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.

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  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.

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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.
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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. 

A/W17 Fashion Inspo

The warm weather of summer is just on the horizon and many of us are focused on what we’ll be wearing to keep cool. But there are those who have gone beyond that and determined the fashion trends for Autumn/Winter’17.

Chunky knits, wide-leg pants, off-the-shoulder garments, double denim, leather, metallics and the sexy slip dress were just some of the strong, wearable trends to come from SA Fashion Week (SAFW) held in Joburg recently.
I break down these top trends and suggest how best you wear them.

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Brand: Afrikanswiss

1. Double Denim: This has been trending for a while and is not going anywhere. The key here is to pair similar shades of denim to avoid a major fashion faux pas. Afrikanswiss presented a number of denim-on-denim looks which included low crotch denim pants, dungarees, shirts and jackets that can be worn as separates or layered. Wear it as a daytime street-style look with sneakers or pair it with heels or pumps for a sophisticated look.

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Brand: Atelier Dajee

2. Metallics: Metallic hues that look like they are straight out of a sci-fi movie are hot for summer and the winter months. The attention-grabbing fabric in metal or gold are available in skirts, sneakers, jackets or as a dress, such as this metallic dress by Atelier Dajee. In summer pair it with equally shiny accessories for a playful disco look or tone it down in winter by pairing it with with wool, denim or chiffon.

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Brand: Clive Rundle

3. The Cold- Shoulder: Just because it’s cold it won’t mean that you will have to cover every inch of skin. There is something elegant about bare shoulders for both summer and the colder winter months. Clive Rundle’s layered cape dress is perfect for showing a little skin while still keeping warm. Whether in tops, tees or dresses, just about anyone can pull off the off-the-shoulder look. Dainty necklaces that rest on the collarbone will finish this sexy look.

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Brand: Colleen Eitzen

4. Slip Dress: The slip dress trend is picking up speed. Classic and seductive, this dress that almost resembles an underslip is versatile depending on your mood. Colleen Eitzen v-neck dress comes in soft lines that will rest on your feminine curves. The fabrics are often flimsy for winter, so you might want to wear the dress with an ankle-length coat or bomber jacket for a casual look.

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Brand: Esnoko

5. Colour: Even the dark and cold of winter calls for splashes of colour to brighten up a day. From saturated earth colours to pastel hues, such as this Esnoko double-breasted coat and pants, don’t be afraid to pair clashing colours.

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Brand: Heart and Heritage

6. Chunky knits: Forget the cardigan and skinny scarves. Cosy, chunky knits will be winter’s must-have accessories. This luxurious scarf by  Heart and Heritage can be worn with just about anything, from a suit to a sweater dress.

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Brand:  Mieke

7. Wide-legged pants: Vintage wide-leg trousers, especially high-waisted pants are classic and elegant. The wider silhouettes come in Culottes, which are just below the knee, or at ankle length, such as these pants by Mieke . Styling these pants can be tricky so keep it simple with a tucked shirt that will accentuate your figure or a crop top for an edgy look. Heels look better with long, wide-legged pants, while flats can be worn with those at below-the-knee length.

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Brand: Vintage Zionist

8. Leather: One can never go wrong with a tailored leather or faux leather garment. This Vintage Zionist jumpsuit is both rebellious and chic. Paired with flats and a beanie, this look is party ready and will work as daytime chic.

All images are by SA Fashion Week: http://www.safashionweek.co.za/

This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on October 7 2016. 

Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat: @Nontando58. 

 

Italian flair for Madiba Shirt

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The Presidential  brand is known for its luxurious, hand-painted silk batik prints and attention to detail at every level of each garment’s creation. But for the most part, it’s
known for its connection to Nelson Mandela.

Mandela made the “Presidential Shirt”, fondly known as the Madiba Shirt, world famous when he wore one presented to him by brand founder Desré Buirski following his election to office in 1994.  On Friday, Presidential embarked on a new direction with a debut women’s collection for the African queen.

The “Presidential Queen” AW17 collection, together with their latest menswear range, was unveiled at SA Fashion Week (SAFW) in Joburg’s Hyde Park Corner. Collaborating with Italian- born designer Pietro Giannuzzi, the presentation included 35 looks designed and made in South Africa.

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The intricate detailing of the embellishments, beadwork and embroidery on each garment was impressive, as models walked down the catwalk in exquisite gowns, bomber and biker jackets, kaftans, pants, and silk and cotton shirts in African and Eastern prints.

The collection showed African haute couture and ready-to-wear pieces could be mixed and matched separates or worn as sets.

Speaking after the show at a gathering of the Presidential team and special guests, brand founder Desré Buirski explained how Presidential was evolving to cater for men and women while sticking to its original aesthetic.

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“I am so proud and so excited to be working with Giannuzzi… he is taking the brand to the next level. He is inspired by the brand and the history of the shirts being connected to the history of Madiba,” says Desré Buirski

“What is amazing is how he has managed to use our fabrics, not only combining Eastern fabrics with African, but also that he has brought in his Italian skill of design,”she says

“As much as he is proud to be associated with the brand, we are proud to have
him on board with us. The existing team will remain and the heart of the shirts will remain. However, as we grow we will add new collections;

“We are so proud that we can represent the country in such a beautiful way. We have been asked for years to produce womenswear and I never really wanted to do shirts for women as it was going to be too much of a duplication;

“We felt that this was the right time as we had Giannuzzi on board to bring in the Italian flavour with our fabrics, beaded details… the collection is absolutely stunning,” says Desré Buirski.

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About his involvement, Giannuzzi says that being part of the already established brand as they embarked on a new journey and being entrusted with the task of producing the brand’s first women’s collection had been a huge honour.

“I was very proud to be asked to be part of the team and to design the ‘Presidential Queen’ collection. Before Presidential used to sell only shirts and now you can find jackets, dresses… It is a brand that is evolving;

“It is becoming younger, but is still inspired by the past and the great man Mandela,” says Pietro Giannuzzi.

Another milestone for Presidential is the bulk of their production is now being done by a local factory, thereby playing a big role in supporting the local fashion industry.

“Presidential Group took a decision to make the Presidential Shirt range in
South Africa two years ago. Before that, the shirts were made abroad, now 80 percent of the shirts are made in Cape Town at Lontana Clothing.

“Our support of the factory has ensured it has continued operations in a very challenging economic environment,” he says.

“The craftwork in our range showcases South African talent. The skills are here, they just need to be found, harnessed and given an opportunity to shine,”says Pietro Giannuzzi

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Buirski adds: “What is also fabulous for us is that we are not just aiming to be a wonderful brand, we want to keep Nelson Mandela’s legacy alive. And in order to do that, it is not just by wearing shirts and these beautiful fabrics, but to actually create jobs by giving local
fashion a bit of a boost.

“We are still doing all the shirts and we will keep the shirts coming in all different styles and fabrics, but adding other pieces makes the collection a bit broader.

“We felt that this was the right time because the brand needed to evolve and we would really love at some point to take the brand to the rest of Africa”

“But we first had to introduce the new collection because this is the heartbeat of our home and the heartbeat of Nelson Mandela,” says Buirski.

Celebrities and fashion influencers who attended the Presidential showcase included stylist Dumi Gwebu, TV presenter Mthoko Mkhathini and a photographer from According To Jerri, who all wore printed Madiba Shirts.

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The Presidential team:  Pietro Giannuzzi and Desré Buirski.

Connect with them at :Website: http://www.presidential.co.za
Instagram: @presidentialshirt
Facebook: Presidential Shirt
Twitter: @presidentialAfr

This piece was first published in the Cape Argus on September 28 2016. 

South African concept art and fashion photographer Jordan-Lee Garbutt

Copywrite of Jordan-Lee Garbutt

Copywrite of Jordan-Lee Garbutt

Fashion photography is one of the most sought-after professions but it is also one of the hardest to break into. For every photographer who makes it through the door of the glamorous industry, many others are in line, still knocking on the door. Only a few gain recognition in the various media, which ranges from street photography and portraiture to documentary and glamour photography. South African concept art and fashion photographer Jordan-Lee Garbutt has captured the industry with his latest exhibition, titled The Power of Sound, being showcased at Cape Town’s Mullers Gallery this month.
I chat to him about t his trade and his current work.

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How did you get from being an aspiring photographer to doing it for a living? After my studies, I dived head first into assisting. Assisting is the best way to gain experience, learn your craft from top professionals, and see what works in real life. Discovering how to work with people and photo shoot dynamics can only be learnt in the field.

 

“Putting in the hours of learning your craft, researching your subject matter and approaches, all adds up in the end. I assisted for three years before starting to build my portfolio. I created photo shoots that displayed my ideas, my vision and what I believed in.”

How do you get the person, place or thing that is in front of the camera just the way you want? Conceptualising and planning, 99 percent of the time, every detail of my shoots are planned. I work with stylists, make-up artists and other talented people to help create my “visions”.

It takes a team to create the end result. Collaborating is the only way to move forward, you can only do so much on your own, and other viewpoints, perspectives and talents will transform your idea into something more powerful.

Copywrite of Jordan-Lee Garbutt

Copywrite of Jordan-Lee Garbutt

Which photographers influenced you on your career path? American fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon’s career initiated a change in the way I created images and how I looked at choosing to make a living from photography. He managed to balance his commercial work with his personal work and blended campaigns and exhibitions perfectly. That is something I aspire to replicate.

“Gregory Crewdson’s Beneath the Roses changed the way I wanted to create. It revealed the high-end planning and concepts with lighting that resonated with the way I create and how I wanted to create”

What motivates you to continue taking pictures? It really comes from inside. I knew from the first week of exploring photography that this is what wanted to do with the rest of my life.I love what I do, I feel my best when I’m creating. My biggest drive now is trying to initiate a change in people, change their perspectives and open their minds to a new way of thinking. Breaking down social, economic and personal barriers.

Tell us about your photography process? My creative process and inspiration varies but I have a general guide that I like to follow. Everything I create, I think in layers. Starting off with the base concept, everything else is added to that. I see the world in a certain light. I prefer dark tones and playing in the shadows. White, bright and “fresh” images have never resonated with me. I like the mystical, the surreal, and our innermost thoughts.

 

I’m at the stage where I cannot take images just for the beauty. I have to add an underlying meaning. It has to be thought-provoking.

Copywrite of Jordan-Lee Garbutt

Copywrite of Jordan-Lee Garbutt

Which images would you say have been the most significant in your career? My latest exhibition, entitled “The Power of Sound, has had the most impact. From all the press to being on Top Billing. It has grown my brand, but what I have loved about the project is the way it affects people when they see the images and poems.

Collaborating with poet Mo Libretto transformed the project into something more. The words and visuals complement each other perfectly, proving how important a collaboration is.I

After that, I have two projects lined up. The first celebrates the diversity of South Africa through the 11 official languages and our diverse flora. It’s going to take me all over the country, showcasing our beautiful country and people in a way that has never been done before.

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How would you say social media is changing the photography industry? There are two sides to this. It’s made photography and creating a lot more accessible to everybody. People who wouldn’t normally have any interest in photography or visual artistic expression now give it a go. It can just be a creative outlet, or it can help people gain knowledge.

The other side is that it has made everything a popularity contest and it has given people the platform to either spread love or hate.
The amount of “trolling” and bad mouthing has grown exponentially. But everyone is at their own stage of development and skill set, and everyone has their own taste of what is good.

“We should all be helping each other and not put others down to elevate yourself”

Connect with Jordan-Lee at http://www.jordanleegarbutt.com. 

This piece was first published in the Cape Argus on September 7 2016. Connect with me on Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat: @Nontando58 

The girl in brown and black

Rizb 3Pictures by  Rizqua Barnes Richards

My look for SA Menswear Week Day 2 was lit. This faux leather two-toned outfit was goals. Paired with a Nontando original African Prints bomber jacket it was just fire, if I do say so myself;-)  I will be launching my range soon fashionistas, stay tuned.

Amazing photographer Rizqua Barnes Richards took these before the shows started. Check out her amazing work on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/rizqua_barnes/?hl=en.

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Nontando Wore What?  #Nontandoworewhat

Jacket: A Nontando Original

Skirt: Mr Price Fashion

Shoes: G-Star RAW

Bag: Adidas

Hat: Simon and Mary 

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