Jacques van der Watt of Black Coffee
Black Coffee is distinctly identifiable by its structural flair and inspired fabrication. With a sensibility that is both subtle and daring, Jacques van der Watt creates wearable concepts that are at once innovative and desirable.
He debuted at South African Fashion Week (SAFW) in 1998 as part of a Cosmopolitan Magazine sponsored new designers’ competition which evolved into what is now known as the New Talent Search.
“In 1999 I did my first Black Coffee collection as a group show with the likes of Row G and David West. It was very well received. We were all very surprised because we were new,” he shares.
“This was a turning point because for the first time we were a group of designers showing collections with a brand focus and clothing with a specific identity that could be worn as everyday clothes. Before SAFW, fashion shows used to always be about race days, or dressing Miss South Africa.”
Van der Watt’s accolades include winning the Mercedes Benz Art Award and the 2017 South African Fashion Week (SAFW) Cape Wools SA Designer Challenge.
On where he finds himself and Black Coffee right now, he says, “At the beginning of lockdown I closed my store at 44 Stanley in Milpark because I didn’t know what was coming. I was pleasantly surprised by the good response to us starting to sell online. I’m exploring new ways of working and it feels like a reboot. I’m excited for people to see the new collection. It’s not a huge departure, but it’s a little more easy-going – leisurewear that makes sense for now. We’re still in the middle of a pandemic.”
Amanda Laird Cherry (ALC)
With a love for theatre and fine art, iconic Amanda Laird Cherry found her creative expression and political voice in clothing and design. For her, clothes are functional sculptures. Much like the Afro-fusion contemporary dance pioneer, Sylvia “Magogo” Glasser, she weaves cultural anthropology into her creations, relating a deep appreciation for SA’s diverse cultures in a way that is extremely respectful to cultural appropriation.
“That’s where SAFW comes in because it has given me the opportunity to tell stories, explore emotions or to portray a vision,” she says, adding, “for me clothing is not just about what we’re wearing, it’s about what it says about ourselves, about society. It’s a conduit to make people think… in my mind. The SAFW platform has also been about making us push boundaries and enjoy our creativity.”
Laird Cherry has shown her seasonal ranges at SAFW 25 times. The growth of her ALC label led to the existence of numerous The Space stores of which she is part owner. The focus now is on growing the ALC menswear range.
On the latest collection inspiration, she says, “It’s rooted in the concept of upcycling with a conscious decision to use garments that we had in the studio to combine/join/layer and adapt them to create looks of value and creative exploration that reference sculptural and architectural elements of aesthetic interest.”
Book tickets for the SAFW show on 30th April 9PM here
With big hair, bold ambitions and a grand design sensibility, David Tlale won the SAFW / Elle New Talent Search in 2003.
Looking back and taking into account the mood of the time, he reflects, “I had just quit lecturing at Vaal University and decided I wanted to get into the industry. I won the competition after almost missing it and my life changed. At the time, Stoned Cherrie and Sun Goddess were taking over the industry. I needed to know how I would set myself apart and change the game. I had to define my signature and my aesthetic. There were lots of changes happening. Designers were starting to understand the business of fashion and that was mostly due to the existence of SAFW. That was a major turning point for me because it lay the foundation for my trajectory, not only as a designer but as a businessman.”
Known for its high-end quality and dramatic designs, the David Tlale brand has over the years refined its craftsmanship and developed its own prints. As a business in full swing, Tlale and team now create collections that are distributed to four flagship stores nationwide and internationally to New York, Ghana and Nigeria.
Anissa Mpungwe of Loin Cloth and Ashes (LCA)
Anissa Mpungwe shook the scene as the 2008 SAFW New Talent Search Winner and as the first black woman to do it. It was her creative use of fabrication and playful colour palette that won her the competition.
In 2012 she made another move that created a moment that is still etched in fashion lovers’ memory: The iconic Solange Elle Cover and editorial spread featuring her newly launched label, Loin Cloth and Ashes.
“The experience of winning the competition laid the foundation for Loin Cloth and Ashes. It was a fundamental thing for me personally because as a black female I knew that a ceiling had been broken. Because of this, I knew I had to really be present in the moment, ask many questions and connect myself with as many people within the industry as possible. I think the Solange Cover happened because I made myself enter many rooms by force. It was a mind-blowing experience. Those two experiences taught me the importance of always being present and in the room and the value of laying seeds wherever you find yourself,” Mpungwe says.
Her play on exaggerated shapes and eclectic fabrics give relevance to her ever-evolving neo-African, contemporary design approach.
Lukhanyo Mdingi’s work illuminates a self-assured and instinctual sensibility. Richly artisanal, their creations brim with precise craftsmanship, nuanced textures and a mindful design approach for a timeless and luxurious offering. In the brand’s steady rise since 2015, they have showcased on world stages ranging from the British Fashion Council International Showcase to Italy’s Pitti Immagine Uomo – Generation Africa.
“The premise of our label is driven by purpose and creating something that is intentional. And this is essentially done by collaboration,” Mdingi says.
“We are heavily reliant on the relationships that have steadily helped us reach our potential. And that is through creating pieces that are honest, steady and strong.”
The Lukhanyo Mdingi SAFW collaboration is fairly new, having started in 2020 with the Diamond Fibre Collections initiated by the South Africa Mohair Cluster (SAMC) with the intention of highlighting the versatility and luxury of mohair.
Back for their second season with a contemplation on the importance of human communication and connection, Lukhanyo Mdingi is one to watch. The fashion community waits in anticipation to see whether they have made it to the finals of the Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) Prize. Fingers are crossed.
Book tickets for the SAFW show on 30th April 8PM here
Mmuso Potsane and Maxwell Boko founded MmusoMaxwell in 2016 after meeting through a David Tlale internship programme. In 2017 they won the SAFW New Talent Search and began the journey of their high-end women’s wear brand inspired by contemporary culture and African heritage. This legacy is at times a subtle whisper in the tailoring and at other times a reference to a particular time.
“MmusoMaxwell carries pieces of our African heritage mixed with our point of view as modern individuals. Creatively we have found our groove and are comfortable with what we’re doing,” says Boko.
Since winning the New Talent Search MmusoMaxwell have showcased on a range of eminent local and international platforms including Woolworth’s Style By SA and the SAFW / SAMC Diamond Fibre Collections.
Their new collection called Umethulo takes symbolic cues from the isiXhosa cultural ritual that marks the end of mourning.
Book tickets for the show on 30th April 8PM here
Check out ASA’s ongoing coverage of SAFW
Words | Kgomotso Moncho-Maripane Twitter @kgomotsomoncho