Lafalaise Dion: The Queen of Cowrie
- Providence: Côte d’Ivoire
- Context: Beyonce called
- The meaning of the Cowrie.
- Activism, Art and Cultural Content
The act of creativity and inspiration works differently here in Africa. Our creators are never far from this process. Because we are surrounded by and exist as an expression of our culture, we are constantly dialoguing with it, analysing and unpacking it. Because we live on the continent, we are in contact with a deep and wide milieu made up of people, emotions, attitudes, and physical objects – really, anything that is significant to a setting. For Lafalaise Dion, the ‘Queen of Cowrie’ from Côte d’Ivoire, this intimate connection is how she expresses herself, honours her culture, and shapes fashion and art on a global stage.
When Beyonce wore Lafalaise’s cowrie shell face mask called ‘Lagbaja’ in her “Spirit” music video for “Black Is King”, it was a meta moment. As an expression of black power, wealth and history, in celebration of African imagery and culture, the meaning and aesthetic behind Lafalaise’s objet, quickly drew the attention of millions.
Lafalaise explains that cowries are her material of choice because they are tied to her story. This all started years ago with her having developed an interest in African spirituality. Questions about culture and belief began with an investigation, as she explained in an interview with Essence: “It’s here that my parents told me to take a trip to the village to search for these answers on my own. I began a journey on which I met with holy men and documented varying aspects of my culture. The more in depth my study, the more I found answers, and I kept running into the cowry.”
The meaning of the cowrie.
“Cowries are a large part of our identity as Yacoubas or West Africans. The cowry is impactful to my culture—it was used for its monetary value, it was used for its spiritual value to enter in contact with spirits or ancestors, it was used to adorn clothing for its aesthetics, and it was used for its representation of femininity for our ancestors. There’s such powerful symbolism behind the cowry that tremendously moved me. I had always searched for something original. I had always wanted to tell my story with a certain touch. My background in journalism called upon me to tell stories,” says Lafalaise.
Activism, Art, Culture Content.
Lafalasie’s artistic awakening would lead to the creation of her pieces. But the weight of heritage sometimes requires more and her journey became a form of activism. The simple act of placing a cowrie on her head felt revolutionary and had a sense of ownership and intimacy. This first cowrie head piece, worn to Ghana’s socially-significant Chale Wote Street Art Festival, was her personal proclamation: “I am wearing my heritage with pride whether you like it or not. I am proud to be African.” From her research, women often wore cowries in their hair and the responses she received were overwhelming. The aesthetic was instantly recognized, decoded and acknowledged for its meaning, further elevated to a fashion moment for its daring. It would turn into a Vogue feature and Lafalaise would go on to become the Content Manager at ELLE Magazine Côte d’Ivoire.
More importantly she would work with local and global publications including Bubblegum Club, Forbes Africa, Essence, Grazia, Afropolitan, Bella Naija, Harpers Bazaar, Vogue and CNN and then, one day, Beyonce’s team called.
The Queen of the Cowrie still has many stories to share and The Wire will be here for it.
C.S.A.’s monthly cultural portal, The WIRE connects the dots of culture. With concise stories, many with video content, take a premium dive into the world of African entertainment & cultural fluidity. It’s one thing to be hip to what’s happening but it is another to know why.
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