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Yolanda Mdzeke & Katlego Mkhwanazi
23 Jul 2015 12:49
Entrepreneur Vanessa Gounden believes the South African fashion industry has a wealth of unique talent in South Africa.
Coinciding with her 50th birthday celebration, entrepreneur Vanessa Gounden
launched the Vanessa G fashion label in London in 2011 – a luxury womenswear
with her at the helm as creative director.
Now it’s a month and 20 days since the doors of Vanessa G’s
flagship store opened on Conduit Street in London on June 3.
the daring tag-line “to be worn with attitude”, the label has already been worn
by top international models such as Poppy Delevigne, Jade Jagger, Yasmin le Bon
and Natalia Vodianova and has showcased at several London and New York Fashion
Weeks, with Gounden promising to showcase at SA Fashion Week in 2016.
fashion line is epitomised by bold prints and colours, and 3D layering with
special focus on the incorporation of art into fashion, infusing the two to
create original pieces with innovative combinations in fabric and textures –
what she calls “wearable art”.
to the South African designer, her
brand is targeted at the independent, free-spirited, confident and adventurous
woman who has an appreciation for arts and fashion.
Vanessa G line includes cocktail dresses, coats, jackets, skirts, trousers, leggings
and shirts with a price range of £2500 to £250.
“The pricing gives credence to the handcrafted luxury
and skills involved in the construction thereof,” Gounden told the
Mail & Guardian via email in early
label is also available at D’ore stores in Sandton City (Johannesburg) and
Cavendish (Cape Town) and online.
Durban-born designer is also renowned for being one of South Africa’s most
successful mining magnates – for her business savvy and for the role she played
in South Africa’s political landscape. She began her career as part of former
South African president, Nelson Mandela’s administration in 1994 and also
worked with Mandela’s successor, Thabo
Mbeki, as manager of the human resources for the National Intelligence Agency.
In 2003, she and husband Dr Sivi Gounden started the multi-divisional and
family-owned HolGoun Investment Holdings.
A business initially founded in
platinum mining, has now expanded to include entertainment, security,
pharmaceuticals and recently fashion.
Sivi, who has a doctrate in engineering,
made the headlines in 2010 over a row between his company, platinum mining giant Lonmin and South
Africa’s Department of Mineral Resources (DMYou have came a long way as an entrepreneur.
The M&G spoke to Gounden about her
journey as an entrepreneur, her plans for the fashion line and the current local
How have you reinvented yourself over the years? I would not call it a process of reinvention – I see
it more as evolving.
I do not see a difference between fashion and entrepreneurship because the fashion industry over decades has proven to be a
very lucrative businesses. The principles are the same, high risk –high
rewards. In order for design houses to be successful, they need to be
underpinned by sound business principles. There has to be a business rationale
even during the design processes.
Which market do
you aim to cater for with the Vanessa G fashion line?
The Vanessa Gounden woman is someone who embraces the
world in a freethinking and liberated manner; she is vibrant, independent and
adventurous but appreciates the luxury and sophistication of art and beauty.
She is conscious of the world around her but more importantly she is conscious
of her own beauty and capabilities.
Why was London
the ideal city to open your overseas flagship store?
As a global citizen and an extensive traveller, I have
over the years developed a strong bond with London and in particular with the
arts and fashion. I choose for the label to be a London-based brand because I
see London as a globally competitive destination for fashion and art. Its
rich diversity and quirky eccentrics make it the fashion hub of business and
inspiration. It was a strategic business decision to have an international
label here and while I love the creative energy of London I also spend a lot
of time here on other businesses.
I believe that
in order to make a mark in the industry, one needs to compete with the best in
How is the store
doing so far?
The store has been very well received, which is
extremely encouraging. The feedback from the locals, tourists, media,
neighbouring shops and customers has been amazing.
People have really taken to the store and are
intrigued by the stories behind my collections. They love the refreshing
approach to displaying garments and appreciate the craftsmanship and attention
to detail. Encapsulating art and fashion within a retail concept was
challenging yet very rewarding. My interior designers and I had spent many long
hours conceptualizing the look and feel and I am very happy that it is a very
innovative and unique design concept.
What were some
of the challenges that you faced with opening the store in London?
Firstly, the major challenge was finding the store in
the right location. We were fortunate to be at the right place in the right
time and fulfilled all the criteria that the landlord and the lawyers required.
Noting that the spaces in London for stores are a challenge, we had to be very
creative in developing a unique bespoke shopping experience.
How do you keep
the label uniquely African?
Every collection is uniquely African, as it centres
around a story inspired from my rich life experience in Africa. While the collections are aligned to the Fashion calendar globally, each collection
is inspired by a topical issue close to my heart that is communicated through
the creative, bold and artistic prints that enables dialogue hence the concept
of wearable art.
Each collection tells a story, which is proudly South African. For
example, my latest SS15 collection is called
My Africa and is inspired by the beauty and diversity of the
African continent. One of the stories/prints is the
Iselwa print, which is an isiXhosa word meaning calabash/pots – a
symbol of the African continent. It embodies the melting pot of the African
traditions across all cultures, religions and languages. The calabash
also represents the philosophy of living in harmony with nature.
How does South
African fashion for women differ from
that of England?
Women in SA, while being fashion conscious, tend to
lean towards a more conservative style of dressing.
What are your thoughts on South African designers – is
there any designers whose work you particularly like?
I am inspired by many artists and creative minds – we
have a wealth of unique talent in South Africa. I admire the work of emerging
South African designer Thula Sindi for his timeless elegant pieces.
Where do you see
the Vanessa Gounden brand in five
In five years’ time, I plan to have opened more Vanessa
Gounden flagship stores globally as part of the international roll-out
*Correction: The headline from the previous version of the story was SA designer Vanessa Gounden makes history with UK store but has since been updated to SA designer Vanessa Gounden opens store in the UK.
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