Myth and metaphor are an important part of the identity of the African people. Stories told around the fire, patterns printed on cloth, drawings on the walls of huts and paintings on cave walls (like those of the Khoe-Sān in Southern Africa) are all part of the giant human code of sense, reality and individuality. Africa has more than 3000 documented tribes and around 2000 languages spread across it’s 54 recognised countries (and two disputed states). African designers have traditionally gravitated towards personal heritage for design inspiration. Fashion designers Laduma Ngxokolo, Imane Ayissi, Lisa Folawiyo and Ami Doshi Shah, have their heritage and histories distinctly translated into breath-taking designs. Such individuals have played an imperative role in honouringand simultaneously uncovering the artistry of African prints through traditional and modern design mediums. The apparent referencing of diverse African heritage has become somewhat of a blueprint or template for African designers over the decades, this has undoubtedly fuelled and embraced African patronage all over the world.
The interplay between style and design aesthetics from Africa and the West has a troubled and unbalanced history, with Western standards of beauty and identity often supplanting local cultural expressions and traditions. However, the rapid pace of globalisation brought about an increase in interculturalism. This integration has since given birth to new African fashion identities which while authentically African, show little or no “traditional” reference to African heritage, fashion identities that no longer relied on embracing Western beauty standards for recognition. Before depiction was en vogue, social media platforms saw the emergence of a select group of South African photographers and individuals capturing local millennials in a way no one had really done before. Lingering on the outskirts of South Africa’s very white and elite fashion industry, these new-age creatives defied traditional fashion’s glossy aesthetic and captured everyday South Africans in a way that was raw, authentic and reflected nuances of who they were, celebrating the communities and aspirations that defined them.
The transition in the local fashion industry has been quite interesting to observe. The mega brands (largely international brands) with national distribution and penetration have made way to smaller brands that serve and satisfy a specific niche. These brands thrive within smaller communities by maintaining a narrative that resonates with their consumer base. Fashion wasn’t just about selling product anymore, it become about representing the people those products were targeted at. The style was different, unique and alluring. It was a locally brewed combination of global expressions with no evident dominant cultural influence, and this gave it its very own identity.
Featured in the post is LVHM Prize winner Thebe Magugu renowned high-end designer Rich Mnisi, Crocs collaborator Wanda Lephotho and the yarn king Nicholas Coutts.