Established over two decades years ago, the SA Fashion Week New Talent Search competition is a well-respected industry springboard. It has helped launch the likes of household South African designers such as David Tlale, Black Coffee, Tiaan Nagel, Anissa Mpungwe of Loin Cloth & Ashes and MmusoMaxwell.
Following the opening show of this SAFW season, Artho Eksteen joins this stellar list of designers. The 24-year-old designer at the helm of his eponymous brand is the winner of the New Talent Search competition for 2021.
In a season of pre-recorded, digitally distributed runway shows, six up-and-coming designers showcased mini-collections of seven looks each. Largely in response to continued pandemic conditions, these digital shows were released to their online audiences in the format that may fully replace the live, IRL shows that have been the norm for almost 80 years.
Post SAFW, we had a catch-up with Artho to discuss his winning collection. Fellow runners-up were Fikile Sokhulu, Marguerite McAlpine, Michale Ludwig Hittinger, Sipho Mbuto and Thulani Vuyo Mlambo.
After completing his honours in fashion at Stadio (formerly Lisof), Artho worked for a year as an assistant at Crystal Birch The Hat Factory. Artho says that the surrealist movement deeply resonates with his aesthetic and creative process. For this collection, the designer drew inspiration from the ‘exquisite corpse’ technique, a collaborative drawing method invented by the surrealists. An image is collectively assembled by different people who contribute in-succession, without each understanding fully what the previous drawer has contributed.
Starting the sketches himself, Artho turned to various people in his life, from a host of different backgrounds, to layer further form and flow. “I love unpredictability and freedom when it comes to designing, I love developing a collection organically and I love ending up with visuals that I have no control over, forcing me to think differently,” says the young designer.
In his winning SAFW collection, surrealism is reflected in the styling of the collection, with pieces combined in seemingly clashing ways, challenging the norm, and encouraging the future wearer to do the same. But it is the unique use of prints that is the real masterstroke.
Artho’s exquisite corpse sketches went on to be the foundation of the prints used in the pattern-heavy runway presentation, in response to the New Talent Search brief of “Show me your print.” Deconstructing and reconstructing, manipulating, and duplicating, he developed the absurd-like prints that draw you in deeper the longer you look at them. Artho also worked with a Free State printmaker to create the mesmerising and enchanting hand-done marble print seen on a skirt and a shift dress. Exquisite, indeed!
Throughout the New Talent Search show, it was intriguing to see how Artho and the other finalists each interpreted the brief around the use of print. Another stand-out approach was that of Fikile Sokhulu, whose silhouette and print – in a palette of red and white, representing the duality of water and fire – was inspired by the willow tree and its flexibility against the wind, helping the tree co-exist with nature. Duality, and the yin-yang koi fish, also inform Fikile’s masterful use of print and fabrication in her collection.
In terms of his fabrication, Artho makes the conscious choice to exclude all synthetic fabrics, constructing the range from a mishmash of organic cotton, hemp, silk, mohair, wool, and cashmere. He is particularly fond of his hand-knitted pieces, allowing for a zero-waste use of textiles, and an opportunity to work with a small knitting collective in Cape St Francis.
Fashion is no longer as fertile a breeding ground for new brands as it once was, for various reasons but Artho’s whimsical collection makes us hungry for more… and more. The designer has left a lasting impression and we look forward to seeing what comes from his introduction to the industry at large. Exquisite, indeed!
Artho Eksteen Lookbook SS21
- Feature image: Eunice Driver Photography
- All other images: Lizmarie Richardson Photography | Official SA Fashion Week Social Photographer