/ 1 June 2008

Where the bubble-skirt is queen

While queuing to see the Darkie show at this year’s Cape Town Fashion Week, a designer friend told me a story about her early years as an aspirant fashionista. Having started her label with barely a bean to rub together, she signed up with a modelling agency to keep her small business in elastic and thread. So when she got a call offering R1 500 for a day’s work she wasn’t fazed that it involved a touch of toplessness.

‘I imagined something tasteful, perhaps me lying on a beach with soft lighting and something draped over me, with maybe just a bit of my chest showing. I knew there would be a whole lot of people on the shoot, so I didn’t think it would be such a big deal,” she said. ‘Next thing I know, I’m standing on the corner of Wale and Burg streets [Cape Town] wearing a nappy and titty tape (literally a little dab of something on my nipples), marching up and down the street with this group of grown women, all in nappies.”

By lunchtime her humiliation was so great that the friend — wearing boots, a T-shirt and the oversized pad of towelling — staged an outraged walk-out of exactly three models. She was, regardless, still delighted when she got paid for the job, though it was her last foray into modelling.

Although not every young designer has to go to such drastic lengths to finance their range, it is nonetheless encouraging to see how certain promising designers — having weathered the start-up phase of their labels — are now receiving long-deserved recognition and support. Most notable at this year’s Cape Town Fashion Week were the C’est Couture collective of David Tlale, Fundudzi (Craig Jacobs), Thabani Mavundla and Thula Sindi, who showed their collections fresh from Paris Fashion Week. The foursome received four months of mentorship under couturier Gavin Rajah in preparation for their sponsored trip to the world’s fashion capital for their international debut.

The results of this awesome experience were readily evident. Each member of the collective did South Africa proud with their distinctive takes on elegant tailoring that coupled a hint of African influence with the sophistication of global chic. Mavundla with his fitting cream garments featuring quirky shocks of red; Jacobs with his characteristic feminine drapes and free-spirited styling; Tlale with his unique take on unpretentious couture; and Sindi’s gentle and nostalgic garb.

A further boost to designers was that this year’s fashion week was run in association with the newly formed Cape Town Fashion Council, which hosted a brainstorming seminar to find out the key challenges facing fashion entrepreneurs and how the council can best represent and support these businesses. The initiative is still very much in its early stages but, so far, its intentions are admirable.

The main shindig was, of course, Rajah’s Couture Paris show, where it was announced that he had just been made a Unicef ambassador. The slide presentation that followed, reeling off statistics about how many children would be raped, abandoned or die in the hour it took to present the show, stood in peculiar contrast to the hordes of rich, perfumed glitterati who came to see and be seen at the event. But it possibly got some reaching deep into their pockets. What followed was a bouquet of pretty, pouting little girls in tulle flounces, who flanked the entrance to the ramp, while the models paraded Rajah’s sophisticated stream of stylish items.

The second portion of the show went to guest Parisian designer Emanuel Ungaro, whose team showed his range from Paris Fashion Week. The free spirit of spring was evident in his bright, very-little-to-them summer dresses in acid colours and florals.

While there was an impressive range of designers on show throughout the four days — from Gideon to Craig Port — two shows that stood out for me as being in keeping with the freshness of spring were Jenny le Roux’s Habits and Darkie. Acid greens, pinks and purples predominated in the Habits spring/summer collection, where the bubble skirt was still queen. But the show also included more sedate black and whites and silvers for evening wear.

Darkie’s collection, particularly the men’s range, was casual and fun and went a long way to prove that, as much as you might want to try and forget the Eighties, it is a style that refuses to die.