Thebe Magugu's international footprint grows with a spot secured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

play article
Subscribers can listen to this article
The "Girl Seeks Girl" dress modeled on the runway in 2017 in in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
The "Girl Seeks Girl" dress modeled on the runway in 2017 in in Johannesburg, South Africa. (Photo by Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images/Getty Images)
  • In 2019 - in an unprecedented triumph for South African fashion design - designer Thebe Magugu, won the LVMH Prize, becoming the first-ever African designer and label to claim this honour.
  • A few months ago, the young visionary was announced as a Top 6 finalist for the 2021 International Woolmark Prize alongside fellow African designer Kenneth Ize from Nigeria.  
  • The Kimberley-born designer's international hat-trick is now complete with a spot for one of the label's most distinguished items at the Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

It's Thebe Magugu's world and we're just living in it. 

In an ongoing flow of landmark wins, Thebe Magugu - the eponymous label founded in 2016 by Thebetsile Magugu - has cemented its name at The Costume Institute at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. 

The designer's namesake label announced on social media this week that the museum has acquired their “Girl Seeks Girl” Dress from A/W18’s HOME ECONOMICS collection “to preserve it as an example of outstanding contemporary design”.  

With prints done in collaboration with Phathu Nembwili, this collection can be said to be one of the label's most acclaimed in a catalogue of work that continues to outdo itself.

The "Girl Seeks Girl" dress was not only a notable garment from their Autumn/Winter '18 collection, but also of the Woolworths STYLE BY SA solo shows - a brand he once interned for - in which Rich Mnisi also showcased at SA Fashion Week (SAFW) at Sandton City, Johannesburg in 2017. 

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

(Photo by Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images/Getty Images) 

Revealing in a 2018 interview with True Love where it all began, the designer 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." 

And so kismet birthed the now iconic dress acquired by The Costume Institute - "one of the world's foremost fashion libraries."

Created at the tipping point of movements against gender-based violence in South Africa, Thebe Magugu noted long before the Met marked it, that - in the HOME ECONOMICS collection - "one of the garments that make the biggest statement is the angel-sleeve neoprene dress featuring a print of a woman crying into the arms of another, emphasising that women really need one another right now because there is clearly a raging war on them." 

As bittersweet coincidence would have it, this milestone was announced by the designer on the day on which we commemorate the Sharpeville Massacres, as such, the following words accompany the design maven's news on Instagram;

"Human Rights Day in South Africa - lets remember the sacrifices so many people, particularly women, gave for the democracy we enjoy today and continue to treat one another with peace, love and respect."

The label's founder wore the "Girl Seeks Girl" blouse to collect his LVMH Prize at the Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris in 2019. It's no wonder international eyes have since been fixed on it.  

So while "Girl Seeks Girl", the world continuously seeks Thebe.

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) 

Phathu Nembwili's original artwork can now be seen on the Thebe Magugu Bohemia Girl-Seeks-Girl dress with a "pop art-inspired update."

Unsurprisingly, its sold out (sold for R4500 per dress).  

girl seeks girl dress
Image via Thebe Magugu website 

The Met Museum moment is just one of the illustrious feathers in Thebe Magugu's cap.

This past November, The Woolmark Company - a global authority on wool - announced their 2021 International Woolmark Prize (IWP) Top 6 finalists; one of whom is the Kimberley-born designer.

The International Woolmark Prize is the world's most prestigious award for rising fashion talent.

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.  

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 in Novemebr 2020, 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 stated 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," they siad.  

READ MORE: 5 minutes with Glorinah Khutso Mabaso - the Pretoria designer with her stamp on a Trenery collection

Expressing his excitement on Instagram, Thebe shared 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. 

Lucilla Booyzen, director of South African Fashion Week (SAFW), expressed elation over Thebe Magugu's LVMH Prize in 2019, 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: EXCLUSIVE | In conversation with Naomi Campbell about Africa's potential as a global fashion power

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.

Follow us on social media: FacebookTwitterInstagram 

Sign up for W24's newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our stories and giveaways.

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For only R75 per month, you have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today.
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
After 365 days in lockdown, in what way has your life changed the most?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
Nothing's changed. Everything in my life became stagnant.
25% - 147 votes
I've focused more on making my house/apartment a more comfortable, beautiful place to call home.
11% - 62 votes
I don't think I could ever not work from home again. Remote work has saved me so much money.
17% - 96 votes
I just appreciate the people in my life more and take nothing for granted.
34% - 195 votes
I've developed a healthier relationship with alcohol.
5% - 29 votes
I've had to reconsider my career options after retrenchment.
8% - 48 votes