Chérif Douamba, the model who wants to “show the beauty of Ivory Coast”

Ranked in the top 10 male models having marked the year 2021 by Vogue France, nominated in 2022 (for the third time) in the male section “Model of the Year” by Models

Chérif Douamba, the model who wants to “show the beauty of Ivory Coast”

Ranked in the top 10 male models having marked the year 2021 by Vogue France, nominated in 2022 (for the third time) in the male section “Model of the Year” by, regular at “fashion weeks” and Dior, Fendi or Valentino fashion shows… At 28, Ivorian Chérif Douamba can boast of a fine track record in a career he had never envisaged.

As a teenager, this young man from the Abidjan middle class especially loved art and painting. Fashion hardly interested him. When a South African scout for new talent – ​​a “scout”, in modeling jargon – spotted him on Instagram in 2016, he initially declined his offer. As a third-year law student, he heard too many stories of human trafficking and forced prostitution. And in Ivory Coast, fashion has bad press. “For my father, modeling was synonymous with vice,” he admits. Most Africans consider fashion not a real job. »

After a year of procrastination, reassured by his friends and encouraged by the prospect of improving his standard of living, he finally launched himself: the South African scout sent him to Ghana, where he landed his first contract with a modeling agency. . “The sector is better organized and better regarded in English-speaking African countries, even if some French-speaking countries, such as Senegal, manage to stand out,” he explains. But if I wanted an international career, I had to learn English. » His physique, which he describes as “atypical”, pleases. An immense and slender silhouette, square shoulders, sharp features.

“Without a visa, you can’t work.”

In Accra, he learned English and the basics of “catwalking”. Then his career exploded: in January 2019, he showed at Milan Fashion Week for Ermenegildo Zegna, then in Paris the following week. Then will come, in January, the Pharrell Williams show for Louis Vuitton, of which the American star is the new men's creative director. “At the moment, ebony skin like mine is in vogue,” says Chérif Douamba, who now shares the catwalks with Senegalese, Malian and Nigerian models. Few Ivorians parade, however, with the notable exception of the Ivorian-Canadian Adonis Bosso and, more recently, the young Samuel Elie.

For Chérif Douamba, as for most of his colleagues on the continent, the first difficulty to overcome in practicing his profession is administrative. “Every time I find myself backstage talking with agents, they ask me how I got there… And I explain to them that the major obstacle between us and this profession is the visa. Three quarters of our work takes place abroad. Without a visa, you cannot work. » For beginner models from sub-Saharan Africa, it all comes down to luck or contacts. And the procedure, costing several hundred euros, is at their expense.

For this to become simpler, Chérif Douamba had to wait until he began to gain notoriety so that the brands with which he collaborated signed letters of invitation to him. But, tired of having to leave European territory every three months due to the limitations of the Schengen visa, he finally chose to settle in London. Although he would like to see France, as the “world capital of fashion”, develop a special visa aligned with the duration of the models’ contract with their agency, the most difficult destination to reach still remains the United States. “I had to have 70 recommendations from casting directors, photographers, stylists, make-up artists... Except that generally, you don't have direct contact with them, because it's your agency that books you and t 'send to do the work. »

Agencies with fraudulent practices

Chérif Douamba now devotes part of his time to helping those who dream of a career in modeling and to acting as intermediary with agencies. “A lot of people write to me on Instagram. I try to share my experience as much as possible, give advice on visas, choice of brands..." An ex-Ivorian model who switched to photography and goes by the nickname "Perfect Black" hails him as "a source of inspiration , one of the only Africans in the world’s top 50 and a role model for all aspiring Ivorian models.”

Committed, the young man would also like to protect the youngest from the fraudulent practices of agencies. “They can lend you money for the visa or plane tickets and then reimburse them from your salary with high interest,” he says. We meet models who have an exceptional season in Europe or the United States, who we see everywhere, and at the end of the season they find themselves with empty pockets because their agency in Africa took everything from them. »

If modeling remains his main activity, Chérif Douamba has also turned to photography and artistic direction. “I think I have things to say, showing my physical beauty is not enough for me,” he explains. I also want to show that of Ivory Coast and Ghana. » And, occasionally, give visibility to young West African creators. During the telephone interview, which he answers from Paris, he wears Djainin pants, he wants to point out, a young label appreciated by elegant Abidjanis.

In September, Chérif Douamba returned to Ivory Coast to shoot his first short film in Grand-Bassam, near Abidjan. An initiatory story inspired by his childhood and that of his best friend. The release is planned for the end of the year.