Things of beauty: Missibaba bags

The leather look: Bags from the Missibaba range.

The leather look: Bags from the Missibaba range.

Her world is a realm populated with wild horses, drawings of blue people with cut-off arms, a modern alchemist painting houses in an improbable mélange of colours, scribbled papers with inspiring curiosities and the warm smell of tanned hides clasping the nose.

The carefree creative chaos floating around Townsend is enthusing, but so is her instinctive understanding of fashion, obliviousness to the current trends, and an incredible lightness of being that translates into bags with vibrant colours, astounding patterns and detailing.

She studied at the London College of Fashion and came back to South Africa two years later, feeling that the city of London was crippling her creativity.

“It was as if there wouldn’t be any place for a little me. Here, there’s room for me to be creative.”

Missibaba, named after Townsend’s childhood nickname, was born in Cape Town in 2005. The range is handmade by the local crafts­people who work at the Woodstock studio and in the township of Kayamandi.

Leather is at the heart of the collections, a material Townsend prizes because of its suppleness and the way it ages. The passage of time brings a patina and a lure usually attached to things that last forever.

The durability of the bags goes against today’s fast fashion and the obnoxious ready-to-throw-away ranges. One buys a Missibaba bag for a lifetime, or so hopes Townsend, who would also prefer to work with organic leather and take the eco-thoughts slightly further. Unfortunately, local leather suppliers are few and the choice of skins limited.

Missibaba has its own shop on Bree Street in Cape Town, a space shared with jewellery-maker Kirsten Goss. The store looks like an enchanted forest: the bags hang as if falling from the branches of fantasy trees. The collections are dubbed “I See the Sea and the Sea Sees Me” or “Jungle Fever”, with bags made of patches of colourful leather like the scales of exotic fishes, a “Buckaroo” satchel with mustang trim straight from a western, or delicate hand-painted clutches.

“I’m some kind of conductor. I’m gathering things all the time. I see patterns everywhere, that’s how my brain works. I pick colours, whatever I see, whatever is in my environment, a lot of the time unconsciously. And then I come into that dreamy state where the brain seems to switch off and everything comes through and makes sense. I don’t force it. When that happens, I write it down. And then we will transpose it into a bag.”

Missibaba bags seem to sing the lyrics of a Carole King song: “My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue, an everlasting vision of the ever-changing view …”




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