Keith Henning and Jody Paulsen discuss the globetrotting yet home grown inspirations that drive their unisex brand
Vogue Dubai Fashion Experience. Pitti Uomo Immagine Florence. South African Menswear Week Cape Town. It’s been a busy few months for AKJP as the design duo Keith Henning and Jody Paulsen have shown their directional unisex brand around the world, won awards and developed a concept store. Not bad for a collaboration that came about almost by accident. “We met at a bar. We used to date,” confides Paulsen of their initial encounter in 2013. “We didn’t think about it too much and just started to share ideas. It was fun!”
Henning, whose background is in industrial and furniture design, launched his label Adriaan Kuiters (named after his grandfather) in 2012 with an emphasis on menswear basics and elegant luggage and since then everyone from Design Indaba to GQ has championed his classic staples. Paulsen, who has a Masters in Art from Michaelis School of Fine Art, specialises in printmaking, tapestry and collage and has exhibited at both the Goodman and Saatchi galleries. Their work unites Henning’s minimalist lines with Paulsen’s eye for colour and pattern. AKJP’s first catwalk collection for SS14 was well received at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Cape Town and the duo have continued to hone their innovative aesthetic ever since. “Our creative process starts with collaging paper. That’s how we form the textures, and then we carry this through to the prints, blocking and compositions,” Paulsen explains.
"There are different conversations around
gender going on in South Africa today and coming from an art school background we’ve always been exposed to alternative codes of dress"
AW16 has been their most honed offering yet, which debuted at the Generation Africa show at Pitti (read our review here [http://www.nataal.com/generation-africa]). Inspired by Durban’s tropical landscapes and beach culture, Herbie Hancock’s funk song Watermelon Man and the still life paintings of their artist friend Georgina Gratrix, each urban sports piece had a hazy wilderness feeling. Cashmere, silk, wool, linen and twill were patchworked together to create oversized t-shirts, anoraks, wraps, dungarees and trousers with peep-a-boo knees. Bespoke digital prints, appliqué and hand finished detailing lent clothing a lush, camouflaging effect.
“This time we focussed on the attitude. The collection mimics nature’s ability to make one feel calm, centred and grounded and marries the feeling of an African summer to the practicalities of a European winter,” Henning says. “We always want to keep challenging ourselves too, so we’ve interrogated weaving our own jacquard fabrics for the first time. They were in development at a local mill for over a year so to finally use them for AW16 was very satisfying.”
The introduction of womenswear since Paulsen came on board has naturally led them to explore the androgynous mood that has preoccupied fashion of late, from Jaden Smith’s Louis Vuitton dress to Hood by Air’s PVC pilgrims. “There are different conversations around gender going on in South Africa today and coming from an art school background we’ve always been exposed to alternative codes of dress,” says Paulsen. “We started by just taking what we do for men and making it for women. Now the AKJP girl has become a cool, relaxed tomboy. For the shows we cast androgynous models and play around with styling but the clothes themselves are there to simply serve you well and allow you to be yourself.”
AKJP sell both lines at Henning’s Cape Town store where he also curates local talent including Pichulik, Lukhanyo Mdingi, Nicholas Coutts, Tamara Cherie and Drotsky. “There aren’t many places for the best young designers to stock and be associated with one another. The store will keep shifting and growing and the next step is to duplicate the concept abroad,” he says. “South African fashion has a new wave of talent coming through but it needs more support. It’s not easy being a designer here but we love what we do so despite all the chasing and stress, it’s nice to feel that it’s all worth it.”
Words Helen Jennings