The Art of Being Fashionableby Layla Leiman / Images by Brett Rubin / 19.04.2013
There isn’t much to say about SA Fashion Week that hasn’t already been tweeted, as it happened. Over the course of the three day event, the Twittersphere was a-chatter with @ and #, gibberish code for “I’m here, you aren’t, and this proves it”. But in these instantaneous replies, where is the time to internalise what has been seen and the space to formulate a response? But maybe I’m just slow and fashion people really are able to process in real-time. So what follows is my response to the four collections, out of the 35-odd shows, that left a lasting impression. These shows stood out as being conceptual, aesthetically astute and offering something original within the fashion medium.
Clive Rundle’s show took the form of an installation, where viewers were invited in to the intimate Take Two venue to partake in a visual ‘experiment’, which used the Rorschach Test as metaphor to explored the subjectivity of “seeing”. The audio narrative repeated the question “What do you see?” in dialogue with a monochromatic collection of ink-washed prints and silver netted veils. Live photographs of the models were projected in slight time-laps, creating a second visual layer. These elements worked together to playfully subverted interpretation, making the viewer the ironic subject – a kind of practical joke on the predominantly media audience.
With the majority of tickets to shows being allocated to the media, the question begs asking: who is Fashion Week put on for, and to what imagined and intended effect? If the public’s access is primarily mediated through second-hand tweets and on-the-go blog posts, what kind of real engagement can occur? With designers now having to compete with international retail giants like Top Shop and Zara which offer (semi) affordable on-trend fashion, it’s more important than ever to support and promote interest in local design aesthetics. Unfortunately however, the ‘fashion people’ who claimed all these media passes seemed more preoccupied with their own presence at the event than their role in making meaning of it. This is a failure of the industry to support its designers and contribute towards creating wider interest and appreciation of South African fashion design.
The designers whom this article features all possess a mastery of their craft which deserves celebrating. Their collections went beyond fashion-as-commodity and towards fashion-as-art form, exploring pertinent local thematics.
The Black Coffee show in the main venue, entitled ‘Imprint’, was an aesthetically acute ode to craftsmanship. The collection took its inspiration from traditional Congolese textiles, transforming the bold patterns into careful geometric juxtapositions of negative and positive interplay. Each garment was constructed of custom fabric, with sheer mesh as the base onto which vinyl, suede, and leather was appliquéd. The collection was texturally sumptuous, innately feminine and offered a contemporary take on African craft that was neither clichéd nor obvious.
Anmari Honiball was the winner of the Lufthansa First Best Collection prize. Her collection stood out from the other entrants with its abstract interpretation of the spring/summer theme. Inspired by moths that come out at this time of year, her collection explored the delicacy and transience of these creatures. Simplicity and detail were balanced perfectly. Layers of collaged iridescent mesh resembled areal landscapes, the view seen by moths in flight, and soon to be hers as she flies to Germany to show in Berlin Fashion Week.
Tiaan Nagel’s minimalist installation in the Take Two venue was reminiscent of a Japanese Ikebana arrangement, both in influence and attention to detail. The models were precisely positioned in static tableaux around a wicker centrepiece where each look became sculptural when viewed from different angles. Volume and line worked together to create meticulously crafted silhouettes that hinted at a kind of African futurism. The collection stood boldly apart from trends, exploring its own identities, and showing a designer confident in his aesthetic and practice.
* All images © Brett Rubin