Africa is always producing some novelty," said Pliny, the Roman writer, way back when. The latest novelty that Africa has sent the fashion world is Khanga cloth, the vivid native cotton fabric seen boating down the Hudson River in these pictures. Not since Indian madras and Indonesian batik swept the sportswear field has a fabric so excited the imagination of designers. Khanga cloth, used for more than 800 years in East Africa and named for a king of northern Uganda, was once nothing more than the African equivalent of Con-Tact. The natives took the colorful wood-blocked lengths of cloth and used them to decorate huts, cover tables, trim shelves and paper walls. Later they began using the wilder patterns for clothing, and their rich indigos, their sunset blazes of red, yellow and orange and their earth-tone blacks and browns to this day add richness to the East African scene.
For the winter-sun season Khanga prints will be seen in everything from bikinis to pajamas, cover-up caftans, pants suits and raincoats. In menswear, colorfast, nonbleeding Khanga patterns will emblazon men's Bermuda shorts, parkas, sports jackets and sports shirts.
Of all the designers using Khanga cloth this season, none is more imaginative than New York's Tiger Morse. Tiger put the fabric in a tank of liquid vinyl and came up with the waterproof material used in her special collection of clothes for boating. No two garments in her collection are exactly alike—for no two Khangas are alike. Some employ bull's-eyes and motorcycles, some feature good-luck sayings in Swahili, some make flourishes with flowers and medallions.
In the color photograph, Gerard Kouwenhoven, piloting his Riva speedboat, wears a parka with a bull's-eye pattern. It is $45. The jacket with the motorcycle on the back, worn by Diane Dodd, covers a matching bikini. The jacket is $40, the bikini $25. Facing Kouwenhoven, Lynn Brophy wears a zippered-front romper suit ($55), and Penny Allen (standing) a bell-bottom jump suit with a hood. It is $95. At right: Loren Dunlap wears a parka with black-and-red palmetto and starlike designs. It is $45. All the clothes are at Abercrombie & Fitch in New York; Dayton Co., Minneapolis; May D. and F., Denver.
JOHN G. ZIMMERMAN