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Chronicles of Chic: Three days of fashion, SA fashion

By Emilie Gambade 19 April 2013

SA Fashion Week is committed to use its two cyclical events to present the crème de la crème of local fashion, designers who passed with flying colours the test of continuously creating, manufacturing and selling their collections to the public. This is no easy task, yet Spring/ Summer 2013 had all the ingredients to impress. EMILIE GAMBADE picks the best of SAFW.

International fashion weeks can be traumatic: editors and fashionistas are happy to express unhappiness about their seating positions (seats for the shows are often by invitation only), impossible runs from one venue to another and memorable late starts. They often lead to frustrations, mood swings and adrenaline bursts. They also give birth to urban legends, from the editors’ fashion week diets (food: zero, water: one), to wrestling sessions for the front row seats.

The higher priestesses of vogue, with invisible ‘most powerful’ signs posted on their chairs, scrutinise every pleat, every lapel, a drape of a fabric or the storyline behind a collection. They pin faux pas like butterflies, before displaying their findings on the pages of international fashion bibles.

Or so the myth goes.

Locally, SA Fashion week, which kicked off on 11 April, was a slightly more contained, a jolt of the event confined between the walls of the Crowne Plaza. Situated at the corner of Rosebank’s Tyrwhitt and Sturdee Avenues, the hotel stands almost unnoticed, a nondescript modern building that fits into the décor without any particular pride. But past the entrance doors, the horde of fashion experts and style wannabes, local celebrities, eccentrics and media tags floating around were welcome to three days of South African fashion.

Compared to the AFI Fashion Week held only a month earlier, the shows appeared to be more professional, cleverly staged and orchestrated. The main tent, although not entirely waterproof (Joburg weather can be unforgivable), was wide enough to welcome a U-shape catwalk that allowed attendees to see the collections clearly without feeling overwhelmed; shows mostly started on time, the sound was powerful and the lighting cleverly placed.

If “Fashion Show 101” doesn’t seem like a complicated subject, it is worth noting that a bad setting can ruin a collection, no matter its strength or degree of desirability.

Talking about desirability, this fashion week didn’t lack modern relevance and iconic pieces. For Black Coffee, Jacques van der Watt presented, once again, a collection that was visually powerful and a model of precision. Strongly embedded in the geometry of African patterns, the range included mesh dresses with appliqués that served as defined body adornments. Headlined “Imprint”, the collection was extremely feminine despite the angular elements.

African-inspired patterns and prints definitely shaped a trend at SA Fashion Week. The duo behind Kottin & Twille, designer Anna-Mari Pretorius and business partner Elke Nelson, sailed through their Africa-revisited, impeccably constructed collection. Behind what looked like simple and roomy silhouettes, emerged clean detailing made of mock leather following the spine or fabric cuts off in tribal prints binding the neck and the waist.

Photo: Kottin & Twille (Ivan Naude for Planetivan)

Albertus Swanepoel also dipped his new clothing line into South African heritage. The New York-based milliner and fashion designer displayed his modern and remarkably wearable range on stage, a retrospective before its time, models standing in motionless postures. The collection proposed masculine shirts with a unique print inspired from long-lost table clothes found at the Kruger Park. The delicate paintings of protea covered here a shoulder, there a back, striking postcards of our local flora on crisp white shirts; smoking pants stood next to shirt dresses and cropped jackets with pouch pockets. Swanepoel’s collection showed that traditions can be contemporary and that the ‘less is more’ principle never fades.

Photo: Albertus Swanepoel (Ivan Naude for Planetivan) 

A similar, clean and urban silhouette was seen at Tiaan Nagel. Great volumes, exaggerated proportions and sharp cuts made for an easy-to-carry, contemporary cool collection, designed for the twenty-first century Amazon who leaves work for a wild picnic in the bush.