Maverick Life

Chronicles of Chic: After (SA) fashion week, a real world beckons

By Emilie Gambade 31 October 2013

Let go of the hype and the circus atmosphere, and fashion week is, in fact, a trade show: designers not only create collections for the love of fashion but also with the hope of attracting potential buyers. Ranges that are commercial enough will find their way into the alleys of local retailers while others will fall into sartorial memorabilia. EMILIE GAMBADE explores life after fashion week.

SA Fashion Week (SAFW) hosted the Autumn/Winter 2014 fashion week at the Rosebank Hotel at the beginning of October whilst African Fashion International (AFI) just launched its Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa – shows started on Wednesday 30th October.

Fashion weeks are, officially, events of fascination and elegance, notorious for setting the trends of the season to come. Whether you are a journalist, a designer or just an ‘instagrammable’ somebody, fashion weeks are platforms, to see and to be seen, by not only the media, who will or won’t speak about one’s work, (in 2012, Hedi Slimane for Yves Saint Laurent refused to invite the New York Times fashion reporter, Cathy Horyn at his show after he “objected bitterly to a review [she] wrote in 2004.”) but also by potential buyers.

In South Africa, where retailers are few and the survival of fashion designers constantly challenged, presenting collections that will charm customers, boutiques and department stores is even more significant. Local fashion weeks’ organizers extend the shows to more exclusive professional platforms, where designers can present their collections to retailers: SAFW created the ‘Buyers Lounge’ – 53 buyers attended the event this October – and ‘the Fashion Agent’ to help designers meet and potentially sell to local and continental buyers. AFI formed, on the same principle, ‘the Africa Fashion Trade Expo (AFTE).’ These are two platforms allowing designers not only to display their collections and market their ranges but also to interact directly with potential clients.

SAFW CEO, Lucilla Booyzen notes: “Fashion begins and ends with the consumer.”

This season, at SAFW, it looked like the penny had dropped, that designs were closer to the “world-class standards” the South African fashion industry so desires: ranges were not only exciting but also potentially saleable, the collections presented were edited and consistent and designers, for the vast majority, were prepared and ready.

The shows, held mostly under a wide marquee, were split between installations and catwalk displays. While the latter brought the glam factor to paroxysm level with the usual front row running along the runway, installations were arranged in a smaller spaces, with an air of intimacy that reminded of the Haute Couture private showrooms, à la Chanel or Saint Laurent, where only selected VIP clients can have a preview of the collections.

The stories told, if not all original, were coherent and inspiring, and you couldn’t help but being proud of what was emerging, a je-ne-sais-quoi more precise and convincing.

Take Suzaan Heyns, for example, who drew a collection based on the character of Minnie Mouse, a risky take even in the daring world of fashion.

Heyns explained, “Drawing out the shapes at the core of Minnie’s DNA – her ears, eyes, bows, gloves and signature polka dots – and slightly re-arranging them became the springboard for this collection, with influences as far apart as science and art finding their way into the clothes.” The result was a compelling collection where Minnie Mouse’s cartoonish charisma impeccably translated into jewel-like clusters made out of plastic dolls eyes, an inflated jacket reminiscent of Comme des Garçons by Rei Kawakubo and multi-coloured, cut-out dresses with exaggerated flat epaulettes. Heyns’ collection carried a beautiful strangeness that didn’t fail to be modern.

Photo: Suzaan Heyns/ AW 2014/ Simon Deiner/ SDR Photo

Would it sell? Of course: the collection can easily be deconstructed, single pieces like the black flounced jacket – almost a cape – that can be worn over a pair of jeans, and voilà! Heyns knows it and builds ranges that appeal to a wide – and loyal – clientele. The designer skipped the SAFW Buyers Lounge because, “Over the past few years we have found that a more direct and personal approach in terms of buyers is better suited to our brand.”

Clive Rundle’s peculiar world is one of unresolved issues and delicate rebellions. Rundle is a master in crafting a world that seems inhabited by loud thinkers (his soundtracks serve as musical metaphors), voices that voluntarily disrupt the flow where style is everything but stillness and hollowness is present. For A/W 2014, he played with layers: models were dressed as if they couldn’t bother to decide what to wear and opted for random piling of clothes. But if one looked closer, there was a defined structure in the layering, a detail here in the back of a trench, there on a shirt, lifting slightly like a secret pocket. There is something extremely tactile in Rundle’s show: a desire to crawl under the strata, lift the pieces of fabric, explore the many pleats to find what’s hiding underneath. “The shit got to go,” sung the voice in the soundtrack, “The shit got to go,” an invisible storm passing over our heads, swiping the world from unnecessary frills and broken umbrellas.