“The mission I pledge to carry out is personal, intimate as well as collective. It’s like a misunderstood song reaching my soul to be formulated by my art. A story that needs to be recounted. A duty to honour my legacy and uplift the voices of my ancestors…”
Lafalaise Dion, 2022.
As African people, the facts of our material worlds and artefacts, are laced with powerful ancient mythologies, hidden histories and hold important cultural significance.
From imphepo to Cowrie shells — these are material spaces of spiritual, historical and cultural significance that we turn to. Turn to, to remember and reclaim, to commune with our ancestors and to pave new ways forward.
Born in Man, located in the western region of Côte d’Ivoire, Lafalaise Dion (The Queen of Cowries) may be familiar to most through her collaborative work with Beyoncé and the musician’s team on the Black is King visual album where she created over 20 one-of-a-kind pieces by hand in collaboration with local artisans also from Côte d’Ivoire.
Although existing in the space of fashion, there is also cultural and spiritual depth to Dion’s work that traverses the boundaries of fashion.
Languaging her creative practice and work as “a Calling” during our conversation, there is a sense I get from Lafalaise Dion of understanding that her creations exist beyond her. That they are as much from her ancestors as they are from her own creative mind — and that the work they do is not just ornamental but holds healing capacity too.
I had the divine privilege of communing with her — in thought and conversation — in the interview that follows below for our March cover shoot by the incredible Nuits Balnéaires.
Let’s start at the bare base — which is an important place to start in introducing you to our readers who may not be familiar with you or your work.
May you please introduce yourself and what is you do?
Lafalaise Dion: I am Lafalaise Dion, queen of the Cowries, guardian of Dan culture and stories.
I’m a creative soul always exploring the marvels of opportunity and beyond. I’m also the art director for the eponymous brand LD. I’m an artist, a journalist. I’m a vessel, I’m a body, I’m a soul, I’m a spirit, I’m a daughter, a soul-sister. I am all things and more.
I get to experience new versions of myself over time.
What led you to the space of artistic creation you work within — specifically where your fashion practice is concerned?
Lafalaise Dion: To be honest, it all started as a Calling.
The mission I pledge to carry out is personal, intimate as well as collective. It’s like a misunderstood song reaching my soul to be formulated by my art. A story that needs to be recounted. A duty to honour my legacy and uplift the voices of my ancestors in order to break the misconceptions surrounding African ancestral practices.
It [was] also [through] a love of art and craftsmanship. I believe it is important to discover, learn and share the expertise of African craftsmen around the world. This is my destiny, a reason and a mission for life.
In an article for Design Indaba, you are quoted as saying: “It is a way for me to reconcile myself with African spiritually, to show the world the richness and uniqueness of my culture.”
I find it interesting that you use the word “reconcile” when speaking about African spirituality — as the word alludes to working through some form(s) of tension to reach a relationship of amicability if not friendliness.
What were/are you reconciling — as you put it — when it comes to your relationship with African spirituality both as an African person and artist?
Lafalaise Dion: This question strikes a cord and reminds me of an incident that happened last Sunday.
I was flying to Portugal and once at the airport, I noticed that while overthinking and stressing by fear of forgetting an important document, I actually had double sets of the traveling files on me. As I boarded the plane, looking for my seat, I realised that the place was not vacant any more. The row I was supposed to be seated in was already occupied by a white lady, two white men and an African elder dressed in traditional attire/fashion.
As stupid as it might sound, can you guess who I actually thought decided to rudely occupy my seat? I assumed that the old African man was the one who was overzealous. I went directly to the stewardess, I explained to her that my seat was occupied by someone else, without actually indicating which one [of the individuals] I thought was the intruder. She reached out to them and managed to get the occupier to have a seat change. Funnily or sadly enough, it wasn’t the elder at all but one of the white younger persons.
These kind of insidious flawed thoughts, this is what we must fight against. Especially us Black folks. It is an ongoing fight against myself, what I have learned, what I assume, how I perceive society and its members.A long and painful process to unlearn lifetimes of misconceptions. I [know I need] to kill a part of me in order to invite who I wish to be, to finally be free to live. In all honesty? It is a lifelong struggle — worthy of all the struggles — inner fighting and questioning.
When it comes to the pieces you create and the stories you are telling with and through them, what do you think they have to say about the “legacy left by [your] ancestors”?
Lafalaise Dion: My pieces are an extension of me, they are the representation of me. They are inspired by my ancestors and my culture.
They are the tangible manifestation of my mission.
Your work has previously been described as a form of “activist expression”. Do you also see it in this way? If so, in what ways are your pieces “activist expressions” and if not why do you not regard them as such?
Lafalaise Dion: Definitely. They are as much the blueprint of a truly personal struggle, as a collective struggle for cultural re-appropriation.
The activism of my work resides in many aspects. From the use of Cowrie shells as primary material, to the freedom I embrace and unapologetically expressing myself as a young Black African woman – not only through spoken words but also through written words recorded for posterity.
Cowries are a strong symbol of power, wealth, creation and strength in African cultures all across the continent. It is this [power] that I aim to embrace today and reclaim proudly as it always should have been.
There was a trip I read about you taking to Accra, Ghana back in 2018. It seemed to have been a catalyst of sorts for the establishing of Lafalaise Dion.
Can you please tell me more about it and what it inspired — what shifted for you during this trip?
Lafalaise Dion: For this particular trip I seriously think that for once, body and soul were in sync. It has been a life changing trip.
It gave me hope. Hope in the future and the African awakening. I saw the future of the African continent in the creative expression of every individuals I met at the Chale Wote Festival. The calling was answered on that day, and since then, I am contributing to making it heard with all my soul.
Lafalaise Dion obviously exists in the space of fashion, however, it also seems to traverse fashion’s creative borders.
Beyond beautiful pieces, what is it you’d say you’re creating with/through Lafalaise Dion?
Lafalaise Dion: Lafalaise Dion goes behind beauty and ornaments. LD is also a safe place for women like me tired of being and feeling tamed and looking to release their inner she-wolf.
LD is an initiation ritual. It is a lifestyle, reinventing and reappropriating African fashion and never ending inspiration for vibrant and innovative fashion/ways of dressing and being.
LD is written words.
There is circularity both in your production methods — sourcing your cowrie shells from merchants at local markets — and the space of exploration you’ve rooted your artistic creation in — that being African spirituality.
Was this result of production’s necessity or an intentional decision?
Lafalaise Dion: There is definitely circularity. Spirituality is based on an [infinite] and ever expanding discovery of human wonder.
Ubuntu comes to mind when trying to sum up the concept. It is a deliberate and intentional decision that came up on its own as clear as a bell. It is true that the sourcing of the main material of my craft through local merchants at local markets conveys the idea of limited resources.
However, just like cowries are washed back to shore after an unimaginable time spent in the deep sea, this particular choice did — and still — resonates like the ideal connection between the inspiration of my art and the material used.
Bringing back the respect, source of endless creativity and the need for that particular shell all over the world through Lafalaise Dion, resonates in each and every person. Just like an awakening to a neglected and important source of philosophy, social construction, psychological concepts and limitless personal evolution.
Do you think that process, conceptual rooting and material outcome can be mutually exclusive or do they exist as mirrors to each other?
Lafalaise Dion: A Calling — even one unheard at first — always ends up materialising through a vision. A clear and reachable vision needs connections. These connections are sometimes unfathomable, and yet, can still lead you to your ultimate goal and destiny.
Therefore, I strongly believe that process, conceptual rooting and material outcome exist as mirrors to each other. To go even further, I take pride in Lafalaise Dion not because I created it as a tailored brand made of unique pieces but because of the fact that my respect for the main material source — Cowries — compels me to respect the work of each craftsperson and to respect the scarcity of material.
This works against turning it into an industrial powerhouse, always asking for and needing more. Just like spirituality requires time and deep introspection, each piece is made of time and deep meditation, as Cowries are linked together to create Beauty.
What dreams to you have for your future — near and distant, personal and professional, big and small?
Lafalaise Dion: I seek to be a wild woman!
A priestess living on top of Man’s higher mountain and healing this world the best way I can by sharing love. To get there, I need to keep on learning and embracing each wonder hidden in this world.
Wisdom and eternal youth soul as I am turning 30 this year, I feel it more and more. The birth of a new me.
Watch out for HER. You will be hearing of HER.
Photography: Nuits Balnéaires
Art Direction: Lafalaise Dion
Creative Direction: Nuits Balnéaires
Styling: Lafalaise Dion
Styling and Art Direction Assistant: Aïssatou Sidibé
Set Design: Ballo
Makeup: Kiela Annie
Brands: Studio 08, Lafalaise DION X Renwa available at by Concept
Production Assistant: Ange Gaha
Post-production: Yuri Yavorsky