Frances van Hasselt and Leandi Mulder’s collaboration gives South African mohair the love – and future – it deserves
"No one leaves Scotland without cashmere or Peru without alpaca,” declares Frances van Hasselt. “And there’s no reason anyone should leave South Africa without mohair.” In a push for South Africa’s luxury yarn, van Hasselt and her design partner, Leandi Mulder present Frances V.H x Leandi Mulder, a bespoke knitwear collection, launching at the Design Indaba’s concept store this week.
The collaboration is their first official, but the women have been sharing interests and ideas since meeting at university. Van Hasselt has an eponymous line of custom-made, hand-woven rugs. Mulder is currently finishing her masters in Beijing, and has a womenswear background, specialising in unique textile construction and sustainable products. Together they noticed a gap in the South African luxury market — residue from the textile crash of the late 90s, which left local industry flailing — and wanted change. Specifically for mohair, a premium yarn with silken-like strands and incredible resilience; hence the nickname, Diamond Fibre.
“South Africa is promoted as a mohair hub. It produces 80 per cent of the world’s supply and processes most of it, yet little has been done by South African designers or artisans themselves,” says van Hasselt. “We’ve seen established luxury brands like Chanel do mohair ranges, but there’s a need for equally luxurious lines done on a smaller scale and with a transparent supply-chain. The opportunity to create sustainable employment locally is huge.”
“There’s a need for luxurious lines with a transparent supply-chain. The opportunity for sustainable employment locally is huge”
Hand-spun on wooden wheels by local artisans, the duo’s designs steer clear of trends in favour of simple, free-flowing silhouettes that celebrate the yarn’s natural characteristics. “Mixing mohair with cashmere or wool would make it more uniform, but we wanted free fibres with organic movement,” says van Hasselt. Loose threads and open-knit patterns further emphasise the collection’s undone refinement.
When deciding the colour palette, rewriting preconceived notions was top of mind. “We selected hues not typically associated with the standard, African narrative,” van Hasselt explains. “On a macro level, the Karoo desertscape has those very classic rusts, creams, and greens. But on a micro level, the vegetation and botanicals have intense, surprising shades. And the mohair translates those colours beautifully.” Vivid purples, watery blues, and bursts of pink all make an appearance.
The designers are hoping their project will spark a local movement, encouraging other locals to incorporate mohair in their designs and show the world what South African luxury looks like. And more importantly, sustain the future of rural craftsmen by connecting them to the marketplace — for without a profitable outlet for their craft, their traditions will be lost.
As for what’s next? “Well, let’s see how this first pass goes,” laughs van Hasselt. “But one day we’ll create a whole line with a full, in-house supply chain. We’ll use only single-sourced mohair from our animals, farmed by our farmers, and spun by our artisans.” Are luxury pieces with complete traceability possible? She takes a breath. “That’s the dream.”
Design Indaba is from 27 February to 1 March, 2019 at Artscape Theatre Complex, Cape Town