The fashion set ventured to Washington, D.C., Tuesday night for the Hanifa Fall 2021 show, grandiosely staged in the courtyard of the National Portrait Gallery. With soft pink carpet serving as the runway, lush greenery setting the scene and live musicians playing classical Rihanna renditions, it made for one of the biggest fashion moments in the nation’s capital in years.
The brand’s founder and designer, Anifa Mvuemba, told Fashionista backstage that her assistant originally suggested the gallery because its regalness felt fitting for the occasion. Not only is it Hanifa’s first in-person runway show, but 2021 also marks the brand’s 10th anniversary.
“As soon as I walked in, I was like, ‘This is where we have to do it,'” Mvuemba said. “I didn’t know if it was available, I didn’t know if we were gonna get it, but I knew I had to get it. I didn’t care what we had to do, but I was like, ‘We’re getting this space.'”
That determination is a hallmark of Mvuemba’s ethos, both as an entrepreneur and as a designer. Last summer, for instance, when the coronavirus pandemic shut down in-person events, she made waves by putting 3D models on a virtual runway — a first-of-its-kind production in the fashion world.
At the time, her business was struggling. She was discouraged, unsure if she could find purpose during such a dark period. “I was crying to my team,” she recalled. “I was saying, ‘People are dying. We can’t be selling clothes. Nobody cares about clothes.'”
But Hanifa is built around inspiring women, her team reminded her. And so, they pivoted to the 3D models, and the rest is fashion history. “We worked hard to put that together,” Mvuemba said. “And we weren’t planning for it to be a viral moment or anything like that, but when it did happen, it was even crazier.”
Hanifa’s inaugural in-person show was worth the wait, with 35 looks being presented in all. According to Mvuemba, the collection is intended to be a retrospective on the brand’s evolution over the last decade.
“Because we’re celebrating 10 years, I wanted to make sure we highlighted what we’ve done in the past,” Mvuemba said. “There’s denim [because] we’ve worked on denim in the past. We worked with prints in the past. And color is a big part of the Hanifa brand.”
Indeed, the collection is a sartorial kaleidoscope of sorts: Highlights include a silky, flaming orange, floor-grazing gown; a sage-green leather mini dress; and a sunny yellow turtleneck shrug. Also debuting on the runway were new footwear styles, including the Zoe boot (a square-toe, over-the-knee style in black and bone) and the Zeta sandal (a minimalist heel in marshmallow, pear and smoked paprika).
One garment in particular — a color-block knitwear piece — was so difficult to produce, it took “maybe 10 times,” to get it just right.
“It was so difficult, but I was rooting for that,” Mvuemba recalled. “We finally got it literally — I think it was last week. I was like, we have to keep going. And that’s usually how I work: When I want something, I go after it.”
See the full Hanifa Fall 2021 collection in the gallery below.