Lately, I’ve become a bit obsessed with stories of fashion designers building their brands outside the mainstream channels like fashion weeks and the media hype. Click here for Exhibit A. Of course people have been doing this long before fashion weeks became a thing, and they continue to. But being on those platforms has become such a thing that sometimes it’s easy to forget that fashion designers can build and sustain their businesses in other ways.
Hence Sandiso and I were a bit intrigued two weeks ago when we went to check out THESHOWSPACE, and we saw a rail of fantastic garments in African style prints, with just the name Dionne stuck to it. Who was this uni-monikered creature? Had we missed something? She didn’t show at fashion week, and yet here was her rail, fully packed, amongst the familiar designer names that had just shown at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Cape Town. We’re a nosy pair, so we had to find out, and thanks to dear friend of Skattie, author and columnist Sam Woulidge, yesterday I found myself at Dionne’s home in Tamboerskloof sipping on tea and stuffing my gob with gluten free poppy seed cake.
She’s just finished shooting publicity images for her new collection, most of which she also models. “I haven’t really been in my studio throughout August, I’ve focused on starting up my social media, organizing the clothes for THESHOWSPACE and getting a photoshoot going for the range. There actually hasn’t been much time to work. Getting your name out there is a full time job in itself. In the past I never documented my work; as a one man band you’re either making or selling, and there isn’t enough time to focus on building a brand.” says Dionne.
She’s been producing her range and supplying a boutique in Nelson Mandela Square up in Joburg for the past eight years, “I haven’t really supplied any Cape Town boutiques, but I do ‘house sales’ down here, every three months when I put a new collection together. I’ve got a small database of about a 100 girls, and the collections are always very well received. I open it for a day and it’s a total bun fight,” she laughs.
“I’m from Zimbabwe originally, but with everything going on in Zim, life became difficult, so we moved down to Cape Town in 2003,” she tells me. And the fashion? “I never studied fashion but on Saturday mornings, while still at school, I worked in a little boutique and that’s where my love for fashion really developed; that and the fact that my mother was always outrageously dressed. I ended up in the boutique’s design room which is where I learnt the ins and outs of patternmaking. I worked there for five years, and then I went out on my own and did flea markets and house sales and that sort of thing.”
Then there was a bit of a break, she met Simon, who is now her husband. There was travel, a couple of years in London. Followed by marriage, then kids. “I slowed down a bit, but throughout it all, whether it was making a feathered headdress or stitching something at home or collecting things from the market and putting them together, I still continued, I never really stopped making things.”
In 2010, whilst living out in Riebeeck Kasteel, a small town a little over an hour’s drive outside of Cape Town, “I started working out of a garage. I worked with a lot of ladies out there who had experience in the clothing industry, but were struggling to find employment. That’s also when I got into fringing stuff. I got an electric cutter and I did all my own fringing,” says Dionne.
As for her love of prints, “My mom is a big influence, she paints and she’s collected lots of African artifacts in her house, lots of fabrics and African throws. Some of it came from Senegal and North Africa, and that has always been a huge influence on me.”
Skattie let’s not even kid around, African prints are hot as fuck right now, and they have been for a minute. Over the last few years we have been blessed with some great examples, think Loincloth and Ashes, Chulaap, Laurence Airline and many more. But it’s not just designers on the continent, it’s a global vibe. I for one get very excited to see how each designer plays with the prints on silhouettes that they love, and I do love Dionne’s individual pieces, and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing much more of her.
Follow Dionne on instagram @designerdionne. You can get in touch with her via email on firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Malibongwe Tyilo
Images shot by Winston Kletter
Featured image by Malibongwe Tyilo