Clive Rundle: The Incidental Designer



“I’m not a fashion designer,” says Clive Rundle. “In fact I’m still working through exactly what I do, but it’s certainly not the label ‘fashion designer’, or anything close.”

For a runway talent such as Rundle, with a growing cult of followers and an adoring media who continually sing his praises, this is news indeed.

“It’s not so much the creative process I’m unsure about, but rather the fact that I refuse to fit neatly into a seasonal trend or format,” Rundle explains further.

For young, aspiring designers wishing to land that big order from a retail chain this might seem like the complete opposite of how one should go about a fashion career. The business of fashion dictates that you need to replicate a garment, sometimes in their thousands, to make it a viable option for trade buyers. Most designers have already designed their garments with replication in mind, from the choice of materials to the bulk availability of trim and fasteners. Not Rundle. He’s see’s replication as a dilution of his creations, something that kills the uniqueness and spontaneity of his art-making. A comparison might be how one views a mass-produced poster of an original artwork, Rundle is interested in the original artwork, not making posters.

Born in Zimbabwe, he arrived in South Africa in early childhood, where he completed his schooling. After four years of travelling, he decided that he needed to do ‘something’ and in 1982 enrolled in a two year fashion design course, which he compressed into a 6 month crash course. He’d also decided from his travels abroad that he wanted to develop a skill which he could use anywhere in
the world.

“It was less about wanting to be a fashion designer and more about getting on with things, starting a business that would bring in money,” Rundle recalls. He considered his early fashion career as “Having a job”, and while firmly on the path of  becoming a fashion designer who was undoubtably talented, he always kept a pragmatic and self-depreciating attitude towards fashion. This didn’t stop talent scouts and buyers from recognising his unique take on the world and snapping up designs at his year-end show at the now defunct Fashion Design Management School
in Johannesburg.

“I did everything myself when I started. The sourcing, cutting, running around and marketing. Many young designers today, straight out of fashion school, expect instant fame and success. Few of them are mature enough to see that it will take another ten years before they are truly ready to present a meaningful brand to the world.”

Much as Rundle complains about fitting into the seasonal constraints of the market, his first store in The Mall of Rosebank caused quite a stir when it first opened by physically changing every season. The entire store was redesigned to reflect the moods of the season in an outrageous display of fairytale themes, metal figures, fabric and crystal, in what Rundle described as “Beautiful and absolutely different.” And ‘different’ has certainly been his hallmark from the beginning. “I don’t allow ourselves to be called performance artists,” he muses, referring to the sometimes circus act of the runway. “Rather, the medium we happen to express ourselves in is fabric,” he says, hinting at a possible broader outlook for his creativity in the future.

One of his more recent infatuations has been with Anne Chapelle, the little-known Belgian investor who is a modern-day fashion patron, behind designers like Ann Demeulemeester and Haider Ackermann. Chapelle has a similar outlook to Rundle in that she collaborates with designers who reject the machine-like processes of big fashion houses in favour of a more nurturing approach. Her feet-on-the-ground approach to fashion is also a perfect fit for Rundle, never one for flamboyant behaviour or victim to the excessive shows of wealth the fashion world can bring about.

His view on South African design is frank. “We exist outside the radar of fashion when it comes to the rest of the world. Fashion buyers who attend shows in Paris, London and Milan find it difficult enough keeping up with the latest trends there, never mind being bothered with what’s happening in South Africa. The solution is rather to become visible at these events, instead of complaining at the tip of Africa.”

Rundle’s view is that if you’re good enough to show at one of these major global fashion events then you’ll be noticed. Wonderfully embellished stories on your origins in Africa will be seen as exactly that, a nice side story, but won’t ensure the success of your designs.

Having shown his outfits in fashion shows abroad, including New York Fashion Week, Rundle feels more comfortable in South Africa as the pressure to replicate his garments is less. “You can’t show a dress at New York Fashion Week and then brush off the large orders to replicate it, no one would take you seriously.” But the people who are taking Rundle very seriously back home are the new breed of young, loyal media fans who follow him avidly online and in print, recognising that his unique approach to fashion and uncompromising attitude to consumerism have worth.

“Before that, I was just some mad person showing things on a ramp.” says Rundle.

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