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  • Lori Zelenko

Fort Mosé 1738 Brings African Fashion to America



Contemporary African prints in a kaleidoscope of colors, looks for men and for women from Fort Mosé 1738 beautifully celebrate the legacy of America’s first free legally sanctioned black community. Designed by esteemed American LGBTQ advocate Maurice Gattis, the goal is to send net profits back to Ghana to foster the growth of the textile/fashion community there.  

 

LGBTQ ADVOCATE PIVOTS TO FASHION 

When you look at a bold, exciting new fashion collection, naturally the back story of the designer comes up. You expect to hear of apprenticeships with esteemed fashion houses or years of study at a prestigious design school. What comes as a surprise is this fashion house’s founder’s background in social work currently as a Professor at Virginia Commonwealth University as well as his ongoing role as a senior advisor to the University’s Queer Research and Advocacy Center (Q Collective). He is also a co-founder of Sweet Evening Breeze Inc., an LGBTQ-affirming shelter in Louisville, Kentucky focused on alleviating youth homelessness. That is the career path Fort Mosé 1738 founder and designer Maurice Gattis has traveled.  

 

Maurice never expected to be diverted into the fashion industry. However, that is where he is now and where he’s been since he conceptualized the idea of an American collection of contemporary African fashion after a trip to Ghana in 2021. 

 

HOW IT ALL BEGAN 

The roots of Fort Mosé 1738 took hold after a trip to Accra, the capital city of Ghana dubbed by The New York Times as “The Capital of Cool”, where during a weeklong visit Gattis formed a friendship with his driver, Nathaniel. What began as one ride evolved into a tight connection after the weeklong trip and a meeting with Nathaniel’s wife, Faustina, the local couturier. It wasn’t long after Gattis’ return to the USA that the idea of a fashion collection designed for American audiences yet hand-sewn from exceptional hand-woven African fabrics was born. 

 

As Designer and CEO, Gattis observes, the American audience is diverse in terms of tastes and interests. However, he sees Fort Mosé 1738’s appeal as versatile everyday wear yet able to transition to special occasion. Made from brilliantly colored, contemporary printed, and hand-woven, fabrics from West Africa, Kente cloth with golden threads as well as 100% cotton, the garments, a fusion of African culture with American style, are authentically and locally produced by artisans in Ghana.  

 

Maurice’s goal is not to line his own pockets or build an American fashion empire along the lines of Calvin Klein or Tommy Hilfiger. After all, his background is in social work, giving back is what he seeks to do, by bringing attention and as a result, income to the talented artisans who craft by hand the textiles these joyful fashion statements are made of. 

 

Gattis emphasizes, “Once you interact with the pieces you will fall in love with the colors. We encourage self-expression and so far, everyone who has been wearing the line feels they take on a fresh confidence. In fact, ‘loud luxury’ and self-expression are trending now, that is what we saw at the shows in Paris including Pharrell’s LVMH menswear collection. The nuances of the bold colors and patterns transcend standard visual representation, only after you see and touch the Fort Mosé 1738 looks can you fully grasp their allure.” The looks include dresses, pantsuits, and jumpsuits for women (hats and bags coordinate) as well as suits, trousers, and shirts for men. Prices range from $150 to $575. All available from www.fortmose1738.com  

 



THE MEANING OF FORT MOSÉ 

Fort Mosé 1738 fashion is named for an 18th Century Spanish Fort near Saint Augustine, Florida, the first place in America where former slaves from West Africa gathered freely, not far from where Gattis was born and raised, Daytona Beach, Florida.  Though well known for their annual Jazz and Blues concert series, this year Wynton Marsalis will be performing, Gattis only discovered the nearby landmark on a day trip to this historic city. Surprisingly, he reveals, ”Fort Mosé represents a part of American history that I was not taught, even though the site is about an hour away from where I attended Kindergarten through High School.”  

 

HOLLYWOOD AND THE NFL LOVE AFRICAN FASHION 

Fort Mosé 1738 fashion has been well received with a following evolving from its premiere at DC Fashion Week. Represented by The Folklore Connect, a virtual showroom for retail buyers, media, and stylists to discover and shop diverse designers, the collection is anticipated to expand from online only to brick-and-mortar retail sales. Plans to show at September 2024 New York Fashion Week are under consideration.  

 

Certainly, the look of African fashion has long been a favorite of celebrities from Idris Elba (his mom is from Ghana) to Gwen Stefani and Rihanna, not to mention Jill Biden. And with football still on our minds, Maurice Gattis reminds us that NFL player, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker for The Cleveland Browns, known for the best game among the NFL African players, has become a style icon for wearing traditional outfits from Ghana. “Interestingly enough he was featured in his Kente gown in the NFL AFRICA ad during the Super Bowl. I was proud to see traditional clothing from Ghana, especially Kente which Ghana is famous for, featured in such an inspirational moment and to an audience of more than 100 million people.” 

 

Looks from Ghana have occupied the Hollywood spotlight recently with the Ghana-born Director of The Color Purple, Blitz Bazawule, wearing fashion statements from his homeland on the red carpet. Gattis is pleased to see these looks in the spotlight as he builds a solid foundation for Fort Mosé 1738, “slow and steady is the growth pattern I have in mind, maybe in a few years we will have our own dedicated space, a small boutique but in the interim, we are not racing towards an imagined finish line. Growth is important but we would never want to lose track of our deep and authentic roots in Ghana.”  Find Fort Mosé 1738 fashion online at www.fortmose1738.com. 

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