Welcome to Wes Africa

Superbalist presents a cinematic winter campaign shot in Dakar, Senegal

Photography by Rudi Geyser

Breaking new ground for SA retail, Superbalist recently travelled to Dakar, Senegal with a talented team to shoot a bold winter campaign. Against the backdrop of the historic Dakar Railway Station and train carriages, Senegalese models were at the forefront of a story with nods to the work of Wes Anderson and the nostalgia of train travel. Nostalgic cues from the 60s and 70s come together with modern styling to create a mood and images that are at once intriguing, unexpected and totally unique. Here's a first-hand, behind-the-scenes account from the team who produced the campaign. 

Tammy Tinker, style director
Dakar, what a city! The people are beautiful, the food is amazing, the culture is incredible and beer costs less than water. After googling “train station” we decided that the one in Dakar was the most beautiful and came up with an idea of a train trip through Africa type story. Also, Dakar is coming up more and more as Africa’s fashion capital and we thought that there’s no better place to do our biggest fashion campaign ever. Now often a concept never materializes or reaches its full potential, the weather can change or a model might arrive not looking like they did at the casting, but luck was on our side and there was definitely a Senegalese guardian angel watching over us. Although I was slightly more stressed out than I like to be, everything was perfect.

Rudi Geyser, photographer
Dakar in 72 hours was intense, but I’m so grateful that I got to shoot it. Obviously there was a lot to do in such a short period of time, and as soon as we got off the plane we went walkabout. We were super happy with our first location, the train station, and then went to look at some hotel options, and unfortunately those didn’t work out as planned... Everything in Senegal seems to have a long conversation attached to it. This can be frustrating, because you just want things to happen, but then it’s also that old way of doing business and getting to know people, which is nice. In the end we couldn’t get the hotels that we wanted to shoot at, but that was fine – Charl converted one of the rooms in the train station and we walked around with the product and got our shots elsewhere. Like the traffic, the language barrier was crazy and because the models we shot weren’t actually models, the casting was a really special moment. Even though we couldn’t communicate that well, everyone understood what they had to do, and they were super happy doing it. Dakar is quite small, and there are too many people trying to fit into a small space, with everything this dusty colour palette and a really soft light. It also boasts some of the best seafood I’ve ever eaten, with prawns as big as your face, and if I had more time I would’ve loved to have spent more time on the beach and explored the surf spots.

Pete Verster-Cohen, videographer
Senegal almost didn’t happen for me, as I was accidentally told that the shoot would happen in June when it was actually May… Normally this would be fine, but my passport was full and I needed to arrange a new one, fast! Tammy told me to get on the plane to Johannesburg and we’d reassess from there, and as luck would have it I arrived to an angel holding my new passport and a fresh Senegalese visa. I gave him a kiss, bought a flight, checked in and drank a stiff G&T. My first impression of Senegal was that it has the most beautiful patina and I think having a large city on the coast really brings a unique quality to it. I really had to think on my feet on this trip, and it was a daunting task being a one man video department trying to create a low-budget Wes Anderson film. Working with the models was probably the biggest challenge: although everyone was so sweet and keen, none spoke any English. However, after a day of charades we learned to connect through signals with each personality and quirk coming through. I think we nailed it. 

Charl Edwards, decor contributor and consultant
Dakar is a mash-up of the most insanely rich colours, details, textures and sights. Heaven for a stylist and art director. It’s something you just can't cheat. Our apartment shots were literally constructed and set up in the loft space of the main terminal building of the train station, so we had quite a lot of foot traffic passing through our shots, with a lot of comical moments ensuing. The key was to shoot as fast and as quick as possible. A highlight of the trip to Senegal was without a doubt wandering the markets and neighbourhoods of Dakar, and just exploring the fabrics and textiles on display. The energy and vibrancy of the city is palpable and it's obvious why it's one of Africa's top fashion destinations. The Senegalese are super savvy with their dress sense, as is evident by all of the street-style fashion. Why Wes Anderson hasn't shot a film in West Africa is a mystery – it lends itself so well to the world of Wes. Our locations became the perfect backdrop for our Wes Anderson narrative to unfold.