SA designer Vanessa Gounden opens store in the UK

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. 

With 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.

Gounden’s 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”.

‘Handcrafted luxury’
According 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. 
The 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 July.
The label is also available at D’ore stores in Sandton City (Johannesburg) and Cavendish (Cape Town) and online.

The 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 fashion landscape.

How have you reinvented yourself over the years?  
I would not call it a process of reinvention – I see it more as evolving. Fashion has always been a passion of mine since I was a little girl and watched my mother make my clothes. To go from being an entrepreneur into fashion is not as much of a transition as one might think.

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 the world.

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 years?
In five years’ time, I plan to have opened more Vanessa Gounden flagship stores globally as part of the international roll-out strategy.

*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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