The South African designer spinning yarns with his artisanal womenswear
One hot sunny afternoon, Nataal find Nicholas Coutts in his studio - formerly his parents’ pool house - in the leafy Cape Town suburb of Rondebosch. There’s a rail of samples from his three catwalk collections to date along one wall, moodboards lean against shelves and balls of wool mound up everywhere. But pride of place is his rigid heddle loom and the three oversized, unseasonably cosy scarves next to it. “My mother used to have a crafts shop and taught me how to weave as a young boy,” explains Coutts, who grew up idolising William Morris and immersing himself in the Arts & Crafts movement. “Morris said that manufactured items lack the honesty of hand made ones and that’s become my motto. Weaving takes a long time, and that’s what makes the results so special.”
Coutts started out as a stylist and studied fashion at Cape Town’s Design Academy of Fashion. In the final year, he won the prestigious ELLE Magazine Rising Star 2013 award. The prize included a catwalk show at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg and the opportunity to design a capsule collection for high street retailer Mr Price.
"Morris said that manufactured items lack the honesty of hand made ones and that’s become my motto"
These successes have put this softly spoken, outdoorsy 23-year-old on South Africa’s fashion’s radar. His hugely tactile textiles, handcrafted through spinning, weaving, knitting and felting, collide with his minimalist aesthetic to create statement pieces that exude a grown up, pared back glamour. Wrap around coats, body-hugging jumpsuits, apron dresses and high waisted trousers are fit for the timeless models he grew up watching on Fashion TV. Think Gemma Ward, Kate Moss and Mariacarla Boscono. “It’s about city chic with a human touch.”
Everything goes into his looms from the finest South African merino wool, lurex and unspun yarns to recycled plastic and cotton, to form remarkable touchy feely, luxurious finishes. He sources his tailoring fabrics, denim and leather locally and inspiration comes from close to home too. The intricate patterns of Xhosa beadwork, the pastels hues of Durban’s art deco architecture and the metallic wings of African dung beetles have all informed his design process. “I support South African-made. We’ve got so many resources here that there’s no reason to look anywhere else.” Except, perhaps to find weather cold enough to wear his woollen clothes.
Photography Elina Simonen
Words Helen Jennings
Hair Lars Rüffert
Make-up Julia Heiermann
Photographer’s assistant Theo at 10-4 Africa
Model Azuli at M4