Meditating on British and South African fashion

"The following is rooted in subjective deductions and personal taste."

Sometimes I like to think there is a blueprint to being stylish. I sometimes state that patriotism, history and their baggage have no place in the new world order of innovative design. I fool myself. I look to reoccurring patterns and design motifs and refuse to see the transnational historical influence embedded in the very fabric of a clothing piece’s existence. Its shameful to think I’ve doled out advice at some point or another disregarding what is arguably one of fashions most intrinsic facts: history is part of the definition of fashion.

You doubt that fact?

Is it not true that each trends development is based on a designers wish to be inspired by or pay homage to predecessing stylistic inclinations? That some designers wish to create entirely new avenues of fashion and the thoughts it evokes? And, that some designers wish to rebel,off the backbone of a past mode of thinking and styling considered archaic, with the predetermined consequence of revolutionizing fashions occasional stagnation or rolling slumps?

History has played its part in what is today, a multi-billion Dollar industry of tremendous power. Fashion has made itself indispensable in practically every juncture and has specifically fundamentally transformed the functioning of the entertainment industry.

While I can observe and analyze data from each country and the cities and peoples behaviors therein, I look to Britain and South Africa as two examples of being in different states of fashion development. This is not to say I draw comparisons between two places entirely different in demographics, history etc. I will merely meditate on their streams of style consciousness.

Britain is fearless, gave the world the 17th century Cavalier Period ans the Jacobean Period, and Britain has given me Vivienne Westwood, Burberry and Paul Smith – and for that I’m forever indebted to them. I usually speak of not falling at the feet of fashion houses and their labels, but I will never stop praising their work if they continue their excellence.

Vivienne Westwood is one kick-ass red-haired herald of style. Her rebellion from the norms of age, circumstance and design shows a will for pursuing ones personal belief with the spirited armor to adorn the transport of willful endeavor. Belief and beauty is sanity for Vivienne I think, and in the eyes of conservative fashion critics, Vivienne somehow rises as a designer of pretty insanity cut just right enough to pass muster.

When Coco Chanel said “Adornment, what a science!” I think of a contemporary Burberry‘s premise to adorn the form in durable and gorgeous coats. It is truly an experience, not only to witness the creative direction in social media and the multitude of ways Burberry has marketed themselves, but see how their preoccupation with making their coats new and different never loses their iconic signature. They make other products, but my obsession is their coats – in colors I’ve yet not seen on the color wheel, but have caught glimmers of in gemstones and watercolor paintings. Their fabrics feel rich and thick and vibrate with color and quality and their fibers weaved together in warm threads of comfort. For their consistency – Burberry will always have my undying devotion to style.

Paul Smith I first got acquainted with when I saw their shop at a mall I frequented. The shop had an interior design I coveted as a future walk-in wardrobe design. Their clothing was everything I one day hoped I’d have as base items in my cupboard – you know: pants, skirts,blouses,belts,blazers and the like. Then I took to prowling the web, and realized not all the suits tailored to perfection were entirely Armani, Hugo Boss, Burberry, and Tom Ford. Paul Smith’s suits were different in so far that they ascribed to pastel colors much brighter on the color wheel than the charcoal grey, black and navy that the above mentioned designer menswear powerhouses liked. Today, Paul Smith stands alongside Norwegian Rain as my favorite suit designers.

Britain’s shortcoming comes in closing ranks to those below the First World threshold. They foster international ties to nations such as USA, France, Italy, Switzerland, Russia etc. while nations south of the equator are near ostracized as would-be formidable dictators of taste, and these nations rather serving as a source of brief quota-filling “untapped  diversely cultured” domains. Their momentary respites from being elitist highlight a few people, rather than establishing mutually beneficial pathways to grow the fashion industry in First world nations and the developing nations. We’re not looking for handouts. These nations are awesome all on their own, but its evident in the Fashion-led events of late that these First World nations are essentially bored and are waiting to be challenged. There is a way to give rise to challenge, and subsequently to a positive world fashion face-off. The question is whether the current leaders in the industry are willing to do, and invest in what needs to be done.

South Africa is a well of raw and potent beauty waiting to be harnessed into intriguing ideas and manifesting incredible works from creatives.

Bryan Ramkilawan of the Cape Town Fashion Council said that “others can steal the design but not the story that goes with it”, but herein lies the rub: The stories that make designs and products from South Africa so intriguing aren’t being articulated to their greatest extent.  The fault also lies in South African designers ascribing to this belief and regurgitating outdated, and overused themes. South Africa’s failure also comes in the lack of financing for small-business development, a lack of uniquely innovative thinking, and the perpetuated idea that if one is not a London,Milan,New York,Paris-based designer that one is to emulate the designer collections showcased there etc. I’ve already argued that African identity is not patterned fabric and that our iconography and industry cannot be reduced to singularly that.

There are initiatives and infrastructures such as the various Fashion Council’s in South Africa, the Design Indaba’s, fashion institutes, as well as Africa Fashion International which is committed to growing the African Fashion sector through its development of creatives. Those that have showcased at Fashion Week’s have manifested a standard wherein they fall on the spectrum of:

•Uninspired blasé fashion fad creators

Examples: Selfi, Lo , Lalesso , Tart

•Eclectic never-to-be-worn-as-ready-to-wear apparel designers

Examples: Non-European and Lara Klawikowski

•Pricey, mildly passable couture designers

Examples: Gavin Rajah, DanielleMargaux, and Kluk CGDT

•Unequivocal artists of pure beauty

I’ve only ever witnessed once – the 2014 Imani and Kobus Dippenaar collection at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Cape Town. I rejoiced and reveled in this collection. It renewed my faith in the possibility that South African designers are capable of extreme feats of design. I remember being speechless as I sat there at the end. I proceeded to tweet so much I exceeded some daily limit twitter apparently has.

Probably some of my favorite designers are those that have already dressed me for events, chosen very wisely:

MilQ & Honey – Their experimentation with prints of their own design and form-fitting apparel that isn’t exclusive to the skinny endears them to me forever. When I wear their flowing summer skirts or their faux-fur winter coats I feel doused in something you cant find at a shop – innovative style, quality, and exclusivity.

They are world-renowned since their 2012/2013 collections showcased at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Cape Town garnered some international press.

Spilt Milk made me feel regal. It does not seem like much, but sophisticated crisp and classically minimalist design is actually a thing of the past as of now, and Spilt Milk has draped velvet and miles of milky white chiffon that I wear while walking a little taller and fiercer. The designs are not anything sublimely amazing, but they are what you want when you just want to look pretty and demure.

Ministry4Style gave my dramatic soul something to latch onto when I attended events that demanded excellence. Thanks to Luiz de Laja I have donned a fake bird (yeah, a whole fake bird), feather jackets and skirts(not of the same bird mind) and at one specific time I took the theme ‘Made to Conquer’ and ended up on BBC for Ministry4Style’s royal blue near-costume apparel. Luiz makes pieces with thee artsy flair of a Broadway costume designer or Burlesque designer. I feel bold in the items in bold jewel tones, hardly a speck of black near. I’ve recommended the label for photoshoot editorial styling because of how much I believe in this labels design aesthetic.

Now that I’m nearly done droning, I would like to point out something. If you return to my previous works you might find I’ve previously praised designers where I now stand critically assessing them. I’ve learned a few things since I last wrote that. I consider myself a person in love with fashion, and fashion is always teaching you something, and forcing you to eventually stand with your own conviction.

As I stand now, this has been my meditation on British and South African fashion based on my tastes and subjective deductions.

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