Catwalk art attack

2010-03-19 12:29

AT

EVERY fashion week, designers exhibit one or two items they call show-

­stoppers. These garments are usually works of art guaranteed to have the crowd

­going “aaah!”, but are completely impractical off the ramp.

Recent

times have seen a shift in this trend, with the international stage ­embracing

the cleaner lines of prét-à-porter over OTT haute couture.

The

economic downturn and consumer dissatisfaction about outlandish and impractical

designs have been blamed for this fashion shift.

Case

in point: during her reign as Miss South Africa, Tansey Coetzee wore a

high-couture David Tlale creation to the South African ­Music Awards. The

backlash she ­received for the blue monstrosity haunts her to this day. The

dress was the same showstopper that received nods of approval from fashion

fundis at Fashion Week.

So

where should designers draw the line between constructing garments that satisfy

arty fashion gurus and fashion buyers looking to get some ready-to-wear stock

into their boutiques?

This

year the director of SA Fashion Week, Lucilla Booyzen, says they have invited 40

independent retailers to scrutinise each of the collections and interact

directly with the designers at the event.

So,

in effect, there is more pressure on the designers to impress the buyers in

hopes that their collections will be stocked by a retail store or boutique.

According

to Gina Waldman of the fashion label Two, “avant garde” is a modernist term.

“The term is actually really outdated. In these times, things are invented from

others. Our designs come from the media, fashion, cultural situations, who we

are, who buys our clothes. So avant garde is not a term that would come into

play in Two designs.”

True

enough, Two is known for its simple – some say boring – designs. Their current

collection is inspired by “the prevailing economic climate where there is a

deliberate application of paring down, thrift and clear, clean lines.”

This

is in stark contrast to fashion maverick Clive Rundle who recently showed his

“Marie Antoinette returns to Paris after attending a lesbian wedding in Africa”

collection to an appreciative audience at the Arise l’Afrique-à-porter Fall

2010/2011 in Paris.

His

themes are usually as eccentric as his collections. The current one is called “A

Lesbian Wedding with an Italian grandmother’s washing instruction

­attached”.

His

clothes have been described by some as architecture in motion, while others say

they embrace chaos. The man behind the “chaos”, Rundle, maintains that if one is

exhibiting their designs, they need to make sure it’s worth the effort.

Rundle

believes most designers feel under pressure to produce commercially applicable

items.

“Buyers

collect ­designs at fashion weeks to copy them for their stores. If I design a

simple dress, a buyer can just copy it and sell it at a fraction of the price

and I lose out. Make items that are difficult to replicate,” he says.

Sandhya

Lalloo, a lecturer at the University of Johannesburg’s fashion ­department,

believes ­designers are forced to go commercial to live off their trade. “It’s a

pity because the calibre of students we get at the university dream of becoming

the next Issey Miyake and create the most avant garde clothing in the

industry.

“But

once they graduate, they learn there’s no platform for that,” she says.

Lalloo

suggests the industry create a platform where commercial and avant garde items

run parallel to each other so designers can show their creativity.

“After

all, what is the point of a fashion week? Is it to show designers’ creativity or

sell commercial clothes?” she asks.

Last

year’s Elle New Talent finalist, Anisa Mpungwe of Loin Cloth & Ashes, says

when she first started, she felt obliged to design the most outlandish garments

with intricate embellishments and stitching just to show what she could do. “I

was not even thinking along the profit lines. However, I’ve grown and it is time

to start thinking about what is good for my business,” she says.

However,

Waldman, whose earlier collections have included leggings, ­insists “the avant

gardist designer does not care what people wear. They usually have a narrow look

at what fashion is and make clothes for their own usually indulgent

selves.”

Popular

menswear designer Ephraim Molingoana straddles the fence, saying he would rather

design unique but wearable clothes. “When I introduce interesting elements to a

garment, a man’s man like Robert Marawa has to say, ‘I want that’.”

Opinions

on the issue are as varied as designers’ collections. But think about it: what

would a Clive Rundle or David Tlale show be without drama?



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