As you may have noticed by now, we are terribly obsessed with local fashion design, and one of the things we often think about is its accessibility to younger consumers. This is especially considering that some of the most exciting South African designers are young people themselves. Who do they sell to? How do they maintain a strong signature and still manage to sustain businesses? Are consumers buying? Our Guest Editor Jackie Burger posed these, and other questions, to emerging designer Lara Klawikowski.
Jackie: When I look at your work, because of the way it folds and opens, it always reminds me of flowers. It’s got that kind of almost voluptuous elegance to it, like the organic elegance of a flower opening. So, when you approach a design, what makes your signature unique?
Lara: I think it’s unpredictable, there’s a lot of playfulness to it. It’s often asymmetrical, and organic, each piece kind of has its own personality. Even if I’m following the same pattern, it’s still kind of anti-mass production, but in an accessible way.
Yes, there’s definitely a commercial aspect about it. It’s still practical and functional, but at the same time you still know you’re wearing a unique designer garment. I am excited by the essence of something very sustainable and considered, but also breaking the perception of design as expensive and unwearable, or that it’s something that is only occasion driven.
That’s something I understand. I’m in my 20s, but I also want to wear design without looking like I got completely dressed up. I want be able to wear it with flats, minimal make-up, and still be able to chuck it in the washing machine afterwards. I think a lot of younger people see design as being out of their reach but actually, in my case, a lot of my designs are still affordable. For example, this black dress we’re looking at today is about R3000, which is still within reach for a lot of people in their 20s. We don’t all have to shop at discount chains.
In terms of where I am now in Stellenbosch, I am realising that there’s an interesting opportunity amongst young women, even as young as matric level, because they do go places, they move in a certain kind of social environment where they go to cocktail parties or they travel aboard.
I was amazed at Design Indaba last year, there were so many high school girls who wanted matric dance dresses, and my pieces were the short, gold, printed pink dresses, and very avant-garde for a matric dance. Yet they wanted to wear them. I don’t know if it’s maybe the singers, like the Katy Perrys and the Lady Gagas that are influencing what they’re wearing, but it’s really cool.
I suppose visual literacy does change in terms of what we’re exposed to, especially now because we live in a very visual era. There’s an upside to that, but then I also think about how that impacts on the designer and end-user relationship, who’s really driving it? Is it the Lady Gaga phenomenon, or is there really a greater appreciation of design and choice? But I am optimistic, so I think it opens up people‘s appetite for wearing something unique, something exceptional.
I think so too, but the younger girls, the teenagers, who seem to want to wear design but are limited by their self-consciousness, also intrigued me. It’s all about adapting to their bodies, so they’re still not as open to wearing crazy pieces, so it’s more the people who are in their 20s and later who end up buying design.
You’ve been around for a couple of years now, you’ve shown at fashion week and Design Indaba, how have you managed to stick so closely to your signature, keep it going, and sell to a younger audience. Especially because so many designers often have to water things down quite a lot in order to sustain themselves?
We do have simpler pieces, but we use very similar fabrication, so we kind of diffuse the detailing a little bit, but it still looks as good as the original, it’s not less, it’s just less detail. In a way my designs have become a little smaller in proportion, but the signature is still very strong. I think I haven’t tamed it to the point where it looks like someone else’s work yet. Another nice thing that I’ve experienced lately is that based on some of the garments I’ve shown at Design Indaba, I’ve had brides who’ve wanted me to turn my cord-based fabrication into a white wedding dress. Some of the brides are inspired by my runway collections and then they want the dress like that, instead of the typical traditional thing, or something that they’ve seen on a picture.
It’s amazing to see that coming through. In closing I must tell you briefly: I did an interview yesterday and we spoke about the psychology of women, the cycle of discovery, because in your teenage years you become conscious of how your body is changing, how your beauty is developing, and it’s very much a physical manifestation. Then when you move into your 20s, it’s coupled with a psychology of ownership because you start earning money, you start making choices of your own, you move in a different community so there is a sense of ownership that comes. Also, when you’re younger you want to showcase your personality and who you are, whereas when you’re much older you start thinking: ‘If I don’t accept myself at this stage then it’s a sad day,’ and that’s why I think that people like Iris Apfel are making such an impact even in their 90s, because they’ve sustained their style, unapologetically.
See more of Lara’s work at www.laraklawikowski.com
Images by SDR, and Malibongwe Tyilo