Lezanne Viviers and Daisie Jo Grobler are creating African geisha, punk couture and sustainable luxury at Leopard Frock
Words: Tommy Dennis | Photography: Andile Phewa
Describing Marianne Fassler's label Leopard Frock is an effort in how many seemingly contradictory or unrelated terms you can mash together. African geisha with an understated elegance? Punk couture? Recycled luxury? If anything, it underscores the collective vision behind the brand and just how out of the ordinary it is.
Headed up by the doyen herself, the brand is run from a repurposed mansion in Saxonwold, with all the production done in-house by a female dominated workforce that's an intriguing mix of ages. Working with the team of 30 are two women bringing something new to the storied brand: 29-year-old Lezanne Viviers and Daisie Jo Grobler, who is 23.
Lezanne the Creative Director is one long smile throughout our visit, her height when coupled with a penchant for kimonos and Dr Martens giving her an appearance not dissimilar to a punk geisha. Unlike many transplants from the Western Cape, who seem to view Johannesburg as Gotham with the grit and danger of the city seemingly always on edge, Lezanne is inspired by the city and one of the first things she asks me, with the wide-eyed curiosity of a Scandinavian tourist, is what I love most about Johannesburg. She never mentions a certain mountain or favourite restaurants and the only reference to her former home is that she only goes back to visit her parents. The wealth of inspiration that Johannesburg provides is something she is always tapping into, finding new wonders in the city's diversity and pulsating energy.
"As Capetonian, and I hesitate to call myself that since I don't live there anymore, we're so oblivious to the rest of the country. Johannesburg gives you a much better sense of the country. I like the diversity and how there are so many different communities, all thriving. I like the work hard play hard aspect, which is a cliché, but I really enjoy it."
It's a curiosity that isn't only directed to Joburg but the world at large. Like most fashion people she loves Japan, and whilst she admires the country's sublime attention to craft, her eye is always looking for something unseen. So rather than make a collection about Japan and noragis and silk, she's found her inspiration in China. And not just Imperial China with its dragons and porcelain, but in the dyslexic futurism of a constantly growing and source of all things fake, modern China. It's very 2018, with it's high/low approach to culture, but done with the service of a luxury brand.
An aspect of luxury brands that have been under scrutiny was the destruction of unsold product, specifically how Burberry simply burns what they do not sell. Leopard Frock finds a way to make use of everything. The maximalist appearance of the items and the eye-watering prices do not tell the full story of a brand that keeps and reuses every single cutting or strip of fabric. They have an entire room dedicated to housing and maintaining their offcuts and unused material. In a way, it flies against not only the principles of fast-fashion but also quietly subverts the rules of luxury.
In all of this, Lezanne has found a soul mate of sorts in Daisie Jo Grobler, who in Lezanne's words is her "second pair of eyes".
Whereas Lezanne is bubbly and enveloping with her energy, Daisie Jo is shy and laser focused. 20 minutes after we were introduced she is still at the exact same place, bent over the cutting board and ignoring the flurry of conversation around her. While even Marianne Fassler herself shouts out from a passage "Make it blue! Like your apron!" Daisie Jo's is either monosyllabic or extremely concise. Which is curious, especially when juxtaposed against her very loud art. The accomplished artist works mainly in collages and has contributed work to a variety of platforms, and says that it's primarily a way for her to deal with all the noise generated by the internet.
"My collages are more my way of sorting through social media and life, which is a visual overload. The work we do here is kinda collaging, stitching together different fabrics and items. It still goes back to the brand's ethos, it's still very African and inspired by craft. It's a really inspiring place to be around. We're all passionate about the same things but see things differently."
She finds the craft side of things far more interesting than the fashion. Her grandmother was into embroidery and her rural upbringing has in a way made her more interested in the act of making things. "I've always been more drawn to the craft, the textiles side of it, more than the fashion."
The creative relationship that Lezanne and Daisie Jo share is something they're both very keen to not just apply to themselves but to the entire team. Lezanne mentions how the entire studio is an ode to spontaneity, with its open plan design and where everyone has a voice and is entitled to their opinion.
"With a studio that is always upside down, there is always spontaneous magic happening. Everyone here has more than one skill and can apply that to more than one thing."
Lezanne shows off a dress, which in a way encapsulates not only the label but herself, Daisie Jo and the entire team. Primarily stitched together using a patchwork of loud African fabrics like shweshwe, there's exposed stitching and loose-hanging threads dangling, but it is beautiful and graceful at the same time. Lezanne describes the whole setup at a potjiekos. A world first I think, a luxury potjiekos.