Average read time: 7 minutes.

Fashion and art have been in a beautiful courtship for decades, which has been celebrated the world over in museums, exhibitions, on runways and on stage. The lines between the two can often be blurred, says celebrated local designer and artist, Carlo Gibson: “Over my 30-year creative career, I have taken great delight in following various fashion designers who push the limits of their craft, such as the likes of John Galliano, Alexander McQueen, Maison Margiela, and Issey Miyake, to name a few. These designers show how art and fashion can form wonderful dovetail with one another.”

Carlo explains that he utilises this inspiration to infuse everything that he designs in order to create a sense of art and meaning in his work: “As a designer, my designs have often traversed into art and it can be closely associated with the performing arts in its traditional sense.”

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A prime example of this is the short film – The Dreamer – a branded fashion film that exudes African-haute-couture-cum-James-Bond in the Maluti Mountains. Created by local film director, Robert dos Santos, in partnership with Mercedes-Benz, Cars.co.za and Carlo’s fashion brand, Klipa Denim – this film is an African-inspired cinematic Western that moves boundlessly through the vast mountains of Lesotho. “I believe that the clothes that I created for the protagonist played a distinctive part in the film’s visual success and deeper meaning,” notes Carlo.

Carlo has always placed a lot of focus on the concept behind each garment he designs: “I take great delight in creating shows that are intricate realisations of an abstract concept. A theme that has constantly intrigued me is that of what it means to be African.”

In November 2021, Carlo showcased his latest exhibit – inkululeko Kowesimame at the FADA Gallery. Art merged with fashion, the exhibition explored the idea of protesting without the use of violence: “After seeing the devastation caused by the incidents that brought on the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as the mass riots and looting in KZN and Joburg earlier this year, I realised that our struggle is far from over. Although it is our civic duty to protest if we are not satisfied with the workings of governance, I believe that there is a better, less destructive form of protest. This idea slowly evolved into Inkululeko Kowesimame – which became a form of protest against protest, so to speak.”

inkululeko Kowesimame
inkululeko Kowesimame

When it comes to runway shows, Carlo says that he likes to focus on the idea of structure as a means of bringing significance to his designs: “The shape and design of the clothing is a major focus for me – I like to create clothing that can be worn and stand as sculpture.”

Carlo’s ERRE KLIPA fashion show that was part of SA Fashion Week 2018 is evidence of this. The show won him the coveted Cape Wool SA Designer Challenge Award. “Although my central focus for this show was on form, conceptual influences were also important to me. Again I was exploring what it means to be African by showcasing modern, urban designs, with a clear African-inspired tone, which came together to represent the history of how we got here – our past, our present, and our future.”

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Fashion shows can also take the form of public protests, exploring confrontational in-depth social and political ideas. Carlo explains that he continuously strives to ensure that his creations speak of the world in which they were created, as he believes this truly gives his garments their own form of provenance. There are many examples of statement design throughout Carlo’s work, but one of his latest projects shines in this category: A Homeless Home – a collaboration between Klipa Denim and non-profit organisation, make-good.

Carlo explains: “The dire situation of the homeless in my city of Johannesburg is a constant and upsetting reality, and I wanted to create something that would help. To do this, I designed an item of clothing that can be worn by homeless individuals as a jacket and then transformed into a sleeping bag.

The design also has pouches that can be stuffed with newspaper to help provide insulation when required. Made from a durable fabric that is both lightweight and weatherproof, it also protects the wearer from the elements.” In conjunction with Adidas SA and TWYG mag, A Homeless Home won the Innovation, Design & Materials Award at this year’s TWYG Awards.

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Avant-garde and radical in spirit, Carlo has always been driven by the science behind the fabric and how it is manufactured. He loves to focus on technology in the creation of new forms of fabric and through the years, he has developed fabric by repurposing used materials.

“Clothing is a major source of pollution and I believe that sustainability is an imperative part of the future of fashion. As such, I have spent years developing new forms of fabric that repurpose cast-off materials,” explains Carlo. One fabric that Carlo has developed is made from old, recycled cash notes: “I call this fabric the SMCTT Prototype 6, which is an acronym for So Much Cash to Trash Prototype 6. It is a laminate fabric made from recycled paper cash.”

Ultimately, the multi-faceted Carlo is a maker of things – and this journey has taken him to some interesting places – including lecturing at the  Art Institute of Chicago, winning trips to Fashion Week in New York and Paris, visiting Athens with the outfits he designed for the South African Olympic team (in his previous incarnation Strangelove) and touring with local choreographer and dancer, Nellie Zaba. Carlo concludes, “However, the most interesting journey for me has been the fireworks that happen when art and fashion unite!”

Shop here www.klipadenim.com.



Words | Antonella Desi @antonella1974  & Carlo Gibson @carlogibson2020
Editor | Nikki Temkin @NikkiTemkin
Images | Courtesy of Klipa Denim