Growing up in Africa, Marie Hosatte was surrounded by colour. From the lush backdrop of nature to the personalities of the people around her, the vibrant hues of the continent shaped Hosatte's life. And it's these shades that have acted as the inspiration for her debut fashion collection, By Mary, which launched in Dubai last month.
By Mary has been designed to capture the distinctive style of African women, using traditional wax fabrics and unique patterns to create a playful and bold collection, with a DNA deeply rooted in the continent. “Africa for me is music and colours,” says Hosatte, who is French. “From my childhood, I remember always being surrounded by colours. I had a nanny who used to put me on her back, wrapping me in this colourful wax fabric and dancing around with me. Africa and my childhood really helped shape my way of seeing the world.”
And it's this same fabric, which once swaddled a young Hosatte, that now acts as the base layer for her first collection. Each By Mary piece is made using Vlisco – a wax-coated material invented in 1846 – which is coveted across Africa. "It's like the Rolls-Royce of fabric," she tells me. "It's a very, very old African brand. It was basically the first wax fabric, and every single pattern is truly unique – it is very well-known throughout the continent.
“I am only buying it in small quantities right now, so we might only produce five pieces each time and then it’s done. So you can be sure that you’ll be the only one wearing your By Mary jacket, for example, and I think more and more customers in the UAE are looking for that right now.”
More than just a fashion label
This bespoke ideology is at the heart of the brand, with each piece handmade-to-measure at Hosatte's workshop in Dubai. But the very core of By Mary is about more than just the clothes. In October, the founder travelled back to the western coast of Africa where she was raised, paying a visit to the Grand Bassam Orphanage for Girls on the Ivory Coast. Here, as well as education, girls are equipped with the confidence they will need to take into adult life, something Hosatte feels strongly about supporting.
“I came back to the UAE, and decided to use fashion and designing clothes to help this charity,” she says. “For each of the garments, I’m giving back Dh50 to that orphanage. What they do is really special.”
Before that trip, Hosatte had only dabbled in fashion. She had spent the majority of her career working in marketing for big-name cosmetic and luxury brands, until she helped to curate a collection for a friend’s brand last year, which featured in Dubai’s first show dedicated solely to African designers. That show, along with her trip home, ignited a spark in Hosatte that saw her leave her corporate life behind. “I’ve always been a corporate woman, so for me it’s been about wanting to move to creating,” she says. “I’ve gone from being a follower to being a creator, and this is what I love the most about the By Mary brand.”
Its debut spring/summer 2019 collection officially launched in Dubai with a fashion show combining Hosatte's African and French heritage. The show was supported by Mac Cosmetics, which created a series of bold and playful make-up looks to show off the vibrant collection.
Among the inaugural designs are geometric shirts and luxurious metallic shorts, while shapes range from playful frills to edgy, asymmetric cuts. "I drew inspiration from confident and fearless women everywhere," Hosatte explains. "This is a collection for women who want to stand out and tell their own story, on their own terms. It gives me immense pleasure to bring the glorious colours, stories and heritage of Africa to Dubai. Similar to Africa, Dubai is so incredibly diverse with women from all over the globe, each with her own story to share."
It's an interesting time for fashion design in the UAE, adds Hosatte, who has lived in the Middle East for 10 years. While the Emirates have always been synonymous with highly established luxury brands, a new wave of home-grown designers is emerging.
“There is this real trend right now of wanting something unique, something bespoke, and that’s what I am trying to do with By Mary,” she says. “We are in such a good place here in Dubai; you have India on one side, Africa on the other. There are so many places to draw inspiration from, and I just wanted to bring that style I know and grew up with, and showcase it in the UAE.”
But Hosatte is hoping to spread her message beyond the UAE borders, and is already in talks for the brand to be stocked in Africa and Paris – touching all corners of the places that have shaped her life. "It's basically my true love – the African continent and fashion," she adds. "For me, fashion is not about being on trend. Yes, we all follow what's [in vogue], but it's also mixing what's trending with your own DNA and your own identity, and that's what By Mary is all about."