It was Coco Chanel who famously said, “When a little black dress is right, there is nothing else to wear in its place.” More recently Chanel’s creative director and head designer Karl Lagerfeld said, “One is never over-dressed or underdressed with a little black dress.” The LBD has matured over the last century into a variety of style, some not so little. Our guest editor Jackie Burger sat with Black Coffee’s Jacques van der Watt to chat sustained relevance, innovation, and the little black dress.
Jackie: I’ve always been an admirer and supporter of your work from the first time I saw it back in the day when I joined Fair Lady. What I love about it is that it’s always explorative and innovative, but there’s still a wonderful aesthetic that remains true to Black Coffee. How do you sustain your relevance and your signature, whilst making it better and better all the time?
Jacques: I suppose I’m naturally inquisitive and I get bored quite quickly. If anything, I often need to remind myself to pull back a little bit, because sometimes my consumer hasn’t had enough of something yet, and I’m already on to the next one. I suppose that’s the nature of fashion as well. But even though sometimes I might be exploring a specific genre or technique, that might be a little bit cutting edge or a little bit new for some people, I still like things to be really beautiful; I don’t see a point in making something that’s not wearable. We often talk about our clothes being very modern and very classic at the same time, and I think that’s where I feel comfortable. So even though we’re pioneering I have no need to shock anybody, I’m not interested in that, I’m interested in making people look beautiful.
Which is one of the reasons why I’ve always loved your work. We had our Salon 58 soiree this past weekend and the theme was Noir, but even with the focus on black, the subtext for me was an exercise in style, on how this simplest and most profound of colours – or non-colours- could be used as a canvas to showcase designers, in a way that becomes a portrayal of their signature. Looking at the your black dresses that we showed, what stands out about them and how does that represent your design signature?
Traditionally a little black dress is something very simple, but at Black Coffee we believe that’s not necessarily the only way to show it. The four that we’re looking at here are deliciously complex garments, but at the same time they’re all in black and you can wear them very simply. Step into them, pull the zip up and off you go. Once you’re in them, you have to wear very little else to get the look across. That’s the thing with the little black dress, if it’s cut in a way that suits you specifically, it becomes a staple that you keep coming back to, when you know it’s appropriate for that little occasion. To me, it’s like a very personal thing that you choose, and I think the variety of these four dresses is such that any woman would find something to wear that would suit them specifically.
That really resonates with me and it’s a message that I would also like to get across for the wearer of any dress, but specifically for the black dress. When you choose that dress, it is personal, and it definitely provokes you to wear it with a specific attitude. I think that is a wonderful insight, and something that we should try and cultivate more. When you choose something you choose it with passion and commitment, because then you will wear it accordingly.
I completely agree, especially with something like a black dress. It’s almost like choosing perfume: it’s very personal, and if you choose well, it’ll suit you beautifully. It won’t necessarily look like that on anybody else. It’s also very important to try something that is a tiny little bit out of your comfort zone, you’ll often be surprised how comfortable you’ll feel in it once you have it on your body.
In terms of your collections, is there always a little black dress somewhere? Because it’s Black Coffee and we’re talking about black dresses there’s just somehow a synergy for me.
Black is one of those staples in the fashion industry and we often play on the name of the brand. We’ve done entire black collections at times. At the moment we’re showing a lot of colour but we always balance it with some neutrals and there’s always some black. I think in all the years, I’ve maybe made one or two collections that had no black. But even so, once we translate it for the store we always run some of the styles in black, I think it’s such an important staple and it would make no sense to completely leave it out of the collection.
Thanks Jacques, and congratulations on the opening of the new store last weekend. Do you want to share some details about that with us.
Yes, we opened a new store in a brand new container development in Melville, Johannesburg, It’s called 27 Boxes and it follows suit on global trend towards container shopping centres that have come up across the world, the most famous probably being Box City, that was erected in Christchurch after the disaster there. So this development is very much in that vein, and we thought it was such a fun thing to be part of, and be part of the regeneration of Melville in Joburg.
See more of Black Coffee at www.blackcoffee.co.za
Images by Niquita Bento