African Heritage became the epitome of art and culture in Africa through their exquisite works of art, jewellery inspirations and African inspired fashion. In the 70’s, there were a couple of European designers in Kenya making modern clothes for the European community. They would, from time to time, hold fashion shows for their clients, using only European models, but not Alan, he was the first designer to use exclusively African Models in his fashion shows.
For any Kenyan model who wanted to travel outside the country to work, they often went to join Kenya’s African Heritage Festival. This gave birth to who we know now as top models, as many of the girls who graced Alan’s stage later took off to international modelling careers. A very humble Alan gives a list of the models he discovered or got to work with back then including Irene Mugambi (who became the first Kenyan model to model internationally), Susan Auma (who went on to act in The Colour Purple produced by Steven Spielberg), Persis Khambatta (who is the bold martian princess we saw in star trek), Khadija Adam (who moved on to model for Yves Saint Laurent and became the first African model to grace the cover of Cosmopolitan USA), Gaudentia Aura (who became the first black girl as the face of Lux soap internationally), and Supermodel Iman (who first modelled for him in 1975 whilst in the University of Nairobi and went on to become an international sensation).
“Iman was brought to me by her sister and I put her in our African Heritage Night Showcase that was the held at Maasai Lodge in 1975. It was the first time for her to be on a catwalk, and she has now risen to be recognised as The Most Beautiful Woman on Earth,” says Alan “When she started off in the modelling industry, she was compared to the likes of Cleopatra because of her long neck”. With Iman’s success as a supermodel, and her international cosmetics line, she is now one of the most successful models out of Africa.
Whilst most of Alan’s initial models now live abroad, some names are still in based in Nairobi such as Jackie Thom, whom he spotted at a Miss World Competition in 1985; Patricia Ithau, who modelled for Alan briefly during her reign as Miss Africa in 1986 and is now the CEO of Kenya’s Leading Advertising Agency, WPP Scannad, L’Oreal; Gladys Sakaja who was one of the pioneer models for SuraZuri Modelling and Casting Agency which was started in 1986; Emma Too, whom he discovered at the salon she worked in and later became a finalist in the Face of Africa competition; Dorothy Oliech, whom he discovered eight years ago outside his home in Mlolongo and now runs Moches Modelling Agency.
Kenya’s African Heritage Festival also attracted models from other African counties such as Mali, Ethiopia and Somalia. Catherine Karl was Alan’s last head model who modelled for African Heritage for 13 years – until the end.
There’s lots more that Alan Donovan has accomplished, and you can read about his journey through Africa in a small excerpt from his latest book in the September 2022 Issue of Couture Africa, HERE.