An AFI and SAFW breakdown showcasing the best local fashion.
Words: Daniël Geldenhuys | Photography: Half & Halve
It’s been a whirlwind two weeks for local design. SA Fashion Week rolled over into a concurrent Condé Nast International Luxury Conference and AFI Cape Town Fashion Week. Major visitors included Suzy Menkes, Edward Enninful, Naomi Campbell, and the digital influencer (who loves wearing Thebe Magugu) @noonoouri. At the centre of it all were the local designers and their latest collections. The standout collections do so for their confidence and ability to tell intriguing and deeply personal stories that contribute to enriching our country (and continent)’s fashion narrative. It’s an exciting time for local design, and this is why.
Thebe Magugu’s ‘African Studies’ is a deeply personal collection – a translation of his childhood memories into sophisticated design details. “Masculine wide-leg pants with a side slit that reveals a silky, lace-trimmed pant-leg [is] reminiscent of the piles of slips my gran swore by,” Thebe explains on his Instagram. It’s the collection he presented to Anna Wintour and co as part of the journey that has made him an LVMH prize finalist and the current greatest global ambassador for South African fashion. All the hype and intellectualising never detracts from the beauty and desirability of the clothes – a mark of true talent.
In her strongest collection to date, Shana Morland cast a silk, satin, chiffon, organza and faux-fur spell over the audience. This grown-up fairy-tale (something along the lines of The Little Mermaid) is designed to reconnect young women to the more playful times in their lives. In this age of sharp suiting and hard streetwear, ‘pretty’ can be a hard sell, but Morland’s take is utterly convincing.
When it comes to giving the people what they want, Laduma is a pro. His signature Xhosa-print knitwear comes updated with chic design details like a gathered waistline or fur trim. This season his print jumps onto suits, socks, and a long puffer coat that will no doubt have fans swooning and foreign retailers itching to copy. The final exit, dubbed by this reporter as ‘Carrie Bradshaw wears Laduma’, sees his signature pattern deconstructed and layered across a mega maxi dress with enough presence to command any platform, local or global.
If the Kardashians were South African, they’d jump at the opportunity to wear Warrick Gautier’s immaculate vampy evening looks. A squad of embellished dresses, suits and duffel bags, the collection told a story of opulence, drama, and undeniable intrigue. The precision and attention to detail in construction pair perfectly with the collection’s unapologetic confidence.
The collection, titled Divine Femme, is about balancing the masculine and feminine within search of self-alignment. It was a refreshingly hued take on utility dressing, with the signature Selfi streetwear sensibility. In addition to matters of the self, designer Celeste Arendse keeps sustainability at the forefront of the brand, highlighting the 100% biodegradable linens and silks used to create the collection.
Ruff Tung is still the only brand that consciously promotes body positivity on the local runway. And though it might be tempting to continue to punt that aspect of their brand as the central narrative of their collections, designers Bridget Pickering and Ludwig Bausch are far too intelligent to rely on such a crutch. Titled Blue Blood in reference to the hue’s regal connotations, the collection is dedicated to the women the designers interact with on a daily basis and draw their inspiration from. It was a celebration from start to finish with dance-ready party looks paired with an infectious optimism rarely seen on the runway.
One of the few local designers with an
extensive archive to pull inspiration from, ALC did just that. A collection of
updated hits felt anything but retrospective. Every look was a head-to-toe
colour and fabric story, an effective way of delivering the brand’s signature (and
ever fascinating) mix of casual and avant-garde. The collection manifests a
styled serenity that felt modern and wonderfully effortless.
“I suppose it could be called a
quintessential Fassler fabulous collection,” said Fassler in a voice note the
day after her show. Having the opportunity to showcase at the AFI Gala dinner
for guests like Suzy Menkes, the team geared up to create their best
couture-level pieces. The collection, titled Untamed, was as vibrant, raw, and
glamorous as you’d expect. Menkes would later post two clips on her Instagram,
summing it up as “sustainable, ethical and desirable clothes.”
For a brand that’s only three years old,
the quality and elevated relatability of Wanda Lephoto’s Johannesburg-native
streetwear never fails to impress. The brand’s takes on classic shirting and
suiting stands out in the menswear crowd as unique and desirable. In an
election year, this is perhaps the only designer to directly reference
politics, a bold move that further goes to prove the designer’s unwavering
sense of identity.
Of course, there was many a blockbuster bridal moment, but this season Orapeleng Modutle Style Avenue played with some counter narratives as well. From lingerie to an avant-garde flower suit and a powder pink showgirl moment, these looks made one wonder if the designer might agree to do costumes for a Baz Luhrmann-type film. Talk about a visual feast.
In a documentary short film that opened the show, designer Mzukisi Mbane explained how he’d joke and say that his ancestors came to him in dreams and gave him the creative ideas you see manifested on the runway. This collection was a tribute to his heritage – a movingly personal and honest presentation that prompted a standing ovation from an ecstatic audience.
The idea of maturity is often shied away from in fashion – it’s not an easy concept to make feel fresh and desirable. Enter Stefania Morland with her super smooth signature sophisticated sensuality. Her new collection is a feast of colour and texture, served with bold attitude and unwavering poise. What’s her secret? Perhaps it’s the way in which these designs, each one a strong statement, never seem like they’re trying too hard.
There’s a special kind of excitement around new talent with a strong directive. Sindi Mbobo is the rightful winner of this year’s AFI Fastrack programme, an initiative that grooms and bolsters fashion school graduates with exceptional promise. Mbodo’s debut runway outing felt current, convincing, and commercial. Watch this space.