From the FROW: five of the best shows at Lexus South African Menswear Week AW17

Africa's only stand-alone menswear fashion week goes from strength to strength in Cape Town, with over 30 designers recently revealing their AW17 collections. The most evocative of those exuded a rebellious spirit by innovating established forms and pushing the definition of masculine dressing. Here are five of Nataal’s favourite shows at Lexus South African Menswear Week.

 
 

Kim Gush
Kim Gush’s collection turned heads not just because of the closing look - a tall male model in an all-black ensemble of 6inch patent knee-high boots, trunks, cape and wide-rimmed witch’s hat - but because of the message it proclaimed. The Cape Town-based designer celebrated individuality as a beautiful aspect of any person and took specific inspiration from witchcraft communities. Her mostly black on black palette was given depth by the mix of hard and soft textures including leather, wool and chiffon. The range of avant garde streetwear included dungarees, dresses and tunics. In a world of growing populism where being yourself - be it an immigrant or of a particular religion - is under increased scrutiny, the message that elegance can be found even in the occult, seemed timely.

 
 

Tokyo James
Also grappling with the gloomy state of the world was Tokyo James, who presented an ominous collection entitled End Times: Son of God. War was on the Nigerian designer’s mind, with models marching down the ramp at a furious pace wearing monochrome military-inspired black and emerald suits, coats and helmets covered in Iron Cross motifs. The structured leather outerwear and sturdy duffel bags affirmed the idea of preparation to travel to a conflict zone, albeit one where sequin embellishments and slogan t-shirts reading ‘Ugly Is The New Cool’ were included in the uniform. James confirmed after the show that this was a more somber collection than his previous offerings, saying that it reflected his evolution as a designer. This seriousness also elevated the sharpness of his tailoring and clever manipulation of luxury fabrics.

Jahnkoy
On paper, it may not be immediately clear what connection a Siberian-born, New York-based designer has with an African fashion event, but Maria Kazakova addressed the audience, via a sound montage before the show, saying: "I don't know why Africa... maybe because it's so important". The recent Parsons New School MFA graduate, who also just made her NYFW: Men’s debut, uses Jahnkoy (which means New Spirit Village) to explore issues around global sustainability in fashion. Entitled The Displaced, AW17 was a collaboration with Puma and combined bright sportswear, recycled materials, heavy beading and bold slogans to create oversized, often hooded, silhouettes. Referencing artisanal crafts from around the world, and with prominent nods to both Rastafarianism and Fela Kuti, Jahnkoy’s messages of cultural connectedness packed a meaningful punch.

 
 

Rich Mnisi
Rich Mnisi's collections have become much anticipated over the past couple of years for their flamboyant showmanship. This season was no exception. Among the Instagram-worthy pieces were a huge flower on the front of a white wrap coat, and a clock and cloud shaped bag attached to bright red drawstring trousers. The young Joburg-based designer was thinking about Xingelengele (meaning bell or siren) and “the idea of undoing something that has happened… changing our minds” to dream up this fresh and loose collection. Draped jumpsuits, high-waisted shorts, roll neck sweaters and puffa jackets came in inviting shades of lemon, powder blue and tangerine. AW17 has no time for regrets, or turning back time, because in these outfits there’s only one thing to do and that’s bounce right into the future.

Imprint
African prints were given fresh relevance and urgency in Mzukisi Mbane's latest collection for his brand, Imprint. The Khayelitsha township native weaved his signature vibrant patterns into corsets, waist-cinched dresses, raincoats, leggings and aprons. Mbane has always been a proponent of design that traverses traditional gender lines but still manages to make his clothing seem accessible to the everyday man. This season showed the boys that they can look good in a tailored skirt with a loose jacket – although the red lipstick the models were smeared with might yet remain a stretch for most.