Shelley and Keneilwe go minimal

Best friends Shelley and Keneilwe keep it clean-cut and cool in inner city Joburg

Photography: Nikki Zakkas | Words: Lucienne Bestall Art Direction: Phendu Kuta

Johannesburg is the spiritual home of South African street style: a melting pot of Hillbrow hip and Sandton style, mall trawlers and cool clubbers, STR.CRD and Fashion Week, highbrow elitists and sober and lonely low-lifes. Eclectic and defiantly bold, Joburg street fashion is the product of a post-postmodern remix culture, collaging historically and geographically disparate styles to produce stand-out ensembles. Its kaleidoscope of aesthetics are alternative and loud, starkly individual, and visually busy, and the resulting fashion is as frenetic as the bustling cosmopolitan metropolis. Enter Shelley and Keneilwe.

Clean-cut and cool, this pair sets themselves apart from the noise with striking silhouettes and iconic cuts – a collision of high street fashion and street style trends. They’re the calm eye in the street fashion storm; minimal and monochrome.

Shelley and Keneilwe are both interior designers. They met at the University of Johannesburg, in the first year of their degree. In addition to being best friends, they have founded a fashion brand called Prime Obsession, and they have been featured on a number of online magazines and blogs.

One could easily mistake the pair for twins; they currently sport near-identical hairstyles and nearly always dress to match:

“We buy things that are similar or even exactly the same,” Keneilwe said, “even when we don’t shop together. We’ve always had a similar style.”

This Contagious shoot was styled and directed by Phendu Kuta, the founder of Unlabelled magazine. Phendu’s photographs blur the distinction between fine art and fashion in pursuit of telling South African stories in an authentic way. As such, her work has a strong focus on urban settings; contrasting striking models and clothing with everyday, mundane places. Phendu shot Shelley and Keneilwe in the less grungy precincts of Joburg’s inner city to complement the friends’ personal style. And while her photographs tend to be visually busy, and Shelley and Keneilwe’s style minimally cool, they all share an alternative take on contemporary streetwear:

“Phendu’s styling was so beautiful,” said Keneilwe, “And the clothes were similar to what we would normally wear. She played with bold colours but the items themselves were still understated and reflected our kind of style.”

When asked to describe Shelley and Keneilwe’s close friendship and shared fashion sense, Phendu said: “Although their personalities seem very different, their style choices are very similar and very complementary. Their friendship seems to be one that is easy and natural; they are energies that gravitate towards one another easily. They seem comfortable in silence and comfortable in distance.”

Shelley and Keneilwe have previously worked with Phendu on a couple of shoots, and admire her work and her artistic vision. Phendu, in turn, wanted to work with – and emphasise – the pair’s stand-out style. The mood of the shoot was light-hearted and collaborative.

“Shelley and Keneilwe were happy to participate in realising our shared vision,” Phendu said.


“The day of the shoot worked out really well,” Keneilwe said, “It was fun! We used different locations around inner city Joburg, and got to try on great new clothing. All the outfits were superb – I loved everything that was selected.”

“I also loved the white flared pants and the black sleeveless blazer. And even the red suit!”

For two fashionistas who nearly always dress in greyscale, this is a surprising turn.


The pair agree that the shoes were the ultimate highlight of the shoot.

“I personally loved the white Truffle shoes, the black mule sandals, and the adidas creepers. The shoes had me dying!”