As day five of Confections x Collections 2023 wraps up, the soft afternoon sunlight falls across Chulaap’s collection. Tilting heads and lifting chins, the ten models and the designer Chu Suwannapha engage with photographers who want to capture the last moments of a fantastical fashion story. Chu, also known as the Prince of Prints, uses cloth to relate a seafarer’s tale. The Chulaap show is the final and fitting one in a series that is curated to focus on South African designers with a unique narrative and fashion point of view. The setting for the show’s finale line-up is a water fountain in a lush summer garden in a coastal city.
Confections x Collections is an annual five-day fashion showcase, curated and produced by Twyg, and presented by the Mount Nelson, a Belmond hotel, in Cape Town held from 8 to 12 November 2023. A combined experience of the hotel’s afternoon tea – a Cape Town ritual at a classic hotel – with presentations from South African cutting edge fashion designers, Confections x Collections aims to facilitate the decentring of the global fashion narrative. This year’s showcases included Wanda Lephoto, Viviers Studio by Lezanne Viviers, Sindiso Khumalo, Mantsho by Palesa Mokubung and Chulaap by Chu Suwannapha.
At a celebratory event on the eve of Confections x Collections, the internationally renowned young South African fashion designer Thebe Magugu drew attention to the role of new fashion voices. He says, “I deeply admire these designers because of their commitment to themselves and their very unique point of view especially in these times when I feel like brands and designers are trying to become everything to everyone, which will always be at the cost of intention and the soul of the output. These designers so beautifully take their experiences and their contexts and funnel them into their collections and it’s very easy to see the heart that goes into it.” [Listen to Thebe’s speech below]
The hotel, fondly known as the Nellie, is going into its 125th year and, as Thebe says, marking this anniversary comes with responsibility and transformation. He says, “It’s important that these new [fashion] voices merge with this inherited history to engage with it, interrogate it, to transform it, to decontexutalise it, to recontexualise it, and this is essentially the beauty of what we do as creative people: to redirect history and to instil a vision for the future, all through the power of our art.”
The Twyg team led by Ky Bxshxff and Tandekile Mkize supported five designers to produce shows which brought audiences to tears, made them laugh and contributed to a sense of belonging. Each show was a three-hour experience – with a live piano performance and beautiful – and delicious – confectionaries. Inspired by a texture or textile pattern from each designer’s collection, the hotel’s pastry chef, Vicky Gurovich made a unique designer pastry to accompany each show. Last week, the designers appeared in the following order – one designer each day, two shows per day.
The week kicked off with Johannesburg-based designer, Wanda Lephoto who is deeply inspired by community and the stories he finds around him. During a question and answer session led by MC Seth Shezi, Wanda says, “I believe in South Africans returning to glory, and returning to glory in a way that is healing.” In highlighting our differences, Wanda hopes to “spark conversations that are transformative and… can heal the small scars that exists in the differences among us.”
Working within community, and alongside other designers and creatives is a value Wanda holds strongly and is reflected in his work. His featured collection, “Our People,” is inspired by the cultural experience of migration that he witnessed as a child, watching as people from different parts of Africa migrated to Johannesburg and integrated into South African culture. By merging western fashion with his African heritage, as presented in his suits that are imbued with symbolism, Wanda masterfully fuses fashion and culture, allowing people to negotiate their own identities and representation, through style.
VIVIERS Studio is a returning brand, after showcasing at the inaugural Confections x Collections event last year. Lezanne Viviers launched VIVIERS Studio in 2019 and has rapidly grown to be an international sensation. Working with deadstock fabrics and new textile innovations to create versatile, timeless pieces, VIVIERS Studio takes a slow and considered approach to production.
“A big part of our brand is working with craftspeople,” says Lezanne. Collaboration and community are important tenets of the brand. “One person cannot create a garment by themselves,” she says. Creating a garment involves several hands behind the scenes, from the creation of textiles to the handiwork and embellishments of the pieces. “So, the full value chain is very important but is often forgotten,” she says.
The show collection, “Replace, Rememory, Reset, and Reculture”, is a testament to her interest in bringing together a community, in an age where we are disconnected from each other and the origin of things. Featuring sheer dresses, patterned pantsuits, and her signature corsets in metallic hues, the collection was heavily inspired by nature as a means of connection. This was especially evident in the floral patterns and bright pops of colour.
This eponymous label has been exploring the black experience through the medium of clothing and textiles since its inception in 2015. As a designer Sindiso Khumalo strongly holds social justice as one of the brand’s values, and works with NGOs across South Africa and Burkina Faso, to make and source handwoven and embroidered textiles. Sindiso Khumalo is celebrated for its unique textiles and strong ethos around sustainability, culture and community. The label was the joint winner of the LVMH prize in 2021.
Sindiso also presented at last year’s Confections x Collections showcase. This year she launched her swimwear and children’s collection, along with her signature printed dresses, and matching sets – all in the vibrant colours iconic to her brand’s style.
Translating to “black is beautiful” from Sesotho, Mantsho takes a creative spin to their read-to-wear womenswear pieces. Founded in 2004, by Palesa Mokubung, the Johannesburg-based fashion house is renowned for playing with graphic prints, structured silhouettes, and vibrant colours. Mantsho is known for being the first African brand to collaborate with the retail fashion giant, H&M. Mantsho has showcased on runways in Lagos, New York, Lisbon and Dakar. For the featured collection, Palesa collaborated with her brother who is a graphic designer to bring prints that are inspired by her heritage and jazz music.
The Thailand-born, South African-based designer, Chu Suwannapha is fondly known as the “Prince of Prints.” Before starting his own fashion label in 2016, Chu worked as an editor for several fashion magazines, including FairLady, You and Drum. By incorporating traditional techniques of origami, batik and embroidery with African print, Chulaap is representative of the rich cosmopolitanism and diversity of the African continent. Chulaap is renowned for its eclectic patterns and mis-matched style. “There’s no equation to it,” Chu says on creating his prints. By playing around with patterns and textures, Chu finds a perfect harmony within the mixed, or ‘clashing’, patterns. This collection is inspired by summer in Cape Town, the open spaces, beaches, and waves. Chu’s narrative is about a pirate who returns to the ocean: His life at sea is represented by a print of maps, ships and rope which segues into prints with symbols – a cacophony of stripes and circles – of his relocation to dense city life. But, so the story goes, he realises that to find happiness he needs to return to sea. This joy is expressed in prints of starfish, lobsters, crayfish, mermaids and octopus – and since this is an African brand, we spot zebra stripes and rondawels on Chuplaap prints in the room.
The inaugural Confections x Collections event (2022) included Mmusomaxwell, Maxhosa Africa, Sindiso Khumalo, Viviers Studios and Thebe Magugu. This year Sindiso and Lezanne showed new collections, while Thebe Magugu gave an opening address at the Confections x Collections 2023 launch party on the eve the opening show.
To hear more from the Confections x Collections 2023 designers, listen to the interviews with our MC Seth Shezi on Breaking Eggs Podcast.
Photographer: Armand Dicker
Director: Ky Bxshxff
Fashion director: Tandekile Mkize
Curator: Jackie May
Casting director: Anthony Hinrichsen
Hair: Kitsune Hair
Shoes from That Shoe Lady
Backstage Manager: Ty Graham
Backstage coordinator: Thapelo Mofokeng