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23 Sep

What About South African Fashion Week?

South African Fashion Week

On a scorching summer’s day, the pavement pulses waves of illusion, the trees pant as you pass them, water bottle in hand, a bead of sweat drips down the arch of your brow. You glare at the clouds and question when the drought will end, and before realising it, the water bottle in hand is empty. You question how you led yourself to embody the drought, and wether if you had sipped from that bottle with a little more caution, more consciousness, more understanding, you would have heeded that the African pant of a tree and mirage of a pavement are secret keepers to understanding the nature of survival.

A shift in the fashion chain of the influencer versus the influenced.

South African designers have taken the stage for SA Fashion Week which began on the 20th of September in Johannesburg, with over thirty designers showcasing the South African spirit of the time to the African continent and the world alike. South African designers have found themselves demanding the attention of multiple international fashion magazines, forecasters, influencers, media platforms, and brands; all rightfully so, with a shift in the fashion chain of the influencer versus the influenced. A select number of designers were at the forefront of this movement which took unprecedented pace in 2015 and has maintained momentum into this year.

The fashion industry in South Africa is not simply a product of contemporary designers breaking the boundaries of African imagination, it is rooted in persevering local designers and strong South African brands. SA Fashion Week will showcase pivotal industry pioneers who set foundations for a number of fashion movements in the country. These pioneers but to name a few include Clive Rundle who debuted at SAFW in 1998; Black Coffee which debuted at SAFW in 1999, and is so highly-considered that the work of this label is studied in multiple institutions across the country; Gert-Johan Coetzee who debuted in 2010 and has found commercial success on both international and local red carpets; and Roman Handt, a pivotal graduate designer from South Africa’s LISOF Design and Retail Academy who thrives at showmanship outside of the lines of expectation.

The line-up for SA Fashion Week is extensive, with brands hoping to attain an international and local following especially at such a pivotal time for creative industries in the Southern Hemisphere, however there is the question of how much attention and recognition this SAFW will receive from international platforms considering it’s scheduled at precisely the same time as Milan Fashion Week. Nevertheless, South African designers will have the stage to execute our innate sense of showmanship, which finds its subconscious artistry rooted in precolonial dress, where beadwork, textiles extracted from plants, animal skins, and scarifications not only indicated where one was ranked in society, but also through adornments that held secret messages; messages meant for those who could discern the stitched ciphers of unspoken communication. Showmanship in South African fashion – both pre- and post-colonial – is immersed in pride and beguiled in generational craftsmanship, where the hands are the most important tools in ensuring vivid and subtle connections between the cloth, the wearer and the one who gazes.

The beauty of South African fashion dates back to ancestral bodies adorned in traditional attires. It does not simply lie in the natural fascination of the other, but rather in the complexities of hidden meanings and the ability to understand African blueprints embedded in colour, textile, ornamentation and the embellishment of crafted customs. When viewers consider South African fashion, ancestral histories can dim as they went undocumented in South Africa. This means there is very little material to gaze upon for deeper understandings of the artistry of contemporary South African designers. Our designs are a labyrinth, and viewers and reviewers must endeavour to consider the hidden subtleties in designs, in order to unlock and communicate the true power of South African aesthetics.

The foreign and local gaze on African fashion weeks must remember that to be African is a complex notion. It traverses through a network of cultures, artistries, meanings, modernities, customs, traditions and afrocentrisms. We can expect a spectacular week of South African designs, embedded with ulterior meanings lying in ancestored showmanship and craft. If we attune our thirst to this subtle reveal of South Africa’s infinite textiled soul, creative industries around the globe might find that they will avoid a stint of drought themselves.

Furnso, S. Afolayan, Culture and Customs of South Africa

Title image by Victor Pattyn, for the editorial The Observatory shot exclusively for Polimodamag

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