A coming of age for South Africa’s oldest fashion week

South African Fashion Week (SAFW) has just celebrated 21 years of showcasing local design. This is a major milestone for a platform that, when Lucilla Booyzen launched in 1997, was the first seasonal event of its kind on the continent and has since become the driving force behind fashion in South Africa. Held in Johannesburg, SAFW acknowledges and supports those who are pioneering fashion in the country. What started out as a small industry focused on designers primarily making bespoke and special occasion wear is now a diverse and thriving community spanning veterans such as Black Coffee and Clive Rundle through to emerging talents like Rich Mnisi and Wanda Lephoto. In 2018 it is a dynamic and fluid eco system that constantly re-shapes itself, yet at the centre remains a fashion week that is driven by a mission to go beyond the glitz in order to teach and facilitate the real business of fashion. Here are some of the standout moments from this season’s event, each one shaping the future of fashion on home soil.

Mantsho: The new wave
Zooming in on African cultures and traditions and cleverly transforming them into contemporary designs is the cornerstone of Mantsho. Womenswear designer Palesa Mokubung’s AW19 collection kicked off a series of “Mantsho tribes”, the first of which was inspired by the Basotho and Maasai. New fabrics integrated the brand’s signature prints, what Mokubung calls the “Mantsho DNA”, to create magical graphic and figurative patterns on bold, voluminous silhouettes that speak to the renaissance vibes pulsing through Joburg’s creative scene.

Klipa: 100 per cent home grown
Klipa was responsible for the best executed runway show at SAFW. As one of two winners of this year’s Cape Wools SA Designer Challenge, designer Carlo Gibson’s menswear offering had craftsmanship, quirky details, oodles of drama and designs that immersed the audience in a story of wild, time travelling characters. Some were dressed in shape shifting garments made to appear otherworldly while others wore uniquely contrasted looks that fused innovative streetwear with classic tailoring. For the young, and young at heart.

Thebe Magugu: Where tradition meets the future
Thebe Magugu’s collection, entitled Art History, merged motifs and subjects from South African art with surrealist prints and colours on looks that had an almost ecclesiastic feel and proportion to them. Meditating between forward-looking ideas and traditionalism was the starting point for exploring the contrasting and often conflicting planes we exist in today. Elements such as bras and corsets worn over deconstructed shirts and do-rag habits worn with trench coats were metaphors for the broader social zeitgeist of transition and transformation within the feminine realm. Magugu now looks forward to presenting at next season’s London Fashion Week as part of the British Council’s International Fashion Showcase.

Clive Rundle: The master at work
This legendary designer, who calls himself a “constructionist”, is known for his intricately structured and often avant-garde designs that create a wondrous and imaginative aesthetic that is hard to pin down. This season, printed cape coats were layered over full-look, sexy knits and oversized shirts. But the key look was the twinning wrap dresses in graphic black and white patterns, and the word ‘Afrika’ cleverly crafted into patterns.

Exhibition: looking back
A retrospective of 21 years of SAFW included a display of designer looks from each season going back to the very beginning showcase in 1997. The exhibition was an excellent starting from which to think about archiving the history of contemporary fashion in democratic South Africa. A book also commemorates this journey and later on this year, the display will move to the Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town.

Leanne Tlhagoane is founder of Re Fashioning Africa and owner and publisher of SA Fashion Handbook

Catwalk imagery courtesy of Eunice Driver, backstage imagery courtesy of LR Photography



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Published on 08/11/2018