeping with his brand name, Xuly.Bët (a Wolof expression meaning “keep your eyes open”), Lamine Badian Kouyaté creates eye-catching clothes that deliver an important message—open your hearts and minds.
On a recent Zoom call the designer elaborated on his tag line, “funkin’ fashion.” “It means something that’s really sensitive… and that sensitivity is also from the fabric; it’s like a second skin,” said Kouyaté. He worked almost exclusively with Lycra this season, a signature material which allows him to create clothing that has a space, but not weight.
With the body reveal being the main theme of the spring collections, the catsuit, Xuly.Bët’s main proposal, is having a moment. As are patchworked pieces and mesh tops, which millennials can’t seem to get enough, and which Kouyaté’s been designing for decades. Yet rather than engage with those trends, the designer kept his focus narrow this season. “We need to bring back some economy and make it simple,” said Kouyaté, who has production needs top of mind as he aims to introduce his brand to a new audience.
Although Kouyaté used his fabric label tags as a design element for spring, his clothes have always been instantly identifiable by his use of red topstitching, which may run along seams in the manner of veins (it’s interesting to note that Kouyaté’s mother was a doctor), or be used to connect fabric scraps into lengths of fabric. Sometimes, he says, the result looks like scars. Making use of what you have is a core brand value, and one that the designer brought from his native Africa.
Xuly.Bët has always embraced body-con dressing—for all—as empowering, and this season’s “intimate proposal,” as CEO Rodrigo Martinez put it, has something to do with lingerie as outerwear and sportswear on the fashion level. But Kouyaté’s idea of bringing the inside out involves recognizing the body as a complex and vulnerable mechanism, rather than primarily a trophy or vehicle for seduction: it’s an important point of distinction in this body-centric, sex-positive season.
The moving collection film, by director Leïla Sy, is a retelling of West Side Story, set in the banlieue and featuring a Xuly.Bët-clad cast. It gets to the heart, or perhaps under the skin, of this collection, which, says Kouyaté, is “also about how we can live together, how we can join and make things happen, even if we’re different… we all have the same blood.”
Kouyaté brings a unique perspective to fashion; he’s able to not only pull back and see that the body is at once strong and fragile, but also that we exist as part of something larger. “Humans are part of the universe; everything is connected,” the designer said. “That’s animism, you know, the old African spirit: we need to take care of everything.”