Sheldon Kopman: My fashion story so far.

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Fashion is something that I have been  interested in since junior high school. I was always very sensitive about clothing and the way I dressed, but how it manifested, I have no idea, it’s just always been around.

My Mum was a great inspiration growing up and later in life, in the design world, people like Clive Rundle and Dion Chang have been inspirational. Dion came from a fashion background before he became a trend forecaster, the fashion director of Elle magazine, and before that a stylist. I was working as model when I met Dion and I was inspired by what he was doing, so I started looking at styling and other aspects of fashion, other than being in front of a camera.

My inspiration comes from watching people and other designers work and examining what  designers have been doing historically.

I left  chemical engineering and started travelling, finding myself walking the streets of Paris and Milan. I recall admiring the fashion and wondering what went into the making of such garments and the advertising of trends. I’ve always been interested in what happens behind the scenes. I remember doing a video with Diana Ross where I played a lead role with her. We were shooting in New Orleans and I remember that being a turning point for me wanting to go behind the scenes and doing  something more substantial than being in front of a camera. I wanted to be acknowledged for something more substantial.

What frustrates me about our fashion industry is that we don’t have the marketing budget to help local consumers understand and enjoy our South African products. A lot of us are inspired by what we see around us, but not enough of us are putting it out there. We are constantly dictated to by international trends.  Some clients even have the audacity to say “I saw this at Chanel, can you do it for me!”  It’s not really their fault, it’s because we haven’t reinforced our identity.

There is also too much friction, too many different wannabee ruling parties in fashion who only see the glamorous side, not the benefits for our economy at large. We need to examine how we re-employ, empower and reignite the manufacturing industry, that has been depleted since Asia took away much of our manufacturing.

Ultimately, this is home, and I’m inspired by the people around me. I think we are one of the most creative nations. We improvise, we innovate, we create things out of nothing. This is a gift for a nation. Because we have been impoverished and isolated for so long we’ve had to make do with what we had. Making a plan is part of who we are as a nation.

As a designer I keep my eyes open. You become absorbed watching the world of fashion and it taints you as a designer and artist. It’s like listening to music – when listening to the radio you’ll block out certain songs you don’t want to listen to, but it’s playing anyway and you absorb it. Eventually, months later, you’ll find yourself singing along to what you thought, was once absolutely revolting.

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Fashion is moving towards bespoke, individual design, represented by traditional cuts and beautiful, clean-looking, healthy individuals. This is what I am currently all about as a designer, but it could change at the drop of a hat, who knows. You need to stay true to who you are and what your market is all about.

I wouldn’t say I design for the universal man, I mean, who is really universal?  I like to think I focus on the unique, futuristic male.   The captains of industry, the street savvy gentleman. Men are actually willing to make an effort. If you feel good inside you should want to express that on the outside – this is a better, more holistic approach to fashion. If you buy a good quality jacket you know it will have a corresponding price tag. You also know where to find cheap fashion. But ask yourself whether you’re buying it now, to be part of the masses, or if you have more self-respect and want to pay a little more.

We are slowly educating the male consumer in South African. The whole idea of Italian brand names that don’t exist anywhere else, except in South Africa, should be a thing of the past. We should be proud of our identity and heritage.  However, I do think men have to pay more attention to the way a garment fits, instead just accepting what is thrown at them. You have to dress for the occasion of course, and for comfort. Comfort does not mean running around in a pair of tracksuit pants or meaning that it has to be oversized either.

Something that should defintely not be in a man’s cupboard are Crocs. Oh, and get rid of the branded T-shirts too.




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