Afropunk, the music festival born from director James Spooner’s 2003 documentary of the same name, landed in Paris this past weekend for the third year in a row. Originally drawn from Spooner’s desire to showcase the experience of being the only black kid in the punk scene, the festival (which Spooner hasn’t been involved with for almost a decade) has grown into a massive global brand that is synonymous with a no-holds-barred type of self-expression that honors cultural diversity and inclusion.
Known for both its music and distinct style, Afropunk Paris is a loud and colorful disruption to the often conservative fashion capital. While Paris fashion mainly exists within the confines of minimalist rules and neutral palettes, Afropunk fashion is an explosive mix of color and creativity that many people don’t normally have access to in their daily lives. After all, there is a limit to the line we can cross with dress codes at work, for example. When you contrast Afropunk’s style with that of haute couture, it’s clear that its spirit is one of rebellion.
“I live in a world where I have to be responsive to cultural norms. But going to Afropunk in a full-body, sequined cat suit gives me an opportunity to live more expansively with the expression of creativity and liberation. I can grow into a bigger space that I wouldn’t normally step into,” says Carri, from Brooklyn, New York.
Many find Afropunk a safe place to express their cultural roots, and not only be accepted but celebrated for it. It’s an opportunity to be fully engaged with one’s cultural identity without restriction, judgment, or fear of discrimination.
“Today I dress how I feel, a deep feeling rooted in the mix between culture, history, and state of mind. I wanted to be myself, not what fashion wants me to be. I come from Guadeloupe [the French Caribbean], and our history allowed us to experience a mix of different cultures—this spirit is present here,” says Ashaira, from Paris.
Parisian style blogger Tania, originally from the West African country Benin, says, “Here, I can mix Afro-culture with other styles. It’s not something you usually see in normal, everyday life. It is empowering for African culture, and I love that.”
“I am Arab-American; I am Lebanese. I like to incorporate trends from Lebanon in my daily wear. I grew up in a homogenous white town, and I felt [like an] outcast. Afropunk is a great place to represent where I am from, connect with others, and celebrate our differences,” says Dalia, from Miami.
In Paris, the international convergence adds another layer to the Afropunk style culture, with many attendants drawing inspiration from their familial connections to places like Africa and the West Indies, as well as their experience of being a first-generation immigrant growing up in Europe. As some have noted, it has a significantly different essence than the one in Brooklyn.
The festival’s fashion also serves as a political voice. Wearing a pale pink cropped shirt with the handwritten words “Stop Killing Black Trans Women,” along with names like “Trayvon Martin,” “Sandra Bland,” and “Tamir Rice,” Joshua from Washington, D.C, was intentional about making a political statement. “It was important for me to share this message on this T-shirt because I think that people have this perception that, as a black American, things are better for me, like it’s a dream. People say, ‘Oh you live in America, you must be so free.’ It’s important to highlight that much of the black experiences globally are indeed, very similar,” Joshua says.
Local Parisians and visitors alike find Afropunk Paris to be a place where they can express anything and everything in a city notorious for having a stand-offish society. As Parisian Rebecca says, “It’s not like Parisian spaces at all. Here, everyone is warm. No one does this kind of fashion [in this city]. It’s refreshing to see so many colors! I myself don’t think I own anything gray.”
While Afropunk has evolved and expanded from its original Brooklyn roots, one thing remains intact: The festival’s creative style still makes it a place that celebrates liberation and rebellion.