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.

 

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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. 

Happy Socks has the world at their feet

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With their colourful and quirky designs, it’s no wonder brand Happy Socks is a global phenomenon. Socks are no longer a muted clothing accessory; they have become staple pieces that breathe life into any outfit.

Whether you are dressing for the office, the gym, a night out or the beach, it’s highly likely you will be wearing a pair of socks.

Although most people still prefer traditional socks that come in single colours of white, red, black and green, bright colours and busy patterns are fashionable.

Happy Socks are the leaders in the market at the moment, offering a variety of designs and colours.

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Happy Socks founders Viktor Tell and Mikael Soderlindh

From the beginning, the global founders of the Swedish brand, Viktor Tell and Mikael Soderlindh, wanted to create a brand that would spread and inspire happiness throughout the world. They tell me this when I meet them in Woodstock for our interview.

They were recently in the country to launch their “Local Hero” special edition, their biggest collaboration so far, where they worked with creatives, bloggers and artists from 15 countries to design socks inspired by their work.

Like their product, they are easy-going and their personalities are infectious.

“After eight years in the business, we are now sold in 90 countries worldwide, and with this collaboration, we really wanted to express our gratitude,” says Tell, Happy Socks creative director.

“We enjoy every country that we visit and we see the creative expressions all around, and we wanted to take that into our company, because it is not only based in Stockholm, but we are a global thing,” says Tell.

“We wanted to see what the local creatives could do with our blank canvas of cotton socks. We gave them carte blanche to create whatever they wanted. That is what we have always done with international collaborations;”

“Not only did they want to engage with us because we have a nice product to work with, but we gave a huge opportunity to the local market and brands, and some would have never had the opportunity to be exposed to so many countries,” he says.

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Happy Socks x Falko One 

South African graffiti artist Falko One was the chosen local hero.

Soderlindh and Tell are long-time friends who worked together before starting the business.

“We are a bit of a ying and a yang, which is part of our success. Soderlindh is the driving force of the business, while I am on the creative side.

“We came up with the business because we enjoyed wearing socks and we saw that no one gave love to the accessory no one really focused on it. What was available at the market at the time was mostly cheap socks with poor designs,” says Tell.

 

“We also started the business because we love to travel. We have almost 200 days of travelling a year, so that gives us a lot of inspiration from meeting people from around the world it’s super fun.

“I get inspiration from all over and we try not to follow trends. We see socks as more of a design item than a fashion item,which means that we can go the wrong way and it doesn’t have to be too precise. Our hunch has turned out good so far,” Tell says.

Soderlindh adds: “Tell has a huge ability when it comes to designs and patterns and working with illustrations. I think that the big difference with our product is how we put colour together, and that has been one secret of our success. Our designs always stand out in the socks department. A couple of years back we had booming competitors, but now we beat them when it comes to really strong designs,” he says.

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The brand have now added underwear to their range – colourful briefs for men and women.

“We felt that we wanted to spread happiness and design from our socks, so why not underwear as well? It was a natural development of our brand socks and underwear go well together,” says Tell.

“The name ‘Happy Socks’ is self-explanatory, we want you to be happy when you wear Happy Socks. We want to brighten up your day almost every morning.

“When you put on our underwear and socks, we want the moment to feel good and make you stay with a smile on your face for the rest of your day. Ever since day one we have been met with a smile when we talk about our brand, and that is what we want to keep,” says Tell.

“I am still so impressed when we travel the world and I see a person wearing our socks, it’s really crazy. Whether we are in Tokyo, Cape Town or New York, whenever we see someone walking down the street wearing our brand, it’s a fun and proud moment,” he says.

“Our customer is hard to put in a box,” says Soderlindh.

“This person is either a 25-year-old fashionista, a businessman, it’s a grandma buying presents for her grandkids, it’s a teenager. It’s such a wide variety of people and we would rather say that our target group is a colourful person who loves design,” he says.

Their advice for future entrepreneurs who would like to start a similar business venture?

Tell says: “I would have never been able to start the business alone.

“I think you should find someone to do it with. The great part of our success is that we have been focusing on the same goal but we have done it in two different directions. Find a partner that has another take on what you want to to,” he says.

Soderlindh adds: “Tell and I work with several start-ups today. One step is that you need to fully commit to a start-up. Rule number one, you should not do it on the side. If you want to do something, quit your job, take a loan and start it.

“You need to take a risk for it to be successful because if you don’t take the risk, you are not forcing yourself to succeed,” Soderlindh says.

“And of course you need to make sure that the business idea that you have is going to be profitable business. You don’t start something because you are passionate about it. It helps, being in the business with the right partner.

“South Africa is a very colourful country and we think that is why Happy Socks is relatively successful here.

“We’re not going to tell anyone what colour or design to wear you need to find your own way of wearing our socks in the designs that catches your eye,” Soderlindh adds.

This piece was first published in the Cape Argus on January 24 2017. 

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

And visit http://www.IOL.co.za  thttp://www.iol.co.za/lifestyle/style to check out more of my work. 

Racing Season is officially underway

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At the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (LQP) on January 7 slaying in a Nontando original siShweshwe outfit. 

Cape Town’s horse racing season is in full swing.The season began with the L’Ormarins Queen’s Plate (LQP)  glitzy blue and white themed two day affair that was held in the first weekend of January. As one of Cape Town’s Racing .It’s a Rush ambassador and guest, my friends and I spent the day at the Paddock Marquee , mingling with South Africa’s who-is-who in entertainment, the social scene and celebrities. Part of the fun is also sipping on champagne, eating delicious canapes and also placing a bet. Although most of us are there to show off our outfits and to slay. However, we do take the time to watch the country’s finest thoroughbred horses compete for a large amount of money…in between taking countless selfies and photos…of course;-) We placed bets worth about a R100 but we didn’t win…we are still a long way from becoming professional punters. 

Here is a breakdown of the winners:
– Winner of the MAINE CHANCE FARMS PADDOCK STAKES (WFA) (Grade 1) (For Fillies and Mares ) was Bela-Bela trained by Justin Snaith and Anton   Marcus.
– Winner of the L’ORMARINS QUEEN’S PLATE (WFA) (Grade 1) was Legal Eagle trained by Sean Tarry and the jockey Anton Marcus 
– Jockey Anton Marcus rode 4 winners on the the day! 

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If you do not take a picture with this LQPCT floral decorated sign, you were not there.

Take note of the blue and white theme as it’s there for a reason. To those who showed up dressed in colours outside the theme, STOP IT!!!! You are ruining a tradition that has been there for decades and not just our pictures with your red or mustard outfits. 

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My friend Hubert won the best dressed man title. Rightfully earned and deserved, he looked dapper and his attention to detail is on point. Gentleman!! Take notes. 

SUN MET CELEBRATED WITH MUMM 2.jpg“Sun Met celebrated with Mumm” The picture is supplied. 

Coming up next week  is the inaugural Sun Met celebrated with Mumm event which has been hailed as the “the richest horse racing day in Africa”. I am looking forward to this event. Hey now,  I do enjoy good champagne. So the thought of spending the whole day sipping on unlimited G. H. Mumm, eating good food in good company sounds like the perfect day to me.

The theme is “ “Decades of glamour” which means that we are  spoilt for choice when it comes to what to wear on the day. 

Here is a breakdown of the theme to help you put together the perfect race day outfit

Theme: “Decades of Glamour”: 

  •  1920’s – The Great Gatsby: an era of feminine self- expression where waists dropped and hemlines rose. The Flapper look was the rage, with long necklaces, cloche hats and chemise or shift dresses storming to the fore.  
  •         1930’s – Vintage: known as the Golden Age of Glamour for women’s fashion an era of escapism and glamourous Hollywood starlets. Favouring simple art deco lines the style moved to smaller cloche hats, skirt hems dropped and broad shouldered, puffed sleeves entered the fray.
  •         1940’s – Retro: A decade defined by the war years, the padded or puffed shoulder was the dominant look. The Silhouette with broad square shoulders and trim waist and hips was desired. This was complimented by tiny hats, large bags and nylon stockings.
  •         1950’s – Polka Dots: This decade is influenced by two silhouettes, the wide circle skirt and the pencil skirt. Ball gowns were complimented by elbow length gloves and sparkling jewelry. Summer dresses also incorporated floral and polka dot prints. Chanel introduced suit jackets and slim skirts in highly textured tweeds.
  •         1960’s – Flower Power: The era where no skirt was too short brought the arrival of the mini skirt and hot pants. The hippy revolution was about long hair, long legs and long nights. Bellbottoms bubbled to the surface. The swinging sixties were defined by a number of icons from the gamine supermodel Twiggy to the “original” first lady Jackie Kennedy who brought us skirt suits, pillbox hats and supersized sunglasses.
  •         1970’s – Disco: This decade was all about “freedom”, “identity” and “personal expression”. The hippie culture continued and fashion resulting from this period displayed rebellion. From mini-skirts to wide lapel suits, knee high boots and lace onsie’s the 70’s had it all.
  •         1980’s – Glam Rock: One word comes to mind when you think of 80’s : BIG. It was a time of excess and over-the-top flamboyance. Shows like Dallas and Dynasty depicted bedazzled evening wear studded with sequins and beads. Metallic dress colours like silver and gold also added some shine to this decade.
  •         1990’s – Denim: This decade saw a return to minimalist fashion. Supermodels such as Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell and Eva Herzigovatowered over the fashion industry during this period. Tailored skirt and trouser suits, short skirts and dresses, baby doll dresses, animal prints, hot pants, slim pants and high heels. High shine fabrics such as satin, metallic, sequins, vinyl and silk were prominent.
  •         2000’s – Modern Fashion: An era epitomised by style icons such as J. Lo saw fashion trends such as the boyfriend blazer, statement necklaces paired with classic sheath dresses, skyscraper platform shoes, miniskirts, mix and match prints and cocktail rings.

 

*Useful links for more informarion. Sun Met: www.sunmet.co.za

Twitter: @SunMetZA and Instagram: @officalsunmet

Hashtag:  #DAREWINCELEBRATE

*All you need to know about racing and racing events: Racing.It’s A Rush. http://www.itsarush.co.za

Instagram: @racingitsarush and Twitter: @RacingGuru

 

Connect with me on Instagram and Twitter: @Nontando58

 

 

 

Michelle is on a Michion

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Michelle Heslop, of luxury fashion space The Bromwell Boutique Mall, is an advocate for African talent. Her boutique prides itself on selling and promoting art and fashion apparel that is made locally by Africans, for Africans. Drawing inspiration from this, Heslop recently launched the boutique’s in-house brand Michion, “for strong women who are not afraid to dream big and live life to the fullest”.

“The Bromwell is all about making, shaping, exposing and offering beauty made locally and around Africa, and I strongly believe in this mission,” says Heslop.

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“Over the years, I have been active in creating a platform for young designers who can have their creations and brands showcased in an intimate and tailored space. Being this involved in curating such a space brought to life a hidden passion in me which I have overlooked, which is designing clothes.

“My brand is about making clothing for women who are carrying out their own life missions. It is simply about clothing that works… my focus is on easy-to-wear and one-piece-ready garments. Which makes the ‘getting dressed’ part of life fun and spontaneous,” she says 

The Michion debut range includes body-flattering bodycon dresses, faux fur gilets and tweed coats in textured and muted colours. The fabric quality is topnotch, a testament to Heslop’s welltailored style.

“The brand’s phrase is ‘I like me’, which says the Michion woman is confident, she loves life and lives it fully, pushing the limits of her goals and her experiences. And she wants to look good doing it,” she says.

 

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Michelle and I wearing the Michion tweed coats 

Heslop’s love affair with fashion began from a young age. The process of dressing up and how one can use clothing to tell a story about oneself has always been interesting to her.

“I used to pay extra attention to how clothing made me feel, what the clothes were made of and the functionality of each piece. “It was something very natural for me to take up a career in the fashion industry. The biggest lesson I’ve leant so far is ‘Don’t be limited in what you feel is possible on your journey… let life surprise you’,” Heslop says.

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Heslop’s signature style varies. There is the elegant, graceful and classic woman on one hand, and on the other a wild child who enjoys dressing up in flowery, bright, sexy clothes.

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Michelle, queen’ing in the Michion red bodycon dress. 

“My aesthetic will flaunt these extremes. I’m inspired and drawn to women who are comfortable in their own skin. Who have lived full and thrilling lives. Who design from a place of real experience and real inspiration. Diane von Furstenberg is one of the designers who inspires me,” she says.

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“There is a significant interest in African designers at the moment, and it’s time we use this to our advantage,” says Heslop.

“We appreciate the attention around the talent coming out of Africa. It’s certainly fast-tracking a lot of our young designers. “However, more attention should be given to that hard-working designer who is making wearable clothing that women love and rely on, as opposed perhaps to the designer who is an exhibitionist, who enjoys creating a stir,” she said.

● Shop the Michion range at Bromwell Boutique Mall at 250 Albert Road, Woodstock, Cape Town. Connect with Michelle on Instagram: @Michelle Heslop

Connect with me on Twitter and Instagram @Nontando58

This piece was first published in the Cape Times ‘Top of the Times’ supplement on December 9 2016. 

Meet Mrs South Africa 2016

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The reigning Mrs South Africa Hlengiwe Twala, the beauty from Hartbeespoort Dam, was crowned as the 2017 Schwarzkopf Professional Mrs South Africa at a glittering grand finale at Emperors Palace.

The Mrs South Africa pageant may not enjoy as much fanfare as its counterpart the Miss South Africa competition. Entered by married women, Mrs South Africa sells itself as a women empowerment platform promoting women with philanthropic interests. Although the “queens” or the winners of both competitions take home a sparkling tiara and sash, and also enjoy a yearlong reign, the similarities end there.

While Miss South Africa is also big on women empowerment and celebrating beauty with brains, Mrs South Africa takes it a step further by promoting entrepreneurship and a sense of self. Hlengiwe Twala the current reigning Mrs South Africa explains this to me during her recent press tour in Cape Town.

The Joburg-based Twala has all the trimmings of a beauty queen. A slim and toned body, a dazzling smile and flowing hair, however it is her aura that immediately puts me at ease. I would later learn that this is due to the fact that we share the home province of KwaZulu-Natal. She, born in the quiet town of Pietermaritzburg says Durban is her happy place when she needs some quiet time: “I love Durban, it calms me,”she says.

Unlike most young girls who daydream about entering beauty contests, Twala on the other hand never gave it much thought until her mother died due to a rare blood cancer. This is one of the main reasons she entered Mrs SA.

“I have never really had an interest in beauty contents. “I literally found out about Mrs SA about two years ago. “And what really grabbed my interest was that they work very closely with the Cancer Association of South Africa (Cansa),” says Twala

“It was really heavy on my heart and I wanted to do something that would help raise cancer awareness… the competition was a perfect fit. “I also went through a cancer scare as I was planning on entering, so this has been a very personal journey for me.

“I got my test results a couple of days before the entries closed. “I saw it as a sign that I had to do it now because there are no guarantees for tomorrow,” she says. “I entered and I was not expecting win. I really wanted to have a year of fun. I wanted to have a year of me, because I realised that I was not living but I was just merely existing because I was in so much pain over my mother’s death.

“It has been a truly fulfilling journey. “I am so happy, my kids are happy and my husband is happy because they see me so happy,” Twala says.

Twala, a mother of three daughters, is fresh from competing in the Mrs World competition in Korea. Winning the competition has been a life changing experience, she says. “ My life has changed completely. The one thing that I love the most is that Mrs South Africa is all about women empowerment. “Unlike other pageants, we don’t really compete among each other.

“Soon after the Top 10 was chosen we had to prepare for a Cancer Gala to raise awareness and funds for Cansa… the whole experience empowers you to think like a business woman or a business person,” she says. Her philanthropic interests come from her mother Ntombifuthi, who taught her children from a young age to share what little they had with those who had less, Twala explains.

“I come from very humble beginnings. I remember my mother used to sew clothes for kids in the community who did not have any. “Although we also didn’t have much money to go round, she thought… I have hands and a machine, I will sew’;

“My mother used to say to us ‘When you give to another, you give to yourself’ and that is how I grew up… I don’t know anything else,” Twala explains.

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Top left, Lilliana LulliMarruchi won second princess, Mrs South Africa Hlengiwe Twala and first princess Olwethu Leshabane.

However, life in the spotlight attracts involuntary attention and sometimes not the right kind. Also, beauty pageants of any kind are always under scrutiny and are said to promote vanity and forcing unnecessary pressure on young girls to be perfect. Twala is well prepared for what is coming, good or bad:

“There is nothing wrong with us women looking pretty and enhancing what we have because when you look good, you feel good. “I think we should now promote being comfortable in your own skin and stop wanting to judge,” she says. “I am a little nervous about being in the limelight. “But I think right now, I feel so blessed that even the fear has taken a back seat. I feel so blessed and happy.

“I know it’s going to happen, when people see something good, they want to pick at it. “But you know what? I have so much positive support as Mrs SA, from my family, from my home and my friends… I am going to concentrate on the good,” Twala adds.

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This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on December 9 2016.