Nicholas Coutts and LVMH Prize 2021 finalist Lukhanyo Mdingi first met when they were fashion students at Cape Peninsula University of Technology and Design Academy of Fashion, respectively, and later they were not only friends but professional peers too. They collaborated on collections, posed together for MARIE CLAIRE’s nude issue and travelled together.
Nicholas tragically lost his young life in 2019. In response to this tragedy, Lukhanyo created the Coutts Collection, a tribute to his close friend. With this collection, Lukhanyo commemorates his friend using their shared language: fashion design. The Coutts Collection maintains Lukhanyo’s distinctive style – for instance there is a meticulously and beautifully tailored camel-coloured suit and a burnt orange felt jacket – while reflecting and celebrating his friend’s use of colour and choice of artisanal practice. The nod to Nicholas is in the textile designs and handwoven scarves.
We asked Nicholas’ mother, Lindsay Coutts to tell us more about their friendship. In this image, Lindsay hands Clive Rundle the Nicholas Coutts Award at the Twyg Sustainable Fashion Awards in 2019. On the left is Lucilla Booyzen, director of SA Fashion Week.
Tell us about Lukhanyo and Nick’s friendship.
I first met Lukhanyo during the run up to the Elle Rising Star Awards in 2013. Both Nick and Lukhanyo were finalists and both were in their final year at their respective fashion design colleges. They were so young and passionate and had such clear visions about the future of their brands and the different directions these would take. But essentially they were young South African designers who faced the same hurdles and their friendship grew from here. They collaborated for the Mdingi/Coutts collection in 2016 and travelled together to Pitti Uomo in Florence to present this collection at the Generation Africa show. Again in early 2019 they travelled together to the TRANOÏ fashion trade show in Paris. There’s nothing like collaborating on a range or overseas travel to get to know each other and to cement a friendship.
Tell me about your experience with weaving?
I worked for our family business for many years and one of the arms of this was importing spinning and weaving equipment from New Zealand. I was taught to weave by Jill Trappler in the early 80’s and have been interested in fibre art ever since. Nick wanted to create a unique textured interest for his graduate collection at Design Academy of Fashion and asked me to teach him to weave. He learnt quickly and spent many hours perfecting this hands-on-skill and making it his own.
Can you tell me about Philani?
Jill Trappler introduced and taught weaving at Philani in Khayelitsha, I was not personally involved. I initially introduced Nick to Philani and he took it from there. Part of his vision was to create employment through his weaving and this was the perfect place to start. [The Philani Maternal, Child Health and Nutrition Trust addresses family, maternal, child health and nutrition problems in the informal settlements outside Cape Town. It has a craft centre which includes weaving facilities.]
Did you teach Lukhanyo to weave?
Lukhanyo came to us early in 2020 with the concept of the Coutts Collection. We were delighted and it seemed a natural fit. He wanted to learn to weave and so I taught him in one lesson! Such an easy student and he took to it so quickly!
What yarns work best for weaving?
It depends what you want to create. Nick developed his own techniques by exploring colours and textures. He often wove vibrant coloured, novelty and metallic yarns juxtaposed with natural fibres to create a celebration of colour and texture.
What do you think of the Coutts Collection?
The Coutts Collection is a great honour to our family and to the memory of our son and brother. Lukhanyo has created a spectacular homage to Nick and given life again to his memory. We are grateful to Lukhanyo for incorporating Nick’s vision into this collection. By teaming his signature pieces with bursts of sublime colour, he has created a standout collection. We are so excited that he is a LVMH Prize 2021 finalist.
Describe Lukhanyo in a few words.
Constant, committed and dedicated. A loyal friend and a caring and sensitive individual who has become an important part of our extended family.
Feature image: Lukhanyo Mdingi, Nicholas Coutts and Jackie May at the Plastic Free Mzansi event at the Two Oceans Aquarium in 2018. Jackie is wearing Nicholas Coutts.
Gallery images feature Coutts Collection: