The designer is grounded in gold for AW19. Nataal exclusively reveals his latest campaign
Lukhanyo Mdingi enjoyed a milestone moment for AW19 with his debut solo presentation at New York Fashion Week Men’s (NYFWM). Aptly titled Perennial, the collection reaffirms the South African designer’s belief in the natural order of things in a constantly shifting world. “There’s a riff-raff within the space that we’re immersed in, it’s fast consumption, and sadly at times it has very little substance,” Mdingi explains. “By contrast, we wanted to use our archives as reference to create a strong body of work.” Putting time and talent towards creating something with substance equates to a collection rooted in considered and intelligent design. At the core of the process is his determination to infuse a sense of soulfulness into his work. Therein lies the secret sauce to longevity and modern refinement.
Throughout our conversation, I get a sense that he is unwillingness to be boxed in by labels such as ‘African luxury’. Instead, he prefers to circle back repeatedly to ideas of intentions. “Luxury is using time, consideration and ingenuity as a means to create quality. Our aim is to take the label up to the levels that we envision it should be,” he says. The outcome of this dedicated practice is expressed in beautifully crafted clothes imbued with integrity that captivates his customers on a sensory level. Looking inward is an imperative.
The foundation of the collection is the choice of the highest quality, locally sourced fabrics including angora kid mohair and merino wools in rich brushed tobacco and ivory, as well as other natural fibres including silk and linen. “I sense that the considered consumer who chooses to make an investment in our pieces wants honesty. And I see using sustainable textiles as a modern approach to meeting this need,” says Mdingi.
“Luxury is using time, consideration and ingenuity as a means to create quality”
Aesthetically, the collection respectfully balances African and Asian influences to form utilitarian garments that shimmer and glisten while striking the right notes of strength and ease, simplicity and sophistication. Long coats, track pants and column dresses are paired with snood-style knitwear and matching skull caps to create a uniform for lovers of classic splendour.
Mdingi grew up in the small town of East London and studied fashion at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology in Cape Town, where he was a finalist in an Elle design competition during his final year. He launched his label in 2015 and garnered international attention for his gender fluid, inky-hued SS16 offering. He’s since collaborated with many local creatives on consistently stunning visual stories that go beyond the basic lookbook to sum up the mood of each season. For AW19, it’s photographer Jesse Vos.
Purposefully stepping back and slowing the pace of business over the past two years is a decision he tells me has sometimes meant tough times. But in the end it has proven an invaluable opportunity to reevaluate the challenges of running a fashion label in South Africa and now he has developed an “intentionally steady and solid rhythm” towards his designs, which land either as mainline or essential collections, and cater to both men and women. “Being able to face your strengths and weaknesses, and the adversities that inevitably come into play, has giving me the confidence to make key decisions about the future,” he says.
When the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA) first approached Mdingi about NYFWM, it was 2017. Although a meaningful engagement, the body decided not to support the label. “In hindsight, we weren’t ready,” he admits. But fast forward a year and a re-engagement with the CFDA last December yielded positive results. “Showing at NYFWM could not have come at a better time and is a true testament to pure passion coupled with perseverance and hard work," he reflects. “We’re not perfect, and it’s not easy, but with a solid foundation in place, we now feel grounded and ready for gold.”