New kids on the ramp take over the ramps

2012-11-03 08:20

Change is inevitable, especially in the fashion industry where new designers bring a sense of continuity. Mokgadi Seabi looks at new designers who conquered the ramp this year

With the curtain coming down on last week’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa, the whirlwind of fashion weeks on the local calendar came to an end.

As tedious as many might view the endless shows – from SA Fashion Week by Lucilla Booyzen to Africa Fashion International (AFI) by Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe – there’s always something new that can’t be ignored, thanks to the emerging talent in the fashion industry.

Late last month, AFI hosted the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa in Joburg and roped in designers from across the continent and beyond to showcase their work over four days.

Nigerian Ituen Basi – with her signature shredding on African print fabric, crocheting and mixed colours – was awarded the Designer of the Year: Africa.

Ghanaian-born, American-based designer Mimi Plange, who has gained patronage from US First Lady Michelle Obama, won Designer of the Year: International for her fashion-forward collection.

Local names like Gavin Rajah and Thula Sindi were on the lips of fashion critics, as well as Mozambique’s Taibo Bacar, who emerged as the week’s favourites.

While they and other established African designers stood out with their colourful collections, it’s always more interesting to observe emerging designers who are the custodians of the fashion industry’s future.

Between SA Fashion Week’s New Talent Competition and AFI’s Fastrack, there’s no shortage of newbies who can be relied on to be fearless enough to bring innovative designs to the catwalk.

Trend analyst and former fashion editor Dion Chang said: “The reality is that established designers are dampened by the reality of running a business and that’s why you’ll find that graduates will be the ones trying new things.”

He added that he rarely sees people who are still passionate about designing and cutting patterns; important elements of the design process. “There is no problem with the quality of training in South Africa. It’s only when people do it for the wrong reasons that things will not go well,” he said.

According to Ryan Ramkiliwan, the chief executive of the Cape Town Fashion Council who has worked with both fashion week hosts this year, there are some great new designers emerging.

“The training at the fashion schools is good. That’s why we see all these young designers that come out to design collections that are relevant, young, contemporary and wearable,” he said.

There are many fashion design schools in South Africa and while some graduates join the big retail stores as fashion buyers and stylists, there are a few that have emerged as promising stars for the local industry’s future.

SA Fashion Week unearthed Skorzch by Zano Sithetho. He makes impeccable and well-tailored menswear, and walked away with the 2012 SA Fashion Week New Talent Search trophy.

This is a coup for the local industry, which is drowning in layers of womenswear designers, with only a handful dedicated solely to men.

Earlier this year, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg gave graduates a space to participate with the Fastrack slot, in which 12 young designers competed.

Kyra-Moon Halfpenny, Wetive Nkosi, Kim Gush and Shelley Botha were ultimately selected as the winners, and were given mentorship and business coaching.

Seven months down the line, Halfpenny, Nkosi and Gush came back with the results of their training at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa.

Halfpenny’s collection was heralded by many critics as one of the most original collections, which was inspired by Tokyo’s Harajuku style.

On the other end of the scale, Gush presented her masculine collection in stark black and made a lasting impression with masked models.

Ebony magazine’s style director, Marielee Bobo, who attended, said: “I really enjoyed how the collections are edgy and funky with the bright colour palettes on traditional fabrics with a modern take.”

Bobo’s sentiment was echoed by the Huffington Post’s style director, Julee Wilson, who said she saw a lot of potential in both the new and established designers. She said: “It’s quite different to think about African fashion when you’re in New York and when you’re here seeing what people wear on the streets and their reaction to their fashion.

“It brings a new perspective once you take all of those factors into account.”

Cape Town Fashion Council’s Ramkiliwan said: “So far, I have no complaints with the creativity of our designers. What we now have to focus on is building entrepreneurial and business skills.”

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