Practical fashion sans the flash

The models at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Johannesburg may not have had the same horsepower as those for which the German marque is famous, but they had similar pulling power when the event took place on the roof of Hyde Park Corner last weekend.

Notable South African designers showcased couture and ready-to-wear collections for winter 2012. Although it may seem late in the year to be showing collections for the impending chill, African Fashion International’s executive chairperson, Precious Moloi-Motsepe, said: “The pressure is on the designers to produce and sell, but this is a great challenge.

With people being able to live-stream the fashion shows, there is immediacy for the product as consumers want to buy immediately.

“There is no point for our designers to showcase now and only produce next year. By then people will have lost interest. Although we could do with giving the designers more leeway, we got it right with showing what’s going to be in store next. They see and buy now.”

Fashion as a business instead of an outlet for creativity
For many designers the motivation has shifted from expressing their creativity to creating a sustainable business while doing what they love. The emphasis has moved towards customers’ needs, brand development and exploring other areas of the industry such as education.

Couturier Gavin Rajah showcased 45 pieces in a collection titled “Anatomie d’une Rose”. This, his first local show after a three-year hiatus, represented a fading summer rose garden.

The immaculately tailored garments consisted of jackets paired with high-waisted pants and dresses in a palette of dusty pinks mixed with grey and cream. The collection, made using Sicilian silk, was simple and toned down.

“There is a new sense of luxury that is more restrained and not as flamboyant,” said Rajah. “People want to keep the flash down. The focus is on looking at fashion from an art and investment point of view: garments that you can keep and pass down.”

Locally, consumers are exerting more control over the fashion industry — and fashion events are no longer about presenting avant-garde clothing for limited wear. Moloi-Motsepe remembered the early days of African Fashion International when, she said, “the quality of the work on the catwalk was not really where it should have been. I’ve seen it evolve over the years. South African designers will now be able to compete more favourably internationally.”

Formal wear inspired by Russia’s past
C Squared menswear, designed by Wayne Govender, showcased a collection of formal wear themed “Russian Revolution”, inspired by that country’s history. The collection focused on double-breasted jackets and 100% cotton shirts paired with woven tailored pants in teal, blue and violet. Fabrics included luxe wools, leather and satin, with a mixture of stripes, checks and paisley.

“We wanted a collection that looked ‘swag’,” said Mark Gooding, head of the C Squared brand. “‘Swag’ has always been synonymous with ‘ghetto’, but when a newspaper called Prince William ‘swag’ it was given a new meaning.” The brand spent two months looking for South Africans who have #TOPSWAG. They used social media to run a competition and the winners were featured on the C Squared catwalk.

The collection by Spero Villioti was inspired by the Barbie doll. The models were accessorised in blonde wigs and leopard-print shoes. Miniskirts were paired with jackets in bright orange, pink and purple. Villioti used leather and zips to create a fun, playful collection. His attention to detail was displayed in an immaculate black dress made with strips of leather and a single pink ribbon at the back for colour.

Villioti has been in the fashion business for 25 years and he also owns a design school at Hyde Park shopping centre.

The partnership with Mercedes-Benz attracted a number of business people to the fashion week. With designers being exposed to this vital sector, it may have a trickle-down effect. “Designers need to make profit out of this,” said Moloi-Motsepe. “The aim is to have sustainable businesses so we can play an important role in our economy by creating jobs.”

Designers such as Thula Sindi enjoy creating ready-to-wear collections at affordable prices. Although his collection is available at selected Edgars stores, many designers are not as fortunate. The challenge for retailers is that designers produce small quantities and have to meet tight deadlines.

According to Moloi-Motsepe, African Fashion International is liaising with Gauteng’s MEC for economic development to allow manufacturers to step in to assist designers who are only able to produce small runs. This process should result in more retailers stocking local designers.
“It is fantastic to mentor designers and watch them grow,” said Moloi-Motsepe.

We followed Thula Sindi in the week leading up to the big night and went backstage with him at his fashion week show.
Watch the video at

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