Fashion graduates compete on African catwalk

Written by Yazeed Kamaldien

Fresh out of college and fresh on the runway is the aim of Fastrack, a project that has helped a young Cape Town fashion designer and others to showcase their collections alongside established industry names.

At the inner-city studio of established – and sometimes controversial – designer Gavin Rajah, recent graduate Jessica Ross from Bergvliet suburb reflects on the past few months that she has participated in Fastrack.

Fashion design graduate Jessica Ross will showcase her Russian inspired collection in Johannesburg this week. Picture Yazeed Kamaldien

Fashion design graduate Jessica Ross will showcase her Russian inspired collection in Johannesburg this week. Picture Yazeed Kamaldien

The programme is run by African Fashion International, the fashion events company owned by Precious Moloi-Motsepe, who is married to one of South Africa’s wealthiest men, mining billionaire Patrice Motsepe.

Fastrack calls each year on final-year fashion design students to enter their graduate collections for inclusion in one of its fashion weeks the following year.

Ross was studying at the Cape Town College of Fashion Design when she entered last year. She was shortlisted to earlier this year to participate with 10 other student finalists in Johannesburg fashion week.

Ross was then among four young designers selected for the next round of the annual contest that aims to nurture new talent.

The four young designers – including Naazneen Kagee, Rich Mnisi and Tuelo Nguyuza – were then placed with established designers to do a three-month internship.

On the closing day of this week’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa, in Johannesburg, one designer will be selected as the young designer of the year.

Ross says the run-up to November 1 show has been demanding as she has spent the last few months assisting Rajah in his studio, working on the collection and learning the business of fashion.

“I helped Gavin with his Cape Town fashion week show. And I’ve had to do an eight-piece collection in a month-and-a-half,” says Ross.

The four young designers were briefed to design a futuristic collection and had theme options to choose from. Ross chose ‘From Russia With Love’, as “my mother’s family is from Russia”.

“I had to find a subtle way to follow this futuristic brief. I’m not a very quirky designer and don’t make out-there garments,” says Ross.

“I followed the architecture of Russian Orthodox churches. They have cream and gold churches. I’m using those colours and it makes everything look expensive. It’s very luxurious.

“I’ve added volume. So there’s a lot of dramatic volume and layering. I’ve got dresses with skirts underneath.”

Working at Rajah’s studio while putting together her collection has been a “big jump from college to being in the industry”.

“I still have a lot to learn and it’s a lot of hard work. At college, I was used to doing everything myself. I was cutting out the patterns and sewing the fabric. In the real world, you work in teams,” says Ross.

“Now I only do my patterns and then a seamstress sews it up for me. I had to learn how to communicate with a seamstress so that she understands what I need.

“I enjoy sewing and wish I could sew my own stuff. But there was no time. I’m also a perfectionist and get stressed and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) about it and will unpick everything and sew it again.”

Working with Rajah has meanwhile taught her “a lot about fabric textures and what works with what”.

“But I still want to learn more about running a successful fashion business. I don’t know enough yet. I am budgeting by myself and can see how things work,” she says.

“I need to go out into the work world and learn more so that I have the tools and knowledge to start my own business. I want it to be sustainable. I don’t want to start it and then see it flop. I don’t feel ready enough to do my own business.”

So far the exposure to real world opportunities has been beneficial, says Ross.

“This is good for my career. It’s a huge platform, to be showing at fashion week. I graduated from college last year. If I started my own brand this year, I would probably have been able to only have a show in five years,” she says.

“I graduated and three months later had a show at fashion week. The industry and media gets to know you that way. Everything has also been funded. This definitely fast tracks your career.”

DESIGNERS ON THE RUNWAY

While up-and-coming talents feature at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa, established industry favourites will likely claim headlines with their latest creations.

The four-day event runs at Melrose Arch, Johannesburg, this coming Wednesday to Saturday.

Designers from Cameroon, Kenya, Mozambique Rwanda, South Africa and Zimbabwe start the event on Wednesday night. For the rest of the week the focus falls on designers from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania.

South African mainstays Marianne Fassler and David Tlale add gravitas to the event with their record of local and international experience.

South African fashion designer David Tlale will show a 40-piece collection “associated with happiness and love, which is what summer is about”. Picture Supplied

South African fashion designer David Tlale will show a 40-piece collection “associated with happiness and love, which is what summer is about”. Picture Supplied

Tlale’s 40-piece collection is a “celebration of a woman who is not afraid to show her soft, feminine side and yet still dares to be bold and command attention”.

The designer says the mood for his collection is “happy women”.

“When you think of the colour peach and its hues, an image of spring and summer pops up and it is often associated with happiness and love, which is what summer is about,” says Tlale.

Tlale was named designer of the year at the Arise Africa Fashion Week Awards 2009.

That same year, Mozambican designer Taibo Bacar showed locals his women’s wear brand for the first time. Just last month, the Italian edition of fashion magazine Vogue listed him as an international emerging designer.

Bacar will next week present A Luta Continua (The Fight Goes On), a “collection inspired by the present situation of Mozambique”.

“It represents continuity, evolution, development, and the future. This innovative line merges haute couture and ready-to-wear. Handmade details and embroidery feature prominently, lending luxury and attention to detail to garments,” says the designer.

Men’swear will not go unacknowledged next week. Popular Xhosa prints will take to the runway courtesy of Maxhosa by Laduma, a brand that “seeks to tell the story of the Xhosa people; their cultures, language and aspirations”.

It does this “through its distinct depictions of iconographic language in various applications including knitwear, home-ware, and graphic prints on men’s and ladies’ wear collections”.

LaurenceAirline, a menswear fashion label based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, will show that “fashion and ethnic cultures can successfully collaborate to create possibilities for the future”.

LaurenceAirline is menswear fashion label based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, showing that fashion and ethnic cultures are futuristic. Picture Supplied

LaurenceAirline is menswear fashion label based in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, showing that fashion and ethnic cultures are futuristic. Picture Supplied

It “produces wearable garments that fuse local fabrics with carefree, masculine silhouettes and soft colour palettes, juxtaposed with strong bold prints”.

“The cultural aesthetic of the great African continent’s inheritance is amalgamated with a distinctly fresh, modern and undoubtedly international feel,” says this label’s designer Laurence Buthaud.

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About Yazeed Kamaldien

Self-employed journalist and photographer from South Africa.

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