Thebe Magugu in line for next international win as one of the 2021 Woolmark Prize Top 6 finalists

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LVMH Prize 2019, Thebe Magugu attends the LVMH Prize 2019 Edition at Louis Vuitton Foundation on September 04, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
LVMH Prize 2019, Thebe Magugu attends the LVMH Prize 2019 Edition at Louis Vuitton Foundation on September 04, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)
  • In 2019 - in an unprecedented triumph for South African fashion design - womenswear designer Thebe Magugu, was the overall winner of the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers at an event at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris.
  • With this victory, Thebe Magugu became the first-ever African designer and label to win the prestigious prize.
  • This week, the young visionary has been announced as a Top 6 finalist for the 2021 International Woolmark Prize alongside fellow African designer Kenneth Ize from Nigeria. 

The Woolmark Company - a global authority on wool - announced their 2021 International Woolmark Prize (IWP) Top 6 finalists this week.

One of these deserving finalists is Kimberley-born designer Thebetsile Magugu, founder of the eponymous label founded in 2016, Thebe Magugu

According to The Woolmark Company, The International Woolmark Prize celebrates outstanding fashion talents from around the globe who showcase the beauty and versatility of Australian Merino wool. 

"It is the world's most prestigious award for rising fashion stars," the organisation declares.

Essentially, the IWP and the LVMH Prize are the fashion equivalents of the Golden Globe and the Oscar Awards, and our very own Thebe Magugu could hold both by the end of 2021.

Out of a pool of 380 applicants from around the world, Woolmark selected six emerging designers to compete for the 2021 prize and present their collections at an international fashion week next year. 

Announcing their finalists, The Woolmark Company revealed that it has "reflected on how [it] can better build sustained careers for emerging designers from across the world."  

Woolmark also states that each designer has received AUD$60 000 (over R670 000) to "carefully develop their Merino collections, keeping in mind the focus of this year’s prize, Less is More, celebrating responsible production and craftsmanship."

"The designers have also begun their work in the Innovation Academy, The Woolmark Company’s intensive mentoring program, which this year is in its most robust form," it adds.  

READ MORE: After an LVMH Prize honour, SA's Sindiso Khumalo now takes home a Green Carpet Fashion Award, Italia

Expressing his excitement on Instagram, Thebe shares a smattering from a Vogue interview in which he said; 

“I’m from a place that grapples deeply with socio-political issues and where unemployment stood at a staggering percentage - even before COVID-19. So keeping production local is how I can contribute to that in my own capacity.

“This also leads me into areas like upcycling, because I am trying to utilise the resources I have in a local capacity, doubly preserving ideas of craft and handwork local artisans have been doing for years.” 

READ MORE: This is what a Vogue editor has to say about where South Africa is headed in terms of luxury fashion

In 2019, Thebe proved victorious over more than 1700 applicants from 100 countries across all continents for the LVMH Prize, where Nigerian-based gender-neutral designer Kenneth Izedonmwen of Kenneth Ize was again the only other African designer to make the list of eight finalists. 

Thebe Magugu's fashion catalogue of work successfully winnowed his fellow competitors, managing to garner the favour of a heavyweight panel of judges including the likes of Jonathan Anderson, Kris Van Assche, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Nicolas Ghesquière, Marc Jacobs, Clare Waight Keller, Humberto Leon, Carol Lim, as well as Delphine Arnault, Jean-Paul Claverie, and Sidney Toledano.

The LVMH win earned this fashion talent €300 000 (approximately R4.8 million) and a year’s worth of mentoring from the group. 

The designer who hails from the place of diamonds, Kimberley, therefore continues to prove that he is indeed a true product of this city. Revealing in a 2018 interview with True Love where it all began, the 2019 LVMH Prize winner shared the following;

"I interned for Woolworths about three years ago. The brand's fashion designer, David West, asked me to move to Cape Town to intern there after seeing my graduation collection. I learnt so much from him. A few years later, Woolworths contacted me in my capacity as a solo designer, asking me to collaborate with them in their Style by SA initiative, aimed at promoting the creations of local designers in their stores and online." 

Lucilla Booyzen, director of South African Fashion Week (SAFW), expressed elation over Thebe Magugu's LVMH Prize last year, saying this "is an incredible break-through for Thebe to receive recognition at this level. It is the fashion equivalent of winning a gold medal at the Olympics. We are utterly delighted and proud of his success."

Thebe Magugu showed his first-ever collection at SAFW - the country’s premier platform for designers - in 2017 and has since become one of the most sought-after designers represented internationally by SAFW-affiliated agency, The Fashion Agent.

Becoming the sixth recipient (and first-ever African) of the LVMH Prize and now the only South African in line for the International Woolmark Prize is no small feat for Thebe Magugu. 

READ MORE: Telfar, Pyer Moss, Christopher John Rogers claim CFDA Awards - a win for the black fashion community

We're also beaming with pride over Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize, who is the only other African finalist, whom The Woolmark Company commends for his "preservation of traditional Nigerian craftsmanship, adding that "the #WoolmarkPrize finalist weaves centuries-old techniques with timeless fibres like Merino wool to elevate his cultural history to the world stage.?"  

Kenneth Ize's 2020 milestones include showcasing at Paris Fashion Week as well as a collaboration with the Karl Lagerfield label to co-create the Spring 2021 capsule collection.

The other IWP finalists are Bethany Williams (UK), Lecavalier by Marie-Ève Lecavalier (Canada), Casablanca by Charaf Tajer (France), and Matty Bovan (UK). 

These hopefuls were selected by an Advisory council of industry experts, including the likes of Naomi Campbell, Gabriella Karefa-Johnson, Carlos Nazario, and Tim Blanks amongst other big title holders of the global fashion community. 

The panel of judges will be announced in early 2021. 

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