Ky Bxshxff reviews SAFW SS21 catwalk shows from the comfort of their couch

by | May 5, 2021

Most of my fashion upbringing happened around a runway. I started my career as an intern at Joburg Fashion Week and Cape Town Fashion Week, where I worked a further six years in various roles, ending up as creative director. Between 2010 and 2015, I spent just about every waking moment either planning the next season, running around backstage or taking in the best of South African fashion from the front row – it’s a period that I regard as the peak of local fashion weeks and I feel blessed to have been a part of it. But since, globally, even before the initial COVID-19 shutdown, change was in the air as big brands grappled with the relevance of fashion weeks, and even the fashion runway format. That’s why digital shows, initially a response to pandemic conditions, intrigue me so much. Will I be able to see the clothes adequately? Will I miss the energy of IRL shows? Is the catwalk format still relevant and necessary? So many questions and, frankly, we’re all still working out the answers. That said, SS21 at SA Fashion Week was my first all-digital season as a fashion reporter and, I’m into it. No more fighting over seats. No more small talk and chit chat. Plus, pants are optional! While I miss running backstage to feel the clothes and chat to the designers, I dare say, I could get used to this!

Twyg Changemaker’s SAFW collection in full bloom

“I started by setting out to buy a big bag of bits,” says Lara Klawikowski, designer at her eponymous brand and winner of the Changemaker Award (supported by Country Road) at the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards 2020. What then started out as an 11kg bag of fabric waste, discarded and cut away by a non-circular system (sourced thanks to the amazing work of textile innovators, Rewoven), was reborn as a bouquet of 10 charming looks, each a beautiful flower – but the kind that never wilts after it’s been picked. In fact, the collection itself is named Inflorescence, a term for the arrangement of flowers on a plant. At the helm of her label for 11 years now, Lara has always been drawn to the architectural. Reviews of her shows have continually swayed between the avant-garde to wearable art, with her recent collections landing firmly in the latter. They are the kinds of clothes that really make you want to get dressed up again, in stark contrast to the loungewear we’ve all been subjected to. It’s a collection that is overtly optimistic, with each look almost floating along on the model’s frame. That optimism is intensified because the design process cares about our shared future, with each look made exclusively from reclaimed textiles. Think of them as guilt-free “fabric smoothies”, jokes Lara. “I’ve never been one to use buzzwords as labels, but I’ve always been drawn to using fabric waste and rethinking ways of using resources sustainably,” she says. While some items (like the white-and-yellow top, styled with a black skirt) will be available as ready-to-wear in different colourways, most of the collection will be made-to-order, another fabric-wise move that avoids deadstock. Fashion with a conscience is the only chic I’m interested in. If the flirty, flapper dress is the sartorial definition of the roaring twenties for the 20th century, then perhaps this collection could be the uniform of the 21st century edition? If so, count me in – I’ll take any chance to be a flower that never wilts!

Artho Eksteen: New Talent Search winner 2021

What do the labels David Tlale, Black Coffee, Tiaan Nagel, Loin Cloth and Ashes and MmusoMaxwell have in common? Their designers each won the SAFW New Talent Search Competition early on in their careers, helping launch their fashion labels. And now, Artho Eskteen enters their ranks, having scooped the prize at this year’s competition. Click here to read our interview with this up-and-coming designer.

Our favourite shows of the season

[Our favourites below are in alphabetic order. Which are your favs?]

AMANDA LAIRD CHERRY The woman behind the Amanda Laird Cherry is an undeniable doyenne of local fashion and design. The brand, which at a quarter of a century old, is the very definition of a fashion “house” in South African terms, always has something to say, something that goes far beyond just clothes. Talking to the Sunday Times, Amanda explains “[clothes] tell us about ourselves and about our society. It has always been important to me in my career to use clothing as a vehicle for questioning and to portray things that are going on in society.” Design choices build a vocabulary to explore society: in this designer’s hands, a monochromatic palette or black and white shines a light on the important Black Lives Matter movement and volume speaks against the imbalances due to systemic racism.

BLACK COFFEE The collection titled PLATOON, in Jacques van der Watt’s own words, is inspired by our emergence from “a period unlike any other, but one many have likened to experiencing world wars.” While the military analogy is controversial in the eyes of some, the military references will be clear in the eye of anyone looking at the collection of parkas, trench coats, backpacks, and drawstring pants, all in neutrals. “Subtlety defines the palette,” according to the brand’s communication. Black Coffee’s signature pattern making, cuts, pleats, appliqué, graphics and embellishments finish this season, with looks imagined for non-binary wearing, part of a gender non-conforming journey that the brand has been on since 2017.

CLIVE RUNDLE In fashion’s inner circles, the name Clive Rundle has a god-like glow to it. With a three-decade long legacy in creating avant-garde womenswear, the brand is anchored in the “re-imagination and elevation of textiles into timeless luxe womenswear, with exploration, pattern-play and construction that creates body-positive shapes”. This season sees the return of Mbuyiselo Malo, former assistant designer at the brand, as the creative and business leader this season. As a collection, SS21 seeks to peel back the layers, stripping away the excess until you are left with what is important and needed. Mbuyiselo’s take is both fresh and firmly rooted, as he deftly reinterprets the brand’s codes with a new voice, a new eye and new story to tell.

LUKHANYO MDINGI Five years into the development of his namesake brand, Lukhanyo Mdingi made international waves showing this collection at Pitti Uomo in February this year, before bringing it back to local shores. Poignantly named the “Coutts Collection”, it is a love letter to a beloved friend, Nicholas Coutts (a fashion designer himself, who tragically lost his young life in 2019) and Nicholas’s love of weaving – the latter is immediately evident in the oversized hand-woven scarves, a hallmark of the unforgettable creative force that Nicholas was. Click here to read our feature about the background behind the Coutts Collection.

MMUSOMAXWELL It’s such a fashion cliché that “less is more”, but platitudes exist for a reason. Reporting on MmusoMaxwell SS21 is one such reason. The brand, one of my absolute favourites in the market since their launch in 2016, paired it back this season, presenting a collection of sublime separates and desirable dresses. The design duo, Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko, are always deeply inspired by their heritage and translate their vision through a contemporary lens for the modern woman. Showcasing as part of The Diamond Fibre Collections, an initiative led by the SA Mohair Cluster, SS21 is a continuation of the previous season’s IMBOKODO Collection, presenting a strong showing of knits made from mohair, nicknamed the “diamond fibre”.

THE BAM COLLECTIVE  Jacques Bam is the creative genius behind The Bam Collective, a brand asking us to do something that we are all instinctively craving: to escape. ‘Escapism’ SS21 is a collection inspired by our fascination with clothing as a vessel that can transport us away from reality. It dreams about a post-Covid world, conjuring up feelings of joy and fantasy along the way. The collection recontextualises wardrobe stables – office wear, loungewear, formal wear and resort looks – as experimental, elevated versions of themselves. It weaves a fantasy that offers a utopian experience for every person who wears the joyful pieces.

See SA Fashion Week for more details.

Credits

  • Feature image by Lizmarie Richardson Photography | Official SA Fashion Week Social Photographer
  • Images in copy of Lara Klawikowski runway by Eunice Driver Photography 
  • All other images by Lizmarie Richardson Photography | Official SA Fashion Week Social Photographer
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