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Original South Africana

by Jason Basson / 26.07.2011

Cape Town Fashion Week Part 1

Meet South Africa, an unfashionable pubescent youth in the full throngs of an identity crisis. Before the elections of ’94, South Africa did not exist. The term “South African”, then, simply referred to a member of one of several discordant cultures located in a single geographical space. But ’94 marked the birth of a new identity. A forced and theoretical intersection of cultures governed by a strict code of liberal policy. Only 17 years have passed and Like all angsty teenagers, South Africa is very hungry for fashion, but how “African” is South African fashion anyway? Can all the cultures that constitute South Africa be represented in a single vision of South African fashion? This year’s Cape Town Fashion Week promised a fresh vision of “South Africana”. And not just regurgitated styles from the European and American catwalks.

Day 1

In a rather haphazard state of mind, I decided to quit my job and join the African Fashion International news team as an intern. The point of exercise was to get a free comprehensive access to Cape Town Fashion Week. On my first tour of the CTICC, I decided to exploit my privileges by pretending to be occupied with serious tasks in the model changing area. To my pleasant surprise, I suddenly found myself wedged between two walls of chiseled man meat. It was then that I knew I had found my calling.

Shortly afterwards I was approached by a production coordinator by the name of Thabo. He was panicking about the two last shows of the day. For some undisclosed reason, a bunch of male models had gone missing (too much cocaine?). He asked me kindly if I would like to walk as a replacement. At this stage, I had no idea what I was getting myself into, so I agreed. In addition to writing for Mahala, AFI required at least seven perfectly edited articles a day: three to four catwalk reports, a couple of external event reports and some general articles for the AFI website. This meant that between helping with set up, attending shows, taking photos for Mahala and AFI, socializing with the media and then walking two runway shows, I was somehow going to have to magically squirt out a shit ton of writing.

Cape Town Fashion Week 2011

Modeling was a complete joke. I am two metres tall and struggle to fit into my own clothes most of the time. Contrary to popular belief, you can actually be too tall to model. I walked for Giovani, designed by popular Metro FM and “Mzansi’s number 1 knocksman” DJ Sbu, and Strato. Both labels are aimed at niche markets, and being the token white guy in the show, I think I stuck out like a blister on the end of someone’s dick. Another intern described me as “a zef wigga at a golf tournament”.

The day started with a rather uninspiring Foschini runway show, followed by drones of new designers. Every now and then the shows were punctuated by a ghastly song or dance performance that – in my opinion – took the whole “pro-Africa fashion from the streets up” thing a bit too seriously. However, some designers did stick out. My personal favorite was Hubré Wahl. A clear winner in my mind. Though her work was too progressive for Foschini, I believe she has a promising career ahead of her. It would have been nice to see a bigger collection, but unfortunately she was limited to just five looks: three men and two women.

I love menswear. It’s harder to make and much more conservative, which is why Hubré Wahl was so exciting. She broke several style conventions and wasn’t afraid to try new things. Of all the designers that showed, her work was the most innovative. She had a clear fondness for leather belt straps and large cargo pockets which, when coupled with her veldskoene, lent every look a sort of pastoral nostalgia that was strangely soothing. Her color palette was soft and playful. She used a lot of texture and layering which, in my opinion, is always exciting. She played with asymmetric lines and unusual fabric weighting, giving each garment a bizarre, but wholesome feel.

Cape Town Fashion Week 2011

On the whole, her clothes were well balanced and perfectly styled. She was able to stay this side of pastiche and present a conceptual and jovial collection. I was particularly fond of her men’s boleros. I can’t wait to get one. Hubré, if you’re reading this… Mahala!

At the end of the day, once all the writing and uploading was complete, I had about 2 hours to go home, sleep, shower and change and return for another day at Cape Town Fashion Week.

Day 2

The day started in chaos. We were already way past our first set of deadlines. By the time we caught up, the first show was about to begin.

The day started with “Tart”, brainchild of designer Cari Stephenson. I was seated second to front row, which meant I received a complementary gift bag containing some grape-coloured mesh panties that I am wearing as I write this. Her collection was possibly one of the most exhilarating of the day. Sticking with her signature fabric choice of viscose lycra, she created several full length dresses with long dramatic hemlines. She stuck to a gem tone colour palette with the occasional “in-house” print: new wave plaid shot out of a laser gun.

Next was Michelle Ludek. Considering that Cari Stephenson and Michelle are archrivals, it was quite strange seeing them show together. Ludek’s collection was utterly breathtaking. She collaborated with artist Jillian Waldek to create unique prints that were sort of reminiscent of a Monet painting. Combined with her signature bias cut and clean silhouettes, every garment flowed exquisitely.

Inspired by a recent trip to Mozambique, Ludek used a great deal of rope work in the form of wedge heels and accesories.

The third show was Jenny Le Roux of Habits. I have always thought of Jenny as more of a businesswoman than designer. Her clothes are usually simple and sellable, opting for wearable silhouettes that one might even find in a Pep store. This time, however, she took some risks. She did some colour blocking and experimented with new prints that took her design aesthetic to a whole new level.

Gavin Rajah, on the other hand, was a massive disappointment. His work is always flawlessly finished and he pays great attention to hand beading and appliqué, but this time his work and the show was underwhelming. With a stifling collection of ’87 looks set to the Annie Lennox song “17 Again”, I couldn’t help wondering how I could get the last 17 minutes of my life back.

Cape Town Fashion Week 2011

There were great single elements within the show. His bags, shoes and accessories were all fantastic. His suits, in particular, were quite powerful. However, as a whole, the collection lacked continuity and was completely masturbatory. He drew some vague comparisons between Africa and India by referencing the Sahara and Gobi deserts, but the message was too diluted to make sense.

To end the night, Abigail Betz put on a magnificent, yet utterly lacklustre show that wasn’t even designed for the event. I am a huge fan of her work, but this was total crap. The dresses didn’t fit well. The model’s struggled to walk. There was a great deal of puckering happening at the seams of her dresses. To boot, some of her designs and fabric choices were a little too similar to previous collections. Then to top it all off, she didn’t even attend her own show.

I spoke to Jackie Burger, editor of Elle magazine. She was clearly impressed by “Tart” and Michelle Ludek, adding only – and I quote – “it was a great start to Fashion Week’. The two women were irrefutably the best in show. I have unbridled respect and admiration for both Gavin Rajah and Abigail Betz, and so I look forward to their future collections with the hope that they can pull themselves together.

Cape Town Fashion Week 2011

*Read Part Two here.

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