The new guard of SA menswear

A friend who is a fashion week ­veteran was lamenting the heat in the VIP/media/everybody lounge as sweat dripped ­unglamorously off our faces at the inaugural SA Menswear Week, which was held in Cape Town from February 5 to 7.

Held on a parking level of the V&A Waterfront, it gave the event a minimalist industrial feel and maximum heat, with little of the comforts fashionistas are used to at fashion weeks. We were riding bareback here, but it was one hell of a ride.

In interviews before the shows, organiser Simon Deiner had said the event would be trimmed down from the usual fashion week spectacle. The guests would be primarily media, buyers and other fashion industry stakeholders, making it clear that, ultimately, this event was less party and more about what truly matters: shining the light on South African menswear design.

While there was great variety, the ­unquestionable stars of the week were the newer designers.

Of course, we celebrated the more accomplished designers, who have managed to turn their work into successful businesses that support the economy. However, knowing what works well for the menswear business can be a double-edged sword. Year after year, the collections seem a bit static as they pander to the market. So thenew designers presented welcome perspectives.

Jenevieve Lyons, a young designer whose work is usually conceptual, opened the first evening. She presented Deliquesce, her most pared-down ­collection yet – a range in greys, winter whites and royal navy blue. Some tops showed placement prints that gave a nod to the title, which literally means to melt into liquid.

It was inspired by the matte silver shine of gallium, the softest metal on the periodic table, which turns into liquid at the lowest temperatures. There was no fuss, just cleverly ­layered simple shapes and subtle shimmers, accessorised with bags from bright young accessory designer Inga Kubheka of Indalo Designs.

The aversion to colour continued with Joburg label Augustine’s range, which explored the trend towards adding sporty elements to slightly more formal pieces, presented in shiny blacks, mélange greys and whites.

Crowd favourite Lukhanyo Mdingi (22), supported by the Cape Town Fashion Council, presented shades of grey and white in a collection that focused on the clean shapes he is becoming known for. Coarse knitwear, woven backpacks with thick braided straps, shiny satin stripes on matte backgrounds brought texture and turned this ­colour- and print-free range into one of the most exciting collections of the week.

Another young designer backed by the council was Oath’s Rich Mnisi, who presented a palette of mustard, khaki, monochrome prints, blues, whites and greys.

The range had a bit of a superstylish art schoolboy aesthetic. The shapes were perfectly wearable, shorts, shirts, pants, bomber jackets and longer jackets. However, the cuts, prints and the styling lifted the range out of the ordinary and affirmed Mnisi as a designer to keep an eye on.

The week’s highlight came on the third day in a blast of colour and print from You/Huisgenoot fashion director Chu Suwannapha’s relaunch of his label Chulaap. Dubbed the King of Prints, his personal style is documented in fashion magazines and street-style blogs.

Having such a signature personal style, it was ­expected that print-mixing would form a big part of his range on his return to designing.

But one of the greatest achievements of his range was that he did not create Chu clones; he expanded on his vision for local menswear, while injecting it with the style he is known for.

It combined African-style prints, local street style and Japanese inspiration, and was undoubtedly the best show of SA Menswear Week. I can count on one hand the number of times I have seen an entire crowd rise with so much excitement on realising their expectations had not only been met, but ­exceeded. This was one of those moments.

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