Fashion weak

2014-03-30 14:00

Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg took place last week. SA Fashion Week takes place next week. But is two better than one? Lesley Mofokeng makes the case for one annual extravaganza

Just as you thought you had survived one, another rumbles in. Such is the life of fashion-fatigued Joburg fashionistas as they prepare for SA Fashion Week (SAFW) starting in Rosebank on Wednesday.

Last week it was the ups and downs of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg in larney Sandton. But the numbers don’t add up.

New York, home to more than 19?million people with over 800 languages spoken, has one fashion week.

London, home to more than 21?million people with over 300 languages spoken, has one fashion week.

Joburg, home to more than 6?million people, with over 11 languages spoken, has two fashion weeks.

And although we have the talent, the inspiration, colour and vibrancy we could still do with just one jamboree of fashion with all resources poured into it. But for years now, we have to hop and skip between the two fashion weeks that do not speak one language of fashion.

Nicholas Maweni is the spokesperson for African Fashion International, owners of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, which is headed by Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe.

He says: “This has been one of the best fashion weeks ever. Every show was fully booked and our ticket sales are the highest ever – it’s because of what we offered.

“We had a good focus on our development and support for emerging designers through the AFI Fastrack and AFI Next Generation, as well as The Intern by David Tlale who came up with fresh and cutting-edge designs.

“We mixed them with well-established designers such as Marianne Fassler, Abigail Betz and Fabiani and we had a special focus on menswear.”

Maweni adds that location was key. “The Sandton Convention Centre is easily accessible and there was no logistical nightmare for fashionistas.”

However, the shiny bare floors of the basement of the centre raised eyebrows among the well-heeled who are used to the higher floors of the venue. But Maweni insists this was not a cost-cutting exercise.

“It was deliberate. The place was bigger and gave us the industrial feel. We wanted to be on par with most other fashion weeks and it was closer to the parking.”

A few kilometres south in Rosebank, construction is at its peak as a giant marquee goes up in the parking lot of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. Lucilla Booyzen, founder of SAFW, now in its 17th year, has settled at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, home of SAFW for the past four years. She says this is an ideal location for the event.

“We love this venue because it is central. The media is right there and they don’t have to travel for miles. Plus, in this country, we have two cultures?–?the shopping centre and hotel cultures.

“Also, fashion fits well in a marquee?...?Whether you are in London, Berlin, Milan or New York, there is that incredible feeling of being in a marquee for fashion.”

It may be Joburg Fashion Week, but Maweni insists it is for every South African designer. The difference is that while in Joburg, designers only showcase autumn/winter, in Cape Town they parade spring/summer collections and Africa Fashion Week is for all seasons.

He says it was their strategy to align the fashion weeks with the two cities. On the other hand, SAFW is rooted in Joburg while catering for designers from across the country.

They have programmes outside the city like the 21 Steps to Retail in KwaZulu-Natal which focused on designers who have been in business for five years and longer and are still battling to get off the ground.

This spawned a new crop of designers such as Yadah Exclusive Designs, Claire McKenzie and Casey Jeanne who will share the ramp with established designers like Ephymol, Wandi, Ole, Shaldon, Clive Rundle, Lunar, Rubicon and Palse whom Maweni describes as “our pillars”.

When it comes to fashion fatigue, Maweni says it’s for the fashionista to decide.

“I’m not the one to say whether the market can handle another fashion week or not. The market should respond to that.

“Whenever we set a date, we ensure that it doesn’t clash with anything within the lifestyle space. You don’t want your event to interfere with the activities of other people.”

Booyzen admits that fatigue is a concern and says they release their dates in November.

“It is usually three months ahead and is based on the selling cycle of fashion. When there is fatigue, the designers are suffering because they won’t get the publicity they need. Luckily, we have 120 media confirmed for this week. The pie is too small to cut into various pieces and nobody can do a ‘fashion week’ because it is registered in my name. They would need to put it where it will not make damage.”

Booyzen says there is a positive vibe from the consumer on the eve of the 17th edition of her event.

“We have always had the talent and now we have the consumer. We have been growing towards this for the past four years. The designers are retailing and we deal with over 500 boutiques on our database. The popular Edgars Designer Capsule opens two new stores in addition to Melrose Arch and Sandton City soon. If there is no income stream for designers, then fashion week would have failed.

“This is what makes our fashion week different. Normally, fashion week doesn’t concern itself with the sales but we realised that for us to grow, nurture talent and turn it into a fashion business we needed to play a different role,” says Booyzen.

For the past 16 years through their Renault New Talent Search, they have unearthed talent that have become household names such as Black Coffee, David Tlale, Tiaan Nagel, Darkie and Thula Sindi.

Tlale was among those exposed to Paris Fashion Week with Sindi, Thabani Mavundla and Craig Jacobs when their collections were shown there.

This year, SAFW has the Lufthansa 1st Best Collections where new talent will interact with media and buyers.

Booyzen says fashion week has moved from being just a social outing to being a real business.

“We give our top designers retail channels. This is a 360° business development.”

She says the sponsors have kept the dream afloat since there is no money from government. They include a whisky brand, hair products maker and a washing-soap manufacturer. The latter sponsors a show by Colleen Eitzen and Rubicon whose collection will include 40% of clothes that can be washed.

Booyzen is proud about the services of US make-up specialists, Mara Capps, who return this year to work on the look of the models. “We focus on buyers and media and the consumer is at the pop-up shop. After the fashion week, we have two days for the buyers’ lounge where 40 designers with rails have appointments with buyers. You can see designers making money.

“We are super-fashionable, even the poor people are fashionable. We need to put our energy in for the industry to play a meaningful role in the economy of the continent. The African interest is more important to me than the American and European because we don’t share the same seasons and don’t have the same aesthetic. And the reception has been warm from the continent.”

With the passage of time, the two fashion weeks have moved on from their previous petty squabbles. They may still talk past each other, but there is no denying that the fashion boom is well under way. But it is how to develop it further where the politics and the practices differ.

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