Fashion fever on the streets of Jozi

2011-01-21 14:22

The city that never sleeps. The place of broken dreams. The home of the go-getters. Voted Africa’s most cosmopolitan city, Joburg has long been a second home to many migrant workers looking to hit the big time.

The shining promise of the good life has made the city, especially its streets, what it is today – a melting pot of cultures.
The street corners are filled with hawkers selling their wares, while the nearby taxi ranks have created a culture of their own.

These are the places and people that Joburg Fashion Week Autumn/Winter 2011 will be paying homage to.

For the four-day event (February 15 to 19), the city centre will be awash with fashionistas rubbing shoulders with the array of people who give the city its unique flavour.

Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, the head of African Fashion International (AFI), says: “This year, we have looked to the city for inspiration and our selected designers will showcase their collections at iconic venues throughout the city – from the Bus Factory in Newtown to the Joburg Art Gallery and the Nelson Mandela Bridge. Inner-city Joburg will be infused with fashion fever.”

The Joburg Development Agency (JDA) and the Joburg Tourism Agency recently jumped on board as partners of this event.

JDA boss Thanduxolo Mendrew says: “London Fashion Week alone is worth £30 million (R337 million) annually to the London economy, while New York Fashion Week brings in $770 million (R5.4 billion). This gives one an idea of the importance of the contribution of the respective fashion weeks to the economy through exports, job creation, skills development and tourism.”

AFI’s Paul Leisegang is the man tasked with bringing to fruition the visions of all the partners – from promoting established and up-and-coming fashion talent, to inspiring both local and international consumers to get excited about the city.

“I believe that when a new leader and a new team begin, they must strive to come up with fresh ideas. So, when our former headline sponsor couldn’t continue with the partnership, we realised it was an opportunity to revamp the entire event and do it the way we want to do it.”

Leisegang then gathered his new team to bounce ideas around to turn the show into a uniquely African spectacle.

That’s when he realised he needed the expertise of internationally acclaimed show producer Jan Malan.

After three days, Malan returned with an idea and a presentation to host the fashion show in the city centre. According to Leisegang, half his team was in favour while the other was sceptical from a safety and logistics point of view.

“It seemed like a really difficult ­exercise, especially coming from the easy set-up of the Sandton Convention Centre, where people just come, watch the show and leave,” he says.

Ultimately, Leisegang decided to take up Malan’s idea. “Everyone involved in Fashion Week are actors and extras on a movie set. We will set it up in such a way that we tell a story about the city. This story should place the audience uniquely in Joburg – no matter which part of the world they are in.”

He adds that if packaged correctly, AFI and the city will be able to successfully sell the fashion images to the world.

“So far, all people have been seeing are ramp pictures and not a story. It could be anywhere in the world. We needed something that says this is unquestionably Joburg, so contextualising our fashion industry in our iconic spaces gives this event a more local feel,” says Leisegang.

Malan’s assignment is to make sure that the event is staged without a hitch. He sounds confident that he can pull it off.
“Having staged productions in more than 17 countries all over the world, we have the ­experience, but above all we have the passion. We believe in Joburg and we believe in what we want to achieve.”

The production team scouted the city for locations and narrowed them down, factoring in height, lighting, seating arrangements, ease of production and other elements.

“We presented the venues to the designers and explained to them the practicality and size of each venue. They chose their best locations, which was eventually narrowed down to four,” says Leisegang.

Thereafter, the only issue the ­company was left to solve was how to get the fashionable crowd to downtown Joburg while making them feel safe enough to enjoy shows in the middle of the night – especially in light of the new survey results by the South African Institute of Race Relations, which found that the Joburg city centre had the highest rates of aggravated and business ­robberies.

With this in mind, AFI presented its plan to the city and requested to use the Bus Rapid Transit system to move the 600 to 700 fashion spectators expected every night between venues.

“They agreed and told us it was an easy enough task to conduct after they managed to move the entire world during the soccer World Cup,” he quips. From then on, the City of Joburg, the municipality, the police and Joburg City Power all embraced the fashion event.

“They assured us that for added safety during the event, there would be CCTV cameras that would be linked directly to police stations at all times. They won’t interfere with the fun, but they will be visible so that guests can feel safe.”

This idea of a downtown fashion show is not unique. South African Fashion Week, AFI’s rival, has long been staging its event at various downtown venues, such as Museum Africa and Turbine Hall in Newtown, the Old Synagogue in Hillbrow and, most recently, Arts on Main on Main Street in the city centre.

Malan adds: “This idea also happens in cities such as London, Paris and New York. Considering all the ­effort that went into the regeneration of the inner city by the JDA and forward-thinking entrepreneurs, it is only fitting for Fashion Week to ­honour and assist their efforts by showcasing its talented fashion designers in the inner city, and opening the eyes of creatives and fashion ­cognoscenti.”

What stands out about AFI’s fashion event is that it was ambitious enough to request the use of the iconic R38 million Nelson Mandela Bridge.

This is no small task since the last time the bridge was closed for a “party” was at its opening back in 2003. Since then, it has only been closed for a few hours to accommodate sporting events such as marathons and cycling competitions.

“Chances are we probably won’t ever be able to use the bridge again so, if the weather cooperates, the last day on the bridge is bound to be unforgettable,” says Leisegang.

The bridge will be closed for 24 hours from 5am on Saturday, February 19.

“We will only have so much time to set up, host the show, the afterparty and pack up in time for the bridge to return to order the next day.”

Leisegang adds that for the closing night, all guests will sit on the highly sought-after front row seats, where the ramp models will do a one-way walk from one end of the bridge to the other.

“There are also a few more surprises which I can’t reveal.

“The plans are in place, we merely need to execute it.

“Watch this space. We will be breaking a few records.

“You certainly need hair on your teeth to deal with all the logistics and the personalities,” says Malan.

However, he promises “an amazing journey that will open eyes to what the Joburg inner city has to offer. Every show will be an individual, unique presentation, reflecting the ­diversity of the people of Joburg. We want to show people what this city is really about and at the same time showcase the designers’ collections in the best light.”

If Malan, Leisegang and the rest of the team succeed, they will bring Joburg a step closer to becoming one of the emerging fashion capitals of the world.

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