“Adornment, what a science!” – Coco Chanel
When South African designers and retail owners ask the question “Why aren’t we garnering any productive international fashion acclaim, and gaining traction in a larger profit margin?” they should probably look no further than South African consumers themselves. The heart of fashion abroad – in places that have made clothing and geographical location intrinsically synonymous – is realizing that it is not enough to simply sell an item as a piece that has its use.
Two brands, which are not clothing brands, but have mastered the consumer, is Mercedes-Benz and Heineken. They realized early on that the key to sustainable profits and solid branding, is marketing an entire lifestyle around their companies, products and services. They sell you a dream that can change because the consumer changes – not because the consumer is dictated by the whims of the company. They sell you something dependably awesome because they have something to offer which appeals to each human differently, and because of their steadfast business reputation. When I think Mercedes I think cars driven by executives, I think chauffeuring the stars, I think fashion event sponsor and therefore I think near-affordable luxury and unassuming taste and sophistication. I don’t even drink Heineken but it has thee best, most fun adverts, and is the principle sponsor for the recent James Bond films, and therefore I think its association with the franchise makes it somewhat tasteful, and the brand itself – worthy of recommendation to someone asking what beer they should drink. When one is dealing with something such as fashion , wherein dependability does not come from the repetitive quality of one item, but rather the quality maintained in innovative seasonal design, it is up to the designer to transcend the barriers of design and business.
South Africans don’t respect the events doled out to them to celebrate, and properly immerse themselves in a lifestyle of fashion.
Wearing t-shirts to a polo event? Really people?
There is a rapport among the players of international fashion: the designers, the fashion lovers, the event planners etc. all have their part to play in the grand design. The perfect scenario to play out would be to have a consumer who stays within the bounds of the event planners theme, while they exercise their absolute freedom in dressing to suit their style. Something that has long since irked me, is how cavalier people are when it comes to Fashion Week. Perhaps its just me, but I am one of the few South Africans you’d find in the grand stand of the runway shows, dressed in some insane, but oddly stylish, outfit. I love the opportunity Fashion Week allows me to explore and showcase my eclectic tastes in streetstyle. Everywhere but Africa, Fashion Week sets the tone for what people see gliding down the pavement as one drives by. It’s not costumes that should only be witnessed on movie sets and theater stages; What you see on and off the ramp at Fashion Week is what real people wear, and it is not considered weird.
But “Oh No!” Dare you wear a feather coat while popping into a coffee shop in South Africa, and it’s “Look at that retard! Like, what thee f*ck?!”.
It’s so disappointing, and it means South African designers such as Alma of Spilt Milk, who think up amazingly intricate and unique clothing and accessories, will not make what sales they could have made, because we’re all a bunch of fashion prudes.
South Africans are stifled by their own hand. Irrespective of age groups and price tags, we need to immerse ourselves in fashion, if we want or designers to succeed, re-brand South Africa and its fashion as a country not defined by only patterned fabric, and push style on the streets into something that embraces far more than what it does now.
“Fashion is very important. It is life-enhancing and, like everything that gives pleasure, it is worth doing well.” – Vivienne Westwood