“Amagugu” is the Zulu word for “treasures”, and what a treasure our young designers are. As far as I am concerned, the young talent we’ve seen emerging in this country over the past couple of years are an evolutionary breed that is taking local design to the next level, with a universal narrative that is nonetheless rooted in Africanness. It’s easy to miss, this Africanness, if you only look at things on the surface. On closer inspection, it’s all there, in the styling, in the rendering of their individual story and interpretation of what it means to be a young, South African designer at a time when globalisation makes it difficult to ignore our connection to the outside world and how that, in turn, affects how we see ourselves.
Thebe Magugu is one such designer. Having recently launched his new website, alongside a new lookbook and campaign for his “Social Science” autumn-winter ’16 collection, we took the opportunity to chat to him about his journey and his views on his peers and South African fashion in general.
What is the concept behind Social Sciences?
A Social Science was inspired by my move to Johannesburg CBD. The women here mix opposing influences like masculine and feminine, ornamental and practical and oversized and truncated and, although it might look a tad off, it works in a very eccentric way.
You once said your collection presented at Joburg Fashion Week was inspired by the pattern-making process. What’s the thinking behind this one and how do you reconcile that vision with appealing to a forward-thinking consumer, as you’ve also indicated is your targeted consumer?
I’m always inspired by my environment and the pattern-making process came after battling with it in design school. Now that I’m working independently in a new environment – Johannesburg CBD – I’ve become observant of what people typically dress like there. It’s interesting that high fashion is moving into an era rejecting ‘taste’ and initial harmony; it’s almost aspirational to look pastiche. Thing is, women there have been doing it for years, mixing and matching the unexpected together. This idea of juxtaposing ideas in a sleek way has always been part of my brand identity, and the women who buy into it are quite eclectic and aren’t afraid of raising a few eyebrows.
Tell me about your business journey since AFI Fastrack and how you believe you’ve evolved first as a designer, and secondly, as a business person?
AFI Fastrack was an incredibly journey and one of the lessons that it taught me was the idea of pro-activity, going to things instead of waiting on them to come to you. I’ve also seen – from all the designers I had the opportunity to encounter, whether fellow contestants or the more established ones – that the actual clothes are just a small part of a bigger, often more menacing machine. As a designer, you must be a CEO first, designer second, so I’ve just been taking time on the side working on the solid, administrative side of fashion. It’s no point having a pretty brand for pretty’s sake – it’s a business at the end of the day.
Looking at your peers in the industry, who are some that you have a personal admiration for, why, and where do you think you generation is improving or contributing successfully as far as the development of SA Fashion is concerned?
Rich Mnisi was one of the first people I met when I moved from Kimberley to Johannesburg and we grew to be incredibly close friends, going through LISOF together. Apart from his incredible skill, Rich has a great heart and its always great seeing someone in fashion treat others well. My close group of friends also include Tsepo Tsotesti and Nao Serati, who are also incredible designers. I’m lucky to be surrounded by such precious people and all four of us are showing at the next South African Menswear Week in a few days.
I think it’s a fighting spirit that defines the youth of my generation and a confidence that holds no bars. Maybe we’ve tailored ourselves for social media or we’re just fed up with fashion’s hierarchy, either way, you’re going to deal with us whether you want to or not. I used to think it was arrogance but in a time where there is a proliferation of imagery, personalities and aesthetics and you must fight secure a spot.
Tell me more about the latest campaign and lookbook.
This lookbook was a creative endeavour given to Aart and Rich to have fun and play around with. Their process is so spontaneous, whereas I’m more systematic in my approach. I am completely obsessed with Melissa Orren from BOSS Models, her look is one I’ve always been attracted to and she’s my model muse. Renton Wade did the make-up and hair and did a perfect job of it, as always.
Interview by Sandiso Ngubane
Lookbook Credits: Photography: Aart Verrips/Styling: Rich Mnisi/Make-Up and Hair: Renton Wade/Model: Melissa Orren
Campaign Credits: Photography by Paul Samuels/ Models: Bianca [ICE], Niler, Iman, Loren, Tathum-Leigh [ALL BOSS MODELS], Elio [Private Model]/ Make-Up: Annice Roux