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SOUTH AFRICA – IPOPENG

SOUTH AFRICAN ART, FASHION, DESIGN, FILM AND MUSIC IS RESPLENDENT ON THE WORLD STAGE AS TSHEPANG MOLISANA DOCUMENTS.

In Vosloorus, a small, dusty township east of Johannesburg, decades of disinvestment in the township economy have decimated the ambitions of many.

Yet in 2019, fashion designer David Tlale chose Vosloorus as the location for his fashion show. Prior to his 2019 fashion show in the Vosloorus Community Hall, David Tlale had shown his collections in Paris, New York, Nelson Mandela Bridge in Johannesburg, The Cape Town Club and other enviable locations. But David Tlale had not just shown his collections all over the world and then brought them back to his hometown. He had enlisted the support of some of his interns; singer Vusi Nova performed while the models completed their final walk, and he had a very special guest seated in the front and centre.

David Tlale’s late mother, dressed in a resplendent yellow robe, was seated in the front row – the traditional domain of editors and models, couture and social elite alike. The cultural reset that happened in a community hall in Vosloorus has been happening across the globe.

All over the world, the magnificence of Africa is rippling through the streets and creating a significantly cool African reality, from the Vuvuzela to Vosloorus to Victoria Yards, and beyond our continent’s borders. In June 2020, American Vogue called TSHEPO Jeans “South Africa’s coolest denim line.”

With a workshop based in the regenerated Johannesburg urban business precinct, Victoria Yards, cool oozes out of TSHEPO’s pockets. Tshepo Mohlala studied fashion design, but dropped out in 2011, having already learned the basics of sewing and patternmaking. Padded with techniques he had learned through courses at Amsterdam’s Jeans School, Tshepo was determined to redesign denim culture in South Africa.

Tshepo, raised in Tsakane in Gauteng, was reared by a host of stylish and spirited women. His grandmother was a pastor, which in turn meant that dressing up, particularly on Sundays was part of the nexus of his upbringing. His similarly stylish aunt had a penchant for denim and often wore denim-on-denim outfits, like the hip-hop and R&B stars from music videos he watched on television.

Tshepo, the self-styled Jean Maker, started his business with 100 pairs of jeans, an R8 000 loan, the delivery bike he used to distribute his jeans on and heaps of chutzpah and self belief.

Having created a pair of jeans for the Duchess of Sussex and a custom pair of dungarees for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s son, Archie, for the 2019 Royal Visit to Southern Africa, Tshepo is
well-versed in creating custom-fit denim.

Tshepo told Vogue: “There are a lot of people who want to come play with us.”

Bespoke jeans are made to measure. Onsite tailors take the customer’s measurements at Victoria Yards, the jeans are cut from Zimbabwean cotton and assembled at a small factory in Japan.

Tshepo insists that Zimbabwean cotton is a premium fabric. The luxury extends to the five-pocket Presidential Slim Fit, available in four washes of denim, ready to wear.

Like Tshepo and David, more South African designers are becoming renowned in the upper echelons of global luxury.

Vanessa Gounden is a South African businesswoman who launched her namesake brand, Vanessa G London at London Fashion Week in 2011. A combination of original artworks, luxury fabrics and contemporary design have granted Vanessa G a global audience. Having launched her flagship store in London’s luxe- Mayfair district in 2015, Vanessa G’s “wearable art” has been donned by powerful women worldwide – Nomzamo Mbatha, Natalia Vodianova and Yasmin Le Bon. With collections shown in Paris, New York, London and in South Africa, Vanessa Gounden remains grounded in South Africa. The luxury arm of her business, D’Oré has stores in Sandton City in Johannesburg, Cavendish Square in Cape Town as well as Johannesburg’s business district, Rosebank. In 2016, the Artivism for Breast Cancer collection furthered her aims for art and activism.

While African designers continue to break through new glass runways, Africa remains an inspiration for global fashion conglomerates.

In 2019, Dior’s Lady Art Project tapped South African artist, Athi-Patra Ruga to collaborate on the fourth edition of the project. Athi was one of 11 artists from around the world to collaborate on the collection. Having already been commissioned by Louis Vuitton to create a giant tapestry to be displayed in the brand’s flagship Champs-Elysees store in Paris, Athi’s art continues to be valued by those who appreciate global luxury.

In 2013, luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) launched the LVMH Prize. The prize was founded to “honour and support young fashion designers around the world”.

The winner receives a grant of €300 000 (R5.7 million) and support in the form of intellectual property, sourcing, production, distribution, image and advertising for a 12-month period following the awarding of the prize.

As a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 prize was shared among 8 finalists. Scheduled for 5 June 2020 at the Louis Vuitton Foundation, the LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers fund was supplemented by the 2020 Karl Lagerfeld Prize allocation. Among the eight finalists, winnowed down from designers from over 100 countries, was Sindiso Khumalo, based in Cape Town, South Africa.

In 2019, South African designer, Thebe Magugu was awarded the prestigious prize. Primarily focused on women’s ready to wear, Thebe Magugu staged his collection at Paris Fashion Week in February 2020, after having been awarded the LVMH prize in 2019. Thebe paid homage to South Africa with a photo exhibition entitled “Ipopeng Ext” after an area in Kimberly. Ipopeng fittingly (roughly) translates to “to beautify oneself”. Some of the themes in Thebe’s clothes are often a voice for his social commentary, including South African women’s rights and the frightening femicide rate.

The abuse of women has both served as an inspiration, as well as marred the gains of South African artists in other spheres.

Musicians, Sjava and Babes Woduma were both featured on the coveted soundtrack for Black Panther, which was created by socially-conscious rapper, Kendrick Lamar. Both Babes Wodumo
and Sjava’s success was later marred by separate, domestic violence accusations.

However, South African musicians continue to produce cultural commentary on global soundtracks. Like Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce was inspired by Africa when she produced a Disney soundtrack. Among other African artists, The Lion King The Gift soundtrack features South African musicians, Moonchild Sanelly and Busiswa, as well as the production of DJ Lag on the song “My Power”.

Perhaps, with all of its flaws and boundless talent, South African music might one day achieve the glory of Hugh Masekela whose 1968 hit “Grazi’ in The Grass” topped the Billboard Hot 100 chart and sold 4 million copies.

With much to graze on, South African art, fashion, music and film sews a thread that inspires the world, while keeping its roots firmly planted in home soil.