Child of Africa
Lebogang Kekana of sought-after Johannesburg fashion brand, Quiteria Atelier, is bored with people always asking him about his brand’s name. Quiteria, which has Portuguese roots, is a name given to him by his grandmother from Mozambique.
Home for Kekana is Moletjie in the Limpopo province which sits close to the border of Maputo. Kekana owns his lineage as an “African child” – a phrase he repeats often. He also describes himself habitually as a “black man” and a “black designer.” He claims his heritage proudly.
Early on in our talk, he gives a fiery speech to explain his side of the story regarding the recent fat-shaming furore involving Quiteria Atelier and SA satirist and TV personality, Lesego Tlhabi. It’s a disarming tactic. He claims he never spoke with Tlhabi and never called her “Fatty Boom Boom.” He adds, “everything that encapsulates an African child is who I am and that is my grounding. If I’m comfortable with who I am as a black man and understand the energies of my forefathers and my ancestors, I would not go on Twitter to bring another black person down.” The Tlhabi saga remains a teachable moment in terms of the role brands play in political conversations around body positivity, inclusion and representation.
Luxury as a birthright
So, how does Quiteria Atelier use fashion to communicate politically? And, as a fashion house, what does it advocate for? “When I speak of luxury as my birthright I consider that Africa harbours all the minerals in the world. Historically, Johannesburg sits on top of a gold mine,” says Kekana, adding, “The longest road in the city is Main Reef Road which connects all the mines all the way to the North West. Kekana shares that he uses fashion to remind people that luxury is the birthright of every African child. “Those who came to Africa to loot have controlled the narrative and manipulated Africans into thinking they’re not good enough. My responsibility as a designer is to change that narrative to help us heal from generational hurt and own what is ours”, explains Kekana passionately.
Quiteria Atelier’s stand-out quality and signature style is exaggerated luxury, pristine workmanship and inspired structures. The drama in Quiteria Atelier garments stems from Kekana’s theatrical background. He trained as a ballet dancer at the National School of the Arts before doing fashion design. He weaves the memories that made him from the provinces of Gauteng and Limpopo into his work.
“My mother was a domestic worker. She wore a suit to work every day and exuded the elegance of Taylor Hayes in The Bold and the Beautiful. My dad was a mower of lawns and became the only black man in the Transvaal Bowling Club. Because of this I don’t take anyone for granted.” Kekana says.
On the global map
Kekana created three collections during lockdown: The Authority for South African Menswear Week; Mother which won him the Innovative Designer of the Year award at the Durban Fashion Fair and the latest, The New Order, which is regal and opulent, boasting shimmering gold, texturised blues and powerful black statement pieces.
With The New Order, Kekana captures the four elements of life and the message is, “Change. It’s about unlearning what we have been taught and reinventing the wheel,” he says.
He showcased the collection at Senegal, New York, Paris and Milan fashion weeks. These are all highlights, but the one that put him on the map and opened him up to the US and European markets is the collaboration with former business partner, George Malelu, on Beyonce’s showstopping emerald green gown at the South African Global Citizen concert in 2018.
“It was surreal to receive a DM from Beyonce’s people asking me to create a collection of 45 dresses. The moment also brings up love and hate for me. I had gone through so much pain and darkness during that period. I lost my house and the people I worked with. But in the end, it was a gratifying, life-changing experience,” shares Kekana.
Kekana’s luxe studio is situated to absorb the energies and pulse of the life that pass through the Main Street of quirky Melville in Johannesburg. He likes to be in tune with people on the ground. Kekana is self-assured and confident. “I’m not scared to be great. In fact, I’m the greatest there is,” he proclaims. And, he is determined to conquer the globe with Quiteria Atelier.