Back from Helsinki Fashion Week, the designer who creates visual parables wants you to collaborate and create beautiful stories with her.
Why is it so important to you to depict ‘visual parables’ through your clothing and designs?
Our brand tells parables ‘stories’ through fashion – to take it further than just clothing. As a South African designer wanting to help build our industry, and an African fashion identity, I want to overide the clichéd identity of ‘ethnic’ and print to a more modern view that can be placed next to an international brand and be understood globally. Thus, the importance of realising cultural, social, political and environmental issues within a fashion context that can educate and build a renewed perspective on the African fashion industry.
We aim to tell visual parables through a full sensory experience, from the viewer to our website, brand image and designer image. It has to correlate at all times. Telling visual parables includes the choice of textile, pattern cut and garment construction, right through to the models we choose, music, campaign imagery and hair and make-up. We consider the bigger picture.
Our Macula Autumn/Winter 2016 collection takes inspiration from albinism and the beauty of being an ‘other’ or individual, rather than being mocked. We showcased all the models with freckled faces that linked with the freckles that were hand-painted onto the apparel. It created the desire to have freckles and at the same time brought to light an important cause in an elegant manner – the risks people with albinism face daily. The music we chose took the viewers on the journey of a traveller – in the same way that an ‘othered’ person is on a constant journey to find their place within society. We included the main source of inspiration for our campaign in the shoot – a man with albinism and a freckled model.
Your designs up to this point have told your fashion story/parable in the form of innovative garments with a strong sense of sculpture and moulding. Is this to allow the clothes to tell the story in an unfettered way? If so, do you see your design aesthetic changing depending on the story you’re telling?
Avant-garde ideals behind the brand have influenced the innovation of the garments. As a fashion designer with an Honours Degree in Fashion Design, “Avant-garde” is more in line with artistic forms and principles, almost becoming somewhat un-wearable. It’s almost a performance piece that evokes emotion and meaning to the viewer. We want to approach the avant-garde identity in a more wearable manner.
In my view the design aesthetic of a brand is the very heartbeat of being a designer. It’s very seldom that the aesthetic completely changes, and if it does, you’re not truthfully following your design aesthetic. I would rather say that it merely matures and grows with the brand.
“Macula” means spot or freckle and was the name of your last collection. What was the inspiration behind it? What story did you want to tell through your collection?
It’s built on a concept of ambiguity, and anonymity, focused on a beauty that was once possibility viewed as ‘ugly’. We looked into albinism and the beauty it carries in the form of fragility, marked with the beauty of individuality.
We worked with muted tones, ‘impressioned’ with personal markings inspired by freckles on a milked face and opaque silks over meltons – fooling the eye to what is, and what isn’t. It’s a play on the abstruseness and juxtaposition of beauty. The collection is aptly called mac·u·la [mak-yuh-lee] defined as a spot or blotch, especially on one’s skin. A spot often carries the significance of the ugly, yet also carries the beauty of individuality.
We had the honour to work with the source of our inspiration, Luthando, a freckled albino man who works in the security field. Working with Luthando was an honour and made us realise the cause we were aiming to enlighten. It is an individualistic trait to wear with pride and understand that it is the truth of natural beauty; and not a trait that deserves being mocked.
Our aim with the campaign was to bring the concept of Mac.u.la to life and to bring attention to serious threats that albinos faces today, in a beautiful elegant manner.
During your recent showcase at SA Menswear Week A/W 16, models walked out with brown freckles and marks on their faces and upper body, not as a fashion statement but rather to address albinism and challenge beauty norms enhancing the fact that beauty comes in different forms. This struck a poignant chord with viewers. Why do you think this message is suddenly so relevant?
I always say that every collection is bigger than me, it’s worth so much more than just clothing, it’s about the story.
I think that viewers have learnt that my message behind every collection is poignant; and it helped that Refinery 29 had done a write-up a few days prior to my collection being shown. The cause and risks of albinism has come to light, through the assistance of globalisation and the digital age. It’s a serious global cause that requires assistance. A march was held in KwaZulu-Natal recently with the aim to get the governments attention to install lockable doors for all people with albinism in townships. It’s about educating people and it still has a long way to go. I always say that every collection is bigger than me, it’s worth so much more than just clothing, it’s about the story.
You were the only African designer to be invited to Helsinki Fashion Week in July. How was your “Macula” collection received?
The collection was received very well. As a brand we saw the opportunity to showcase at Helsinki Fashion Week in Finland as an excellent way of growing our reach and also opening gateways for African fashion into the European marketplace. It was an opportunity to showcase African fashion identity in a modernistic, relatable manner that proves we can stand internationally. African fashion currently has attracted much interest internationally. This is a good thing as well as a threat. More than ever, African designers need to unite to showcase African fashion in a relatable and united way – an un-clichéd manner. One also sees international brands appropriating African fashion in editorials in order to hype on the trend, yet it’s for us to tell our own stories and be appreciated, not appropriated. We need to say, ‘come and collaborate with us to create beautiful stories within our African landscape, but do not come and tell you own version. Just by landing your team in an African city and photographing a campaign in an African landscape does not appreciate our industry – it’s appropriating it.’
As African designers we should stand strong so that we can capture this interest in African fashion in the most beneficial way to our industry and to stimulate growth. Yet, we are thankful for all the interest need to tap into all the opportunities that it brings.
Did you feel that the message of the “abstruseness and the juxtapositions of beauty” are as relevant in Helsinki society as in ours?
Each society is faced with their own political, economical and racial relevance. I was not there long enough to comment truthfully on this. I did pick up some observations from being a panellist on one of the talks held at Helsinki Fashion Week.
They were themed around body positivity and awareness around health issues of extremely thin models and also racial issues, in instances of ethnic Scandinavians being automatically spoken to in English, rather than Finnish. They take offence to this. I used this opportunity to bring awareness to the reasons behind the freckles in my collection and albinism.