How the Menswear Week collections were tailor-made for the South African man
Words: Buntu Ngcuka | Photography: Rudi Geyser | Creative Direction: Gavin Mikey Collins
Menswear has come a long way from the three-piece suits and top hats that were once staples in every man’s wardrobe. In South Africa, especially, one could argue that each era of fashion has been a sign of the times. In the 1960s, fashion in the townships was heavily inspired by the glamour of the decade's television shows. Of course TV was only introduced in 1976, and so people took their cues from alternative media such as Drum, and created a culture for themselves even within the restrictions of apartheid.
Spaces like Sophiatown and District 6 were the areas where this culture could grow, manifest and be performed. The 90s were probably the most defining era in South Africa, where we became a democratic country and kwaito culture made its way from dusty streets and shebeens to our TV sets and radios. Everyone wanted ispoti (what a bucket hat is actually called), Dickies or Chuck Taylors, and even overalls if they were a Trompies fan.
Then we started living in a fast-paced world. Trends started to come and go, and there was no real sense of the exact state of menswear, or how designers could come together and show their work. Enter SA Menswear Week.
Launched in February 2015, the first batch of designers showed their Autumn/Winter collections. Now, two and a half years later, there are more designers, there's more variety and more risks being taken that pay off. The Spring/Summer 2017 ranges showed the current state and many faces of menswear – equal parts futurism (gender-neutral silhouettes and avant-garde designs) nostalgia (oversized fits inspired by 90s pop art), Africanism and influences from overseas.
Here are 11 designers who broke the mould and made a statement on the runway.
The pastel pink backdrop and grass runway made a statement even before any models appeared. It was clear that the collection’s mood was inspired by the outdoors with a focus on contrasts. Pink ended up being one of the main colours in the collection, along with olive green, grey and unexpectedly, dark denim. Most of the clothes were inspired by traditional African regalia, with tunics, shirts and worker jackets being the staples.
The collection is aptly called Deferential Spring/Summer 2017. “It’s a tale of migrated cultures, their amalgamation and an appreciation for African diasporas,” Lyons said about the clothes. “It’s a play on layers; cut-outs and ease of movement played against constraint within belted proportions, and tasselled adornments.”
The show was one of the most anticipated of the whole week, and rightly so because Nicholas always delivers. His collection also showed the joining of two worlds, specifically in his hometown of Cape Town, where the juxtaposition of African and Western culture can bring out as much tension as beauty. He used beautiful fabrics like jacquard denim, wool, twill and mohair to make city-slick garments that were not only aethetically interesting but practical – a requirement for any fashion-loving city dweller. “This collection is a 360-degree turnaround from [my] previous collection which was inspired by nature,” he says. “It’s galvanised by the modern man but the shapes, silhouette and style are still traditional.”
Chulaap by Chu Suwannapha
The Prince of Prints presented a collection that was a lot more tropical but also more South African than anything he’s done before. The models, who were also accessorised in various kinds of flora, brought the theme to life in what felt like a traditional ceremony on the roof of the Cape Town Stadium. Everything fitted the mood – from the wooden benches we sat on, to the harsh lighting that felt like the sun.
Rich Mnisi x Thebe Magugu
After Rich’s breathtaking Autumn/Winter collection (if you haven’t seen the lookbook, then what are you doing with yourself, seriously?), everyone was eager to see what he’d bring for the warmer months. His collaboration with fellow designer Thebe Magugu was a series of clothes with oversized and extra-long sleeves, statement outerwear and a colour palette that ranged from purple to burnt orange. The mood was undeniably African and outdoorsy, with the models looking like modern-day warriors ready to slay the digital world with their cultural roots still intact.
While some might argue that Dicker’s collection was the least bit summery, the change in mood was necessary. Where most designers had their models on the runway in sandals or even barefoot, the Dicker models wore heavy Jeep boots that complemented the clothes, which were black, brown and white. Think Yeezy meets punk rock.
Dicker and Merwe Mode shared a slot, which was puzzling considering how different their overall aesthetics were, but when you think of the recurring theme of juxtaposition, tension and the amalgamation of opposites seen in this year’s collections, it made sense. The music was even lighter, and the show started off with a male model wearing a corset. This particular set of clothes embraced femininity, with flared pants, blouses and softer hues, again showing the beauty that can come from the yin and yang of masculine and feminine energy and fashion.
The influence of Nigerian culture on fashion is undeniable (word to those of you who own dashikis) so it was inevitable that Nigerian designers would also be showing at SA Menswear Week. Orange Culture was one of the three in the showcase, and designer Adebayo Oke-Lawal’s vision was inspired by high school rejects and non-conformity. “I feel that the collection shows the adventurous side of menswear,” he says. “The idea that wearable clothes should tell a story and evoke a sense of adventure.” And what better story to tell than that of the high school kids who always sat in the back?
Another Nigerian designer that showed at Menswear Week was Tokyo James, whose label is known for taking the conventional men’s suit and making it infinitely edgier. The collection boasted suits in gorgeous materials like patterned jacquard, and finished with handcuffs, leather straps and chains – an interesting contrast between experimentation and restriction.
The brand known for its signature minimalism stuck to the formula that works but also stuck out as most of the other collections utilised prints and bold design statements. Mat Keiser expanded the collection of coach jackets and T-shirts to include statement pieces like a sheer denim jacket and a longline, almost overall-esque blue kimono. Keiser described the collection as easy-to-wear, and his approach is simple. “I’m just trying to make clothes that my friends and I would like to wear, and hopefully other people appreciate that,” he says. He’s also experimented with different fabrics like pure silk and collaborated with artist Mia Chaplin, using some of her artwork on the clothes.
2Bop designs have always looked like the clothes your cool older brother or crush would wear in the 90s when going to the arcade with friends. It’s this kind of nostalgia and accessibility that make the clothes so charming. For S/S 17, they added to their line of streetwear basics with one-piece jumpsuits, dungarees and old-school shirts.
Young and Lazy
While the other corner store brands stayed away from prints, Young and Lazy embraced them, making for some standout pieces including a leopard-print coat. Accessorised with a bucket hat and gold chain, it looked even easier to wear and as someone who isn’t fond of prints, I’ll unashamedly admit that I now want one. Most designers’ use of prints and patterns wasn’t as laid back as Young and Lazy’s, and rightly so, it’s a streetwear label and the others aren’t, but in this case, it felt like we were watching a 90s gangster movie set on the streets of Cape Town or Joburg.
What all of the collections have in common is that they cater to the modern man. There are many sides to him, and each side wants to be as fashionable as possible. He embraces his African heritage as much as he does the digital world and Western media, and he isn’t afraid of an oversized silhouette or a blouse. It’s an exciting time for South African menswear and if the talent seen last week is anything to go by, it’s about to get even more lit.
Sethu @ Twenty Model Manangement
Jae @ Twenty Model Management
Casey @ Twenty Model Management
Francois @ FanJam
Pierre @ Full Circle Model Management
Okechukwu @ Isis Models