Bringing it home

DC-based designer Anifa Mvuemba on staying true to her hometown, designing for a digital-savvy generation, and how Princess Leia helped her break the internet.

By Katie Bianco

Hollywood and high-end fashion have long been enmeshed. It’s just that usually we see those worlds colliding on the red carpet. But for rising-star fashion designer Anifa Mvuemba, it was a Hollywood moment of a different kind that inspired her recent Instagram-breaking fashion show.

Back in the pre-pandemic, movie-going days, she and her boyfriend went to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, which is the installment that used CGI for Carrie Fisher after the actress passed away prior to the end of filming. 

“That night, I went home and started researching,” says Mvuemba, who over the years has taught herself everything from coding to photo retouching. “I wanted to figure out how I could do that [with fashion].”

When the pandemic hit, Mveumba, who launched her line Hanifa 10 years ago, really dug into digital as a means to get her designs out into the world. She started doing editorial shoots with digital models that were so realistic, most of her Instagram followers thought they were real. Ultimately, she hired a team who could help her create an entire digital fashion show. She released her Pink Label Congo Collection on Instagram Live in May 2020. The show went viral. 

Today, she counts Beyoncé, Zendaya, and Tracee Ellis Ross among her fans, and InStyle just bestowed her with the Future of Fashion award (presented to her in-person at the awards ceremony in Los Angeles by none other than fashion icon Christian Louboutin).

The next day, after a cross-country flight from LAX to DCA, Mvuemba debuted her latest collection with a runway show at the National Portrait Gallery in DC. The show was originally supposed to be part of New York Fashion Week, but, as Mvuemba explains, “I like to move to my own beat. I felt like we were getting lost in the lineup of designers and I said, ‘You know what? We’re going home.’”

And with that declaration, the designer took her bow at the Smithsonian museum. It was a full-circle moment for Mvuemba, who has lived in the DC region since moving from Congo to the U.S. with her family at the age of 3—and started her design career out of her mom’s house as a “broke college student” a decade ago. 

“I’m so happy we were able to do the show in DC,” she says. “This is home. This is where we started.”

Here, Mvuemba shares where you can find her in DC when she’s not taking over the fashion world.

Your first runway show was at National Portrait Gallery. Tell us why you love that museum. 

I remember the first time I walked into the Kogod Courtyard, I was speechless. This place is beautiful. I felt like Carrie Bradshaw in the [Sex and the City episode] when she saw her shoe closet and said ‘Oh my god, my eyes!’ I just knew. It’s beautiful.

Where in DC do you find your inspiration?

To be honest, it’s just walking around. That’s what I would do when I have free time. Especially if the weather is nice, I just walk around, see different things, architecture, trees, clouds. It could be a print or pattern. 

Where did you go after your runway show to celebrate?

We had an after party on the Eaton rooftop. 

What is Anifa’s DC?

Anifa’s DC is going out to eat. The Wharf is cool. There’s this sushi spot there, NaRa-Ya, that I love. Honestly, I just like to eat a lot. Ocean Prime is a go-to. The food is good. I lived in Baltimore so I like to get the crab at Ocean Prime and they steam it for me.

Where do you like to go to relax?
I love to do staycations. We love to go to The Conrad. The service is nice. I love the design of the hotel. It’s just luxury everything.

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