What drives a designer?

Unknown UnionPicture: Simon Deiner/SDR Photo

When it comes to clothing brands, sometimes all it takes is a clean and distinct design aesthetic that will set you apart from the saturated market. Streetwear brand Unknown Union (UU) is one of a few South African labels which have managed to stand out with its distinct tracksuits and separates like T-shirts, caps, socks and jackets

I get to know the founder of the brand, Jason Storey.

Tell us a bit about yourself. I wasn’t always a designer. I actually spent my early career as an in-house corporate attorney in New York, working around the clock on deal after deal. But I always had a passion for expression outside the field of law. I grew up surrounded by the study of art (my father was an art dealer).

Tell us about starting your label.Unknown Union was born from that passion, but it’s vision has changed significantly since its origins. My family and I have been travelling to South Africa since I was much younger and it is through that experience that I developed a deep affinity for the people, places and cultures here. UU originally was originally founded in 2010 and at that time we primarily imported brands from outside of South Africa, such as Obey, Levi’s Vintage, Pendleton, and Warriors of Radness.

We also were the first to officially introduce Top Shop to the African Market through our exclusive pop up shop. Around 2011, we began developing our in-house clothing brand, UU, which was inspired by local art and culture, and it didn’t take long before this became the primary focus of our shop. Today, you can find our range at our newest location in Cape Town CBD (44 Bloem Street), where our garments celebrate the rich cultural history of Lesotho and South Africa and several new design projects that touch Angola, Congo and Kenya.

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Model, Sanele Xaba is the face of UU. Picture: Simon Deiner/SDR Photo

What’s it like being in the fashion industry? The fashion industry is fun, but challenging.

From the outside the industry can easily appear to be sexy and glamorous, but people don’t always see how much work and effort goes into the creation of each garment. From design to production it takes a team working meticulously around the clock to produce something worth buying.

 

How would you describe your brand? We believe that there is something that binds every person on this planet together. There is no name for that thing. There is no way to smell it, taste it, feel it, see it, etc. But we all intrinsically recognise that it exists. That’s one of the meanings behind our name, Unknown Union.

How difficult is it to remain original when streetwear brands seem to emerge daily nowadays? If you are pinning your originality on the uniqueness of your design, then few designers can meet that standard because almost every design you could think of to drape the human body has already been thought of or created.

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Is it important for the brand to have the clothing worn by celebrities? While we are thankful many celebrities have taken an interest in our brand, our clothing is designed for everyone .

How have you seen the role of social media develop for you as a brand?

Social has media has become more of a focus for the brand over the last year. Until recently, word of mouth and print were our primary marketing vehicles.

 

Unknown Union pic 3 (2).jpgPicture: Simon Deiner/SDR Photo

What’s next for Unknown Union? Our UU family can expect to see new and innovative capsule collections from upcoming collaborations with local and international artists. Everyone is invited to come through our flagship Cape Town shop for the launch of our next exhibit: Fashion Art.

Connect with Unknown Union on Instagram @unknownunion https://www.instagram.com/unknownunion/

Connect with me on Instagram @Nontando58 https://www.instagram.com/nontando58/?hl=en  

Find more of my work here: http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style

This piece was first published in The Mercury on June 9 2017. 

Lexus SA Menswear Week A/W’17

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Jenevieve Lyons, Collection name: de-frag-mented (undated) picture by  by Simon Deiner / SDR Photo

Africa’s only menswear-focused fashion showcase, the fifth edition of the Lexus SA Menswear Week, took place this month at The Palms in Woodstock. I chatted to three designers whose work was among those that stood out, about their collections and inspiration.

Jenevieve Lyons (South Africa)

Collection name: de-frag-mented (undated)

Tell us about the concept behind your collection? The collection was an amalgamation of my two previous collections: Macula Autumn/Winter 2016 and Deferential Spring/Summer 2017.Both these collections carry immense relevance internationally , allowing us to showcase Macula Autumn/Winter 2016 in Helsinki, in Finland, at the end of last year.We felt that a revisit would be pertinent, thus seeing the opportunity for de-frag-mented to arise as a collection.The collection was therefore presented in the manner of an artistic installation showcasing a concise, five-look collection featuring all the campaign models from our previous two collections.They were initially disguised behind a stocking, which was later cut open to reveal their faces, and this was intended to tell a visual parable to intrigue fashion-lovers, compelling them to think, wonder and ponder about the reasoning and also reminisce along with us, all three stories in one.

How important is Fashion Week for you? The mission of our brand is to tell parables through our fashion – to take it so much further than just clothes.As a South African designer uniting to build our industry and African fashion’s identity; and to pull this clichéd identity of “ethnic” and print to a more modernistic view that can be placed next to an international brand and be understood globally.So the importance of realising cultural, social, political and environmental issues within a fashion context to educate and build renewed perspectives on the African fashion industry is imperative.

Where do you go to seek artistic inspiration? I am aware of my surroundings at all times – politically, socially, news-driven, culturally – all in all to be tapped into the zeitgeist every day, at every moment. I find inspiration in organic places.I will experience or witness something or someone that will spark interest, and this interest links up within my fashion forecasting stream.

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Nicholas Coutts  picture by  by Simon Deiner / SDR Photo

 

Nicholas Coutts (South Africa)

Tell us about your A/W17 collection you presented at the Lexus SA Menswear Week? For this collection, I drew inspiration from South Africa’s diverse culture combined with a strong 1970s influence.I aimed to create fresh and dynamic garments that the contemporary man can wear while making a subtle impact.There are glimpses of metallic touches of texture running through the collection. The colours give a warm and happy atmosphere, and sophisticated tailoring.

My collaboration with House of Grace design (macrame bags) and milliner Crystal Birsch for the hats added a vibrant and innovative mood which energised the collection.Styling for the collection was by Peter Georgiades. He brought a fresh approach to the styling and another point of view to the collection.It was important for me to collaborate this season to empower both myself and those that I collaborated with.

What were the first steps you took in the fashion world? My interest in fashion was sparked from an early age. I come from a creative family who have been supportive in my career from the beginning.After studying fashion design for three years, I worked learning different aspects of fashion industry before starting my own brand.

What is it like working for yourself and who is your dream client? I work with a pattern maker and a seamtress, and it’s quite lonely sometimes. It’s challenging as I have to do it all, from PR to overseeing garment construction to designing. However, in the end, the final product is very rewarding.

ST Verve Fashion Pic 2 Mai Atafo.jpg Mai Atafo Atalier picture by  by Simon Deiner / SDR Photo

  Mai Atafo Atalier (Nigeria)

Collection name: Me

Tell us about your Lexus SA Menswear AW’17 showcase? Me is a collection that describes my journey from when I was 19 years to this present day. In my early years, hand-downs from my siblings and shopping second-hands because one couldn’t afford cool new clothes made up my wardrobe.Added to this was my need to stand out by reinventing these pieces through reconstructing or sometime deconstructing them.Hand print by Dricky_ helps tell a literal story (my first fashion collaboration). The base of all this was my love for denim, velvet, corduroy (ridged velvet) suede and camouflage print.

I also used houndstooth (a pattern with notched corners suggestive of a canine tooth) which I consider to be the most technical check pattern, which could be fun and serious at the same time.Tie and dye for character and the obvious knitwear just because it’s Autumn/Winter and Verraomo is amazing as she knits herself.

In the past few years, my love for tuxedos led to a path where I can respect the dress-code and also give it twist, which is subtly visible by the velvet taping on the trousers matching the jacket fabric (velvet) rather than the conventional trouser tapping matching the lapel of the tuxedo jacket.

Not to forget the smoking jacket with our trademark shawl peck lapel (like all the tuxedos in the collection) with houndstooth trousers rather than the traditional tartan checks.

“For once, the collection wasn’t about predicting consumer trends but one that’s truly me and what I love”

The fashion industry is very competitive. What sets your brand apart?As bespoke tailor and fashion designer, what sets me apart is fine tailoring, fit, quality and ability to create garments that incorporate this with edge and fashion forward design, which sets us apart.

This piece was first published in the Cape Times arts and lifestyle supplement Top of The Times on February 17 2017.

See more of my work at : http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style/fashion/menswear-revisited-7804232

Connect with me on Instagram and Twitter @Nontando58 

 

SA Menswear Week, highlights so far.

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A Chulaap by Chu Suwannapha design  showcased at Season 1. Photo by SIMON DEINER/SDR

Seeing a gap in the fast-growing category of menswear, fashion photographer Simon Deiner and businessman Ryan Beswick developed a platform that is now responsible for promoting menswear designers in Africa. Entering its fifth season, the LEXUS SA Menswear Week (Lexus SAMW AW’17) is the only menswear-focused fashion week on the continent.

Over the past four seasons, we have had an opportunity to witness some of the best in menswear by both emerging and established designers from around Africa, some of whom have gone on to gain international exposure. Rich Mnis, Jenevieve Lyons, Chu Suwannapha, Craig Jacobs, Orange Culture and Laduma Ngxokolo are now recognised internationally.
My highlights include the debut range of Chulaap by Chu Suwannapha showcased at season one. The styling, design and the prints show Suwannapha’s artistic aesthetic and his love for the colourful African continent.

Lukhanyo Mdingi’s androgynous collection of dark navy, blue and black made up of sheer silk and denim separates from season two remain fresh in my mind. The range brought forth the growing trend of gender-fluid fashion. The collaboration of Adriaan Kuiters and Jod Paulsen (AKJP) from season three showed that a meeting of two creative minds can lead to magic.

Lukhanyo Mdingi
A design by Lukhanyo Mdingi. Picture by : SIMON DEINER/SDR PHOTO
For Deiner, there have been many highlights: “I remember the first season where we did a team photo at the end and there were about 50 people involved. And when we took the group photo at the SS17 collections last July we had just over 150 people in the pic. “Other highlights have been watching our young designers shine and grow into proper household names and along the way start businesses. I have also enjoyed seeing how men in general now perceive the concept of wearing locally made clothing as something they are proud to do,” Deiner says.
A lot of hard work and dedication are necessary for a designer to stand out from a saturated industry competing against cheap imports and fast fashion. Funding, production and affordable and quality fabrics are just some of the challenges that our young designers are facing, which play a hand in preventing them from maintaining profitable businesses.
Kim Gush
Kim Gush by SIMON DEINER/SDR PHOTO
Kim Gush, owner and designer of Kim Gush apparel, adds: “I think local consumers still love to compare designers to big retailers, especially where price is concerned. We are still constantly faced with the snub at our price tags… consumers forget that the items aren’t mass produced, therefore you are receiving a unique piece. And at the same time you are supporting our local manufacturing industry – which to be honest, needs every tiny purchase to try to revive it.
“Buying local means you are helping in developing and bringing our industry to those ‘international’ levels you so dearly desire as well as keeping jobs going,” she says. “Take the time to get to know all those brands you watch at fashion week. A lot of people are just there for the social, but they forget the heart and soul that goes into every garment presented, the dreams the designers have for this industry to flourish,” she says. 
For Suwannapha, who will not be showcasing at Lexus SAMW AW’17, the fabrication and the manufacturing are problematic. “Hopefully, some of the courier companies will work with fabrics agencies towards bringing fabrics to minimal costs, or I might have to live with the high labour costs as long as I’m producing in South Africa,” he says. “(This year) is all about expanding and building my brand. Collaboration will be a part of my brand’s personality, which will be coming soon and will be available online in South Africa,” Suwannapha says.
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The collaboration of Adriaan Kuiters and Jod Paulsen from season three. Picture: SIMON DEINER/SDR PHOTO
One of the youngest showcasing designers, Mzukisi Mbane of Imprint, adds: “When it comes to fashion week, I think we all take away what we want from it.“The fashion week benefits should always extend beyond the applause after a runway show. For instance, you get an opportunity to sell yourself to a wide audience that you wouldn’t normally be able to reach. “After my first runway show, I got invited to go to Ghana then Nigeria… I was instantly not just a South African brand, but a recognised African brand,”says Mbane.
Imprint
A Imprint by Mzukisi Mbane design. Picture by SIMON DEINER/SDR PHOTO
On what to expect at his showcase next week: “The collection is based on a fictional character I created. It’s an Ndebele man who decided to leave home and travel the world.
“The collection includes a lot of colour, oversized silhouettes, genderfluid pieces. Which is truly the Imprint Afro futuristic aesthetic… it expresses a free spirit which challenges made-up perfection. “As the collection is titled “I couldn’t be bothered”, one will take away whatever they want from the collection… and that will be okay,” he adds.
LEXUS SA Menswear Week will take place at The Palms in Woodstock on February 3 and 4 2017.
Tickets are available at http://www.webtickets.co.za.For a full schedule see : http://www.menswearweek.co.za/
See more of my work here: http://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style

Connect with me on Instagram and Twitter: @Nontando58 https://www.instagram.com/nontando58/?hl=en

This piece was first published in the Weekend Argus (Sunday) on January 29 2017.