The maverick: Shaldon Kopman of Naked Ape

2012-03-23 15:30

Kopman is the man whose name is often mentioned on various best-dressed lists and is a recipient of a GQ Best Dressed Men’s Award in 2006.

Kopman’s affair with fashion began in 1994 when he worked in New York, Milan and Paris as a fashion director and stylist, and later returned home to take over the coveted position of fashion editor at Elle magazine.

“It was while I was working at the magazine that I realised there was a huge gap in the market for quality menswear design. It was a struggle for me to find anything to wear that was locally designed and not part of the mass market,” says Kopman.

He believes the gap remains wide. “Whenever you look for a good product, it comes with a high price. To get good menswear in South Africa, you have to be prepared to pay a fortune. Even if you go for international designers, chances are there’ll be nothing unique,” he says. He began designing clothes and learning the production process while starting his own label.

“I realised that as a designer, the designing part is only 10% of the process. The rest is knowing about the fabric and production.”

At Naked Ape, the production process includes handmade garments using natural fabrics. As he shows off some pieces for fashion week, it’s evident that he goes for economical, practical and multifunctional, with some jackets and shirts being reversible (including a quirky buttoning twist).

“Making menswear is a complicated process. You have to know the needs of your local market. I do watch trends, but I don’t particularly follow them. I shut myself off and work with our core mission statement and what Naked Ape is about as a brand.”

For Kopman, production is one of the main challenges he faces whenever he comes up with a new collection.

“Manufacturers often won’t touch you because we deal with small quantities and if they do accept your order, they tell you your garments are too complicated. As much as our industry is progressive in terms of style, it’s very regressive when it comes to production.”

However, he remains optimistic about the future of menswear.

“Each year, we see more men taking an interest in fashion and wearing designer wear. That’s a great thing.”

Spring/Summer Collection:

His inspiration is “layers of freedom”, which he says was motivated by the nomadic lifestyle of progressive Africans moving forward but never forgetting their roots.

» Catch the Naked Ape show on Friday at 9.30pm

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