It has been almost two years since fashion designer Jean-Paul Botha died at age 43. Botha, the founder and creative director of the Ruff Tung label, was one of the country’s most sought-after fashion designers in the ’90s, whose creative talent saw him develop his brand from an edgy label to a high fashion house that enjoyed appearances at several major fashion weeks across the country.
But then the Durban-born designer’s death left a huge gap in the fashion industry. Fast forward to today and Botha’s Ruff Tung legacy lives on through the talented designer duo, Bridget Pickering and Ludwig Bausch. Last month, the fashion house staged their first runway showcase – since Botha’s death – at the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Cape Town (MBFWCT).
We interviewed Pickering and Bausch at their office in Kenilworth. Mentored by Botha, Pickering started out in the industry as a story board designer for a trims and accessory business.
“I played on the edge of fashion in my early years, but I became serious about my career once I moved to London. My first role was for the iconic store Liberty where I was introduced to the world of incredible designs,” she says.
For Bausch, a Durban University of Technology fashion and textile design graduate, his first job in fashion was as Botha’s pattern maker. Now at the helm of what was his creation, the designers described their MBFWCT showcase as a “defining moment “ for the brand.
“The show was our official launch as a local Cape Town brand and more importantly as a tribute to Botha,” says Pickering
“We received an emotional standing ovation, proving that Botha’s creative legacy and DNA lives on through our continued hard work and in every design element of our collection,” she adds.
What were your inspirations for your SS16 collection? Our collection titled Mirror Mirror on the wall – Reflections has inspired our passion for print on print this SS16 season. A simple silhouette viewed “through the looking glass” to create multiple angles to dress multiple shapes, the designs offer women a dynamic balance between looking effortless, comfortable and stylish all in one piece. We have specifically developed our own prints for this collection, creating an inspirational visual feast through a kaleidoscope of shapes – an eclectic mix of monochrome, directional print blocking and always a bolt of vibrant colour. Simplicity is always the focus in our designs, creating a modern energy for the modern Ruff Tung woman.
How did you select the materials and colours? Our past and present has had a long love affair with statement prints. Tamarind Textiles came to the rescue with some beautiful prints exclusive to Ruff Tung. A strong design trait of ours is to colour and print block to create a flattering silhouette for our women. We believe that our prints and statement colour, deep cobalt, will set us apart from our competitors and make us the go to brand for woman of all shapes and sizes.
Describe the woman you envision wearing your clothes? Our designs, like the woman we dress, are ageless. The Ruff Tung women have busy lives, they want to have fun while looking good. Effortless and no fuss styling is key and our modern Ruff Tung woman appreciates this. We sell frocks, casual sophistication, easy-to-wear fashion and classic with a contemporary twist.
Who are your most influential fashion designers, and why? Our current influential designers are American fashion stylist Rachel Zoe for her effortless style, designer Diane von Furstenberg (DVF) for her business prowess and longevity, London’s leading retail marketing consultant Mary Portas for her ability to dress “real women” and Victoria Beckham for being a late fashion bloomer and taking the fashion world by storm.
What is your opinion on “high fashion” and do you aspire to becoming a popular high-end fashion label? We would love to be popular and be the go-to designer brand.
“Our aim would be to provide the combination of an affordable ready-to-wear collection, plus a “high end” more exclusive offering for those special luxury pieces.”
You have quite big shoes to fill: how do you ensure that the label still represents Jean-Paul Botha’s legacy? We have registered the business as “Tribute by Ruff Tung”, so not only are we a daily working tribute to the man who opened the fashion doors and gave us this opportunity, but we are working to achieve all the goals and aims that we agreed to as a team before he passed away.
Botha and ourselves started to streamline the business from a niché occasion wear brand to a more retail commercial business and this is what we will continue to do.
“We design with an honest approach to what women want.”
What can be done to encourage people to buy local or support local designers?
We don’t feel that the average consumer knows how many talented local designers are out there. Local fashion publications need to promote local more… it would be amazing to see a larger variety of local brands in the press.
There is a place for both local and international brands, but the more we support local, the more positive the impact on local manufacturing industry.
What trends do you currently see in the fashion industry?
“The current trends include the boho look and we are seeing a lot of off-the shoulder action, jumpsuits, as well as statement prints.”
What are your future plans for the brand? We will continue to build on our business, branching from E-tail into more retail opportunities. There is a demand for effortless, chic plus-size styles and we are all about dressing women across the fashion board.
What advice do you have for other aspiring fashion designers?
“This fashion business is not for sissies, so get a good background in business and a good mentor who will show you the business from the ground up.”
●Ruff Tung is sold at online shops E-Tail, Spree and Zando, and several shops nationwide such as The Bromwell.
This feature first was first published in the Cape Argus on September 29 2015.