Travel – Glamazons and good deeds

2014-06-24 12:00

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“It was basically a bunch of very fabulous, very wealthy fashionistas who got together to party and race across Europe to raise money for African projects,” says Lebo Mashile in her earthy twang just days after returning from the mother of all road trips.

In a Valentino-induced frenzy, Cash and Rocket is an annual high-fashion road trip that this year raised about R1.5?million to “send a brilliant kid to school” at Ridgeway, an independent private school in Makhado, Limpopo. Mashile was there as an ambassador for the school’s Sumbandila Scholarship Trust.

Driving with her in an Audi A6 two-door sports car was Leigh Bristow, the founder and headmistress of Ridgeway.

“It was a glam orgy of incessant, relentless beauty, fashion and money,” says Mashile. “My conscience was constantly thumping: why are you here? Why are you here? Why are you here? But I also know that glitz and glam bring the spotlight and that brings awareness.”

Day one

“Arriving in Venice, I felt like a princess in an opulent fairy tale in the most beautiful city in the world.”

But when the 70-odd fashionistas gathered for a photoshoot in front of their battalion of red luxury cars, Mashile shrank.

“What am I doing here? I felt like a short, fat person. These women are like skyscrapers and I’m a cat around their ankles. Then a former creative director for Valentino, a plus-size Italian old-money, said: ‘I love your style’, and I soon discovered plenty of people with power in fashion don’t look like models. It was affirming for me.”

That night, Valentino issued handmade masks and the group “partied like rock stars” on the roof of the hotel.

Day two

“You try getting 70 fashionistas with all their luggage into boats. Nightmare.”

As the road trip got under way, Mashile was delighted by the simple, flavourful Italian food, and surprised by the robust traffic.

“Gypsies at the windows, congestion. One car was broken into. You feel the bump and grind of the city. It’s like a bit of the Third World in Europe. This, to me, was another affirmation.”

Crisscrossing the French and Italian Alps, she was struck by the ancient buildings.

“If our history was alive in front of us like this we would carry ourselves in a different way?...?In Paris, I found very few women had Botox. Older is stylish like old buildings. The idea that something can become more beautiful with age – that age is sexy.”

The next epiphany happened that night at their luxe Geneva hotel on the lake at a “leather but classy” themed party.

“Jewellery designer Bettony Vernon spoke about sex, sexuality, feminism, sex toys and art?...?She makes sex toys that double as oversize jewellery. When you’re wearing a whip as a neckpiece, people don’t even know it’s a sex toy?...?She lit a spark in the room.

“Our sexuality is a vital part of us. Porn is everywhere on the internet, sex is used to sell everything but why don’t we talk about sex and pleasure in feminist terms?”

Day three

“In the past, I’ve battled with the French towns we passed that were built off the slave trade. This time it was, I am part of the slave problem, this is my history too.”

Another party, in Reims, at the headquarters of Veuve Clicquot.

“Veuve was a sponsor. We had champagne coming out the wazoo for days but were breathalysed every morning before driving.”

At the Valentino headquarters in Paris that night “I got a lot of style love for my doek and African look?...?Valentino’s new collections contain kaftans, rich colours, a deep Third World sensibility. Everyone in Europe is referencing us. The editor of Vogue Italia even said it. But what do we get credit for? Do we get money for it? Anyhoo.”

Still, Mashile admits she loved the nice things all around her.

“When I finally made peace with my inner glamazon, I was very much at home in the opulence and beauty.”

Day four

“Paris cries a little as we leave in the rain,” says the poet, who was thrilled by taking the undersea train to London for the first time.

That night, at the Natural History Museum, an all-white party was lit in purple. “There were five billionaires in the room and the big auction was held. That’s where Sumbandila made its real money. Each charity got a chance to speak.

“Africa is often seen as a nebulous begging bowl. But Leigh stood up and said: ‘This is not a charity where you solve Africa’s problems; this is investing in people who will solve their own problems.’

“Leigh talked about how solutions lie in the minds and hearts of young children who are brilliant. We are here to make money to amplify that brilliance.”

Visit sumbandila.org for more information

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