The African Queens: Namsa Leuba Plays With Fall’s Best Knits

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Photo: Namsa Leuba

For this installment of “Out of the Box,” The Cut sent a trunk full of fall knits to Swiss photographer Namsa Leuba. Inspired in part by her Guinean mother, the photographer has spent the last two years researching and capturing African identity from an Occidental viewpoint, taking photographs that she would deem more artistically driven than most of the high-fashion images she finds “a little boring … when you look at the magazines, it’s always the same thing.” In April, she picked up the Photo Global scholarship at the International Festival of Fashion and Photography in Hyères, France, for her series “Ya Kala Ben.” Shot in her mother’s hometown of Conakry, Leuba asked a group of locals to pose as an assortment of “statuettes.”

Upon receiving The Cut’s shipment of clothing, Leuba requested some large, colorful necklaces. She then plucked a trio of women off the street in Paris, explaining, “Most of the time, models are too skinny,” but when one didn’t show up to Leuba’s studio, Leuba stood in for her. Using Topshop and Carven sweaters as skirts, putting wood planks in a Thom Browne jacket, tying her models together with rope, and styling a broom as a mohawk, Leuba elaborated on her idea of African statues, this time from a fashion perspective. She admitted, “A photo takes me a while, because I think about the composition, the background, and what I’m going to put in … I like to intervene with my images, and manage everything from A to Z, and play with different perspectives.” Click ahead to see (and read) more of the story behind Leuba’s shoot.

Fashion market editing by Michelle Reneau.

Photo: Namsa Leuba

“Each of the women in these images represent African statuettes, but using a high-fashion aesthetic. This statuette has part of a wig (attached to a rope) tied around her waist — it could be someone else’s hair left there, because he was searching for more energy, or power … vitality, dynamism or fecundity. I put plastic in the arms of the pullover to make it puffy, like something magical is inside. And in her hand, she holds a shell, keeping with the idea that she’s from an enchanting universe. I also changed the décor for each photograph. The tree was a palm tree that I spray-painted with different colors. I found the stump outside. I pick up a lot of things that I tinker with.”   Fiona Paxton necklace (worn on head), $288.00, and chain necklace, $265, available at Saks Fifth Avenue (611 Fifth Ave; 212.753.4000). Fiona Paxton plastic collar, $288, available at Henri Bendel (712 5th Ave; 212.247.1100). Sonia Rykiel skirt, $640, available at bloomingdales.com, work over TSE dress (worn as skirt), $1895, available at tsecashmere.com. Stella McCartney boots, $1085, available at stellamccartney.com.

Photo: Namsa Leuba

“I discussed the outfits with a stylist friend, and she came to the shoot to give me a hand. Based on our clothing choices, I made my modifications. Here, I put two wooden planks on the model’s shoulders. I told her, ‘Stand up straight, and know that you are a Goddess. Imagine yourself in the skin of a Goddess.’ And I achieved a look that is profoundly strong.”   Band of Outsiders scarf, $375, available at Opening Ceremony (35 Howard St.; 212.219.2688). Orly Genger by Jaclyn Mayer necklaces and bracelet, available at jaclynmayer.com. Growing necklace, available at growingjewelry.com. Band of Outsiders sweater, $895, available at Shopbop.com, worn over Thom Browne jacket, available by special order at Thom Browne NY (212.633.1197). Moschino Cheap and Chic pants, $735, available at moschinoboutique.com. Sonia Rykiel shoes, $860.00, available at Bloomingdales (1000 Third Ave.; 212.705.2000).

Photo: Namsa Leuba

“On the right, hanging from her hip, are cow’s horns, which belong to me. Cows are sometimes used in African ceremonies, and they can be used to protect women. We wrapped some necklaces around her arms to be bracelets, and I put another necklace on her head, so she would look like a divine queen.”   Pamela Love necklace (worn on head), $1150.00, available at Jeffrey New York (449 West 14th St; 212.206.1272). Necklaces (worn on neck) by EK Thongprassert, $920, available at Opening Ceremony (35 Howard St.; 212.219.2688), Orly Genger by Jaclyn Meyer, available at jaclynmayer.com, and Ranna Gill, $88, available at anthropologie.com. Fendi top, $2,940 available at Fendi (677 5th Ave; 212.759.4646). Carven sweater (worn as skirt), available at carven.fr. Joomi Lim necklaces (worn on both arms), available at joomilim.com. Fiona Paxton bracelet, $395, available at Saks Fifth Ave. (611 Fifth Ave; 212.753.4000). Growing necklace (worn as bracelet), $100, available at growingjewelry.com. Stella McCartney boots, $1085, available at stellamccartney.com. Tights are model’s own.

Photo: Namsa Leuba

“I think of these as a pair of divinities, two different statuettes, who are bound together resulting in more power, more energy, and more positivity. It’s also a departure from using one model in each image. The woman facing away from the camera is me, because one of my models didn’t show up, so I had no other option but to pose. I don’t like to be in the photos; I prefer to use models and arrange them how I like. But in this instance, I set up the frame beforehand, and then I posed while someone else took the photo. I still gave all of the directions. I have to manage everything.”   On model facing mirror: Maria Dora top, $610, available at maria-dora.com. Cacharel shoes, $799, available at gravitypope.com. Assad Mounsour earrings and necklaces, available at assadmounser.com. Venessa Arizaga bracelets, available at venessaarizaga.com. Tights are model’s own. Cacharel shoes, $799, available at gravitypope.com. On model facing forward: Maria Dora  bodysuit, $1,610, available at maria-dora.com. Assad Mounsour earrings, available at assadmounser.com. Necklace by Venessa Arizaga, available at venessaarizaga.com. Fendi boots, $1430, available at Fendi (677 5th Ave; 212.759.4646).

Photo: Namsa Leuba

“The wig draped on top of the stump — that represents bad spirits. I hung bottles around her waist, and from her arms, and inside, I put medicine … different types of potions to protect her. All of the other pieces that she’s wearing were from the box. What interested me here, was the idea of sheepskin. But beyond the clothes, if the garments aren’t very African, my idea was conveyed through the model’s posture, how she held herself, or how we used the accessories.”   Simone Rocha hat, $246.00, and dress, $1,764.00, both available at openingceremony.us. Growing necklaces (worn as bracelets), available at growingjewelry.com. Bracelets by Vanessa Arizaga, available at venessaarizaga.com. Creatures of the Wind trouser, $1195, creaturesofthewind.com. Sonia Rykiel shoes, $860.00, available at Bloomingdales (1000 Third Ave.; 212.705.2000). Socks are model’s own.

Photo: Namsa Leuba

“Here, the wig represents women’s beauty, and there’s something very erotic or sensual about it. And I made little balls with the statuette’s hair, to envelop her in energy that can protect her. The hair and makeup throughout is mainly African, ethnic. I had a makeup artist on set and I told her what to do, because I made drawings of the makeup I wanted ahead of time. Then I decided which designs were best for each statuette, taking into account the model and the lighting.”   Necklaces by Lizzie Fortunato, available at shopbop.com, and Orly Genger by Jaclyn Mayer necklace, available at jaclynmayer.com. Bernhard Willhelm sweater, $1,495.41, available at Opening Ceremony (35 Howard St.; 212.219.2688). Topshop Unique sweater (worn as skirt), $590, available at Topshop (478 Broadway; 212.966.9555). Cacharel shoes, $799, available at gravitypope.com.

Photo: Namsa Leuba

“To me, this is a unification of power, but also plays with opposites, too, like the yin and yang of energy, two contrary forces that are always in motion. I wanted one statuette who would be calmer, and another that was always alert and open. The [leopard] tights bring in more of the African side, and their feet are wrapped in my African cloth, because they’re touching the ground. The cloth prevents their power from escaping.”   Sweaters by Meadham Kirchoff, $1500 each, available at net-a-porter.com. Tights are models’ own.

Photo: Namsa Leuba

“This statuette has an African broom attached to each arm — I bought them in a store in Paris, but they’re the same ones that they have in Guinea. Here, they represent fertility and the harvest. It’s not necessary to see her face; you can tell she is concentrating. I can still see her eyes and all of the energy she lets out.”   Joomi Lim necklace (worn on head), available at joomilim.com. Dimitriadis earrings, $118, available at anthropologie.com. Orly Genger by Jaclyn Mayer necklace, available at jaclynmayer.comRanna Gill necklace, $88, available at anthropologie.com. Roland Mouret V-neck (worn as top), $722, and cardigan (tied around waist), $905, both available at RolandMouret.com. Venessa Arizaga necklaces (worn as bracelets), available at venessaarizaga.com. Cynthia Rowley skirt, $395, available at cynthiarowley.com. Nicholas Kirkwood for Prabal Gurung shoes, $1395, available at nicholaskirkwood.com.

Photo: Namsa Leuba

“This is me, too. It’s a ‘punk’ statuette. Actually, there are groups of people who have mohawks in Africa, so I was inspired by them. On my head is a Vietnamese broom that I turned upside-down. In my ‘real’ life, I wear a lot of black, white, and blue — jeans, with a white or black T-shirt, with a little bit of color or prints here and there. It depends, but I would never wear such a vibrant dress like that, no.   Ranna Gill necklace (worn on head), $88, available at anthropologie.com. Maria Dora top (worn on head), $610, available at maria-dora.com. Growing necklaces (worn on neck and wrist), available at growingjewelry.com. Sea sweater, $325, available at shopbop.com, worn under Jeremy Scott dress, $565, available at Opening Ceremony (35 Howard St.; 212.219.2688). Tabitha Simmons for Creatures of The Wind boots, $1895, available at Saks Fifth Ave.

Photo: Namsa Leuba

“Here, the wig could be someone’s hair or a beast’s tail. There’s a ritual where they chop off the tail of a goat to drive away bad spirits, so I was inspired by that. The clothes in this image are perfect. They make me think of the colors of Africa. They’re so beautiful. And also, with the triangles jutting out of her shoulders, she looks so strong. It really makes you think of a statue. This is one of my favorite photos.”   Ranjana Khan earrings, $285, available at paire.us. EK Thongprasert necklace, $450, available at Opening Ceremony (35 Howard St.; 212.219.2688). Bernhard Willhelm sweater, $829.48, available at Opening Ceremony. Thom Browne jacket, available by special order at Thom Browne NY (212.633.1197). TSE dress, $695, available at tsecashmere.com. Fendi boots, $1430, available at Fendi (677 5th Ave; 212.759.4646).

The African Queens: Fall’s Knits by Namsa Leuba