Feel the love

‘Love is all around,” Maya Prass tells me with an almost straight face when I visit her workshop as she prepares to show her latest collection at the Virgin Mobile Cape Town Fashion Week Spring/Summer 2008. All I can see are frantic workers stitching, cutting, draping and generally getting busy as one would expect a few days ahead of a big show. I can also see Stiaan Louw, fellow designer and joint occupant of this frenetic space, equally busy preparing for his show.

The theme of Prass’s new collection is love.
Her life right now is, in fact, all about love and weddings. As she began considering the theme of her summer show she was getting engaged. Making big commitments on a private and business level, she felt a need to express this experience. “We tell stories through our clothes,” she explains, “and this year is all about big steps forward with love and life I wanted to reflect that, and a bit of my history, through this collection.”

This is where a collection like hers begins. The theme comes first and initiates a long and intense period of research. This is time spent in libraries, on the internet and sifting through hundreds of books and photocopied pages of images. “I travel to fantastic places in my mind during this time,” she says. And it is not necessarily all garment references that she looks for. “I can draw from ceramics, textiles, crowds of people, anything really.”

Once the theme has been established and the research done, work begins on the fabrics. “This has become the biggest focus area for me,” she says.

“I can be a bit more wild and free in the fabric design. I can then make it up into a conventional jacket that will sell well in-store, but still have my voice and creative expression heard.” There are six fabric theme prints for the Maya Prass collection on show this year. They are all interwoven with the overarching theme of love, including her first-ever six-colour print.

All the prints work within a colour palette, moving from the strident tones of traditional Balkan headscarves and the discordant combination of black and red, through more natural colour groupings of flowers and fruit, into soft, sandy desert colours, culminating in the time-honoured wedding white.

Turning to her own ancestral references, the panelling frequently found in Eastern European clothing is present in her new collection. But so are the perennial favourite Maya Prass trousers that fit and flatter the women who wear them.

“I have to include trousers in every collection, because they are by far my biggest sellers,” Prass tells me. “I fundamentally make wearable clothing. I marry the concept with the commercial pressures to ensure that my collection is ultimately wearable and attractive to my clients. But it all looks like a Maya Prass garment, no matter if it is a jacket or an elaborate tiered dress.”

And as Prass stands there on Saturday night, her models lined up, styled and ready to go out on the catwalk, will she, I wonder, be feeling the love? “People don’t realise how much of myself I put into this,” she says, “and everyone here cares so much about producing wonderful clothing for people to enjoy. It is not just a show for us, it is an expression of our love for our clients.”

Two weeks after the show, and only days before getting married, Prass will be opening her first stand­alone store at Constantia Village. At a time when the economy is under significant pressure she sees this bold step as a calculated risk and a much-needed challenge. “I have been doing this for eight years and have accomplished almost all the goals I set myself,” she says. “I am really excited about having a direct link to the end-customer for the first time. I am also looking forward to the challenges that come with a move to higher production volumes and I have an eye on international expansion.”

With three major personal and business milestones looming in the next few weeks, Prass is surprisingly calm. But you can tell she is excited and there is a soupçon of nervous energy around.

She puts it all down to love.

A week of fashion
Stiaan Louw: Tribe

On the other side of the studio, Stiaan Louw is busy crafting his first spring/summer menswear collection.

“I had been making womenswear for a few years and had felt that it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to be doing.

“When I recently turned to menswear, it all came together with a fresh new energy and inspiration,” Louw says.

“I also found that there was a specific market for my clothes, and that these people were willing and able to get involved in the design process. I call them The Tribe, and my collection is really a creative collaboration with them, about them, and for them.”

He has drawn from the people and pop culture around him to inspire his latest collection, eschewing the trend forecasters that other designers rely on for reference. “I am not precious about my design. If one of the collaborators thinks that I should do something different, I will listen, consider and incorporate their feedback.

“The Tribe is totally inclusive. Anyone can be a part of it, men and women, as long as they buy into the aesthetic that we all work around,” he tells me.

Stiaan’s collection is in two parts—“summer days” is an all-white collection of clean and fresh daywear drawn loosely from Japanese street culture. The other half, “summer nights”, is an edgy, murky, club underworld of deviance and fetish in black and navy blue.

There are intricate leather belts, neckpieces and trusses that accessorise this part of the show, all supplied by another part of The Tribe, local handbag designer Chloe Townsend of Missibaba.

Using all natural fabrics in his collection, Stiaan designs with consideration for the people wearing his clothes. Fabric must be able to breathe and allow the person to walk around in the sun or dance the night away. He has also designed light-weight coats that they can be thrown straight into the washing machine.

It’s an organic collection, both in design and construction. Louw is sure to raise a few eyebrows among local fashionistas, but as long as his specific subculture is impressed, he will be happy.

Aside from Maya Prass and Stiaan Louw, other designers who have chosen the Virgin Mobile Cape Town Fashion Week to preview their Spring/Summer 08 collections to buyers, media and clients include Gavin Rajah, Rosenwerth, Hip Hop Clothing, Craig Port, Darkie and Black Coffee.

“I show my collections at Cape Town because it provides a great platform to show what we are about,” says Gabi Rosenwerth. Both Rosenwerth and Prass agree that this platform stimulates their creativity. “It’s an excellent marketing tool to inspire buyers and to ensure that my profile is kept high in the minds of the people who are stocking my garments,” says Prass.

The Virgin Mobile Cape Town Fashion Week takes place from August 13 to 16 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. For details visit www.africanfashion.com. For information, comment and images from the event visit //styleguidecapetown.blogspot.com

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