Average read time: 6 minutes.
On the eve of SAFW AW22, internationally awarded designer, fashion icon, and creator of her eponymous designer label, Amanda Laird Cherry explains how she wishes she was treading South African soil, “I’m actually in America [right now], so the team and Brendan Sturrock [Ladieswear & Menswear designer & co-designer at ALC] are busy and running around, but with COVID I haven’t been able to come back and travel like I used to, so the energy for me is FOMO”.
With SAFW AW22 signifying, among other things, the 26th showcase of her seasonal ranges, Amanda expresses her longing with an elegant sigh, a soft smile, and a gentle shoulder shrug.
Cherry studied Clothing Design, graduating from Technikon Natal (now Durban University of Technology) in 1983 and worked in two boutique studios before joining international-selling Instinct Sportswear, where she was appointed Design Director, a position she held for a number of years.
In 1996, she officially opened her own design brand Amanda Laird Cherry for business, supplying the Durban Design Emporium and other boutiques across the country. And in 1999, Cherry co-founded The Space, a pioneering home for African designers, and expanded to 11 outlets countrywide.
The pandemic resulted in three of the outlets being shut down, an unavoidable loss Cherry was forced to concede. “We are, unfortunately, down to eight stores – the landlord still wanted rent [despite COVID closures] and it’s been a lot of mitigation”. But her infectious positivity returns almost instantly as she acknowledges not only survival, but growth, “So we’re selling through our channel of The Space stores, but we’re also selling through Superbalist, and a couple of boutiques dotted around the country and in Namibia, so it’s just been incredible,” she enthuses.
I’m curious about, almost three decades after launching her label, what it means to her. “I think it’s really been an incredible journey to use clothes to tell stories and to say things that matter, as opposed to just being a brand that interprets international trends in a way that’s commercial,” she beams with pride before adding, “You know, we’ve wanted to stand for something a lot more meaningful, and reflective of society. So, it’s been a real privilege to focus on having that as a purpose and meaning for the brand”.
Cherry attributes ALC’s longevity and success to “the incredible team of people that just keep things running”, and specifically sings Brendan Sturrock’s praises when I ask about the level of trust one needs to bring an external designer into the creative fold. When she was looking for someone to assist with designing and relaunching the menswear, Brendan’s name came up. They’d met years before, where she’d attended his graduation, and deeply resonated with what he’d put on the ramp.
“I think the great thing was that he understood my brand, having followed it before. He really understands working with the company, he looks at all of the archives, he knows the brand ethos, and can create stuff that really interprets what we’ve had in the past in a new, fresh way,” she explains, adding, “it’s a collaboration and I can trust both him and the aesthetic that he brings to the brand”.
There’s a sentence on SAFW’s homepage that reads, “From great chaos comes great responsibility”, and I ask, specifically with the Pandemic in mind, how this has come to light in her own creative process. “In a sense, creativity will always come from chaos, because you’re making something new from what’s perceived to be there. And you’re making use of materials that are available. And we’re used to that,” she reasons before elaborating, “but with the level of international disruption brought on by COVID, we really had to stick with our ethos, our brand, what we’ve created, what our business is. We had to make sense of it in some ways to be able to carry on.”
Cherry explains that being confronted with scary things can bring out a level of raw, excitingly experimental creativity, or it can force you to take the safe journey, something she reckons ALC has had to balance.
“On the commercial level, in the stores, we’ll be producing stuff that we know people like because they’ll also want to vacillate between caution and creativity,” she affirms, “but then to sustain your creativity and to creatively move forward, we also want some time to push the boundaries and I think doing SA Fashion Week is that for us.”
Her SAFW SS21 collection brought the #BlackLivesMatter movement onto the runway and under the harsh spotlight, piquing my curiosity about her most recent collection. She doesn’t give much away ahead of the showcase but flashes a cheeky smile as she adds, “I don’t think we’ve taken a true athleisure route — it’s more like a fusion of street casual, not as dress up [as usual] but still very out there. And because it’s Autumn/Winter, we can really expand on the layering”.
As SAFW celebrates both the fashion icons and the up-and-comers, I’m curious to know what Cherry believes the future of SA fashion holds. With upcycling and recycling and reimagining so entrenched in the ALC brand, I’m reassured by her response as she concludes, “I think it’s multi-dimensional. When you’re younger and studying and coming into it, you want all the newness, and you want to be bold and very niche, and that’s not necessarily sustainable”. But for me, sustainability in fabrication, and just also a balance of having pieces that you know you’re going to wear for a long time.”