If this is what happened at SAFW, AFI is next.

Monday, March 29, 2010

I've been nervous about reporting on this year's SA Fashion Week summer collections. If you really want some great collection reviews of the shows, you could ways go to the following blogs and sites:


I on the other hand, think there's much more value in discussing the actual event, format and the place of a fashion week in South Africa's current state of affairs, more importantly, why we should collectively consider doing something else that will work for our industry. The South African Fashion Week model is based on the American model as far as I could tell when I was in NY. We know how to put on a proper Fashion Week and that's thanks to the pioneer of Fashion Week in South Africa, Lucilla Booyzen of SAFW. When it started in 1997, nobody had done it before.

Fashion Week used to be a magical event where all the know-it-alls and the ones everybody wants to know were in attendance. You aspired to go there if you were on the outskirts of the industry and everything was coveted and very important. Until last year, SAFW was, for five years, sponsored by Sanlam. Last year, the contract ended and Sanlam decided not to renew it. (According to the rumour mill, Patrice Motsepe sits on the Sanlam Board and probably didn't even have to pull any strings to ensure that his wife, Dr Precious Moloi Motsepe and her African Fashion International get rid of their only competition.) The mill also says that the money they were putting into SAFW has now gone to golf. Whether it's true or not, the result of Sanlam pulling their sponsorship has devastated the industry.

I couldn't attend Clive Rundle's 5 piece instillation and I'm very sorry because I heard it was good. The majority of the shows this season were utterly disappointing. I won't knit-pick today, maybe if you bump into me one day we can talk about it. The sense of loss was evident and the event was more of a funeral for the thing we've loved and adored for years than the fashion event of the year. I've been avoiding getting to the bottom of this because I don't want to hurt anybody, but I think people are already hurt that it was the way it was. It was really dry, not because of the organisation, but for me, it was because of the standard and quality of work put out by some of the designers. That said, it's not the only thing that was wrong there, it's hard to pin point actually because there are a lot of unknowns and things that are only whispered in enclosed spaces. There were few high-profile media and a lot empty seats. Where were the people? Where were the big sponsors? No Mac, Loreal, Redken. Etv was a sponsor, I didn't see an Etv crew filming people. I hope I'm wrong. Then the Sunday Times puts a picture of Indian Fashion Week on the front page, the day after SAFW was over. Could that not be construed as a deliberate snub? Where were the established designers?

I don't know what the solution is but I do think there are things we could be doing better. There needs to be a national fashion council if we ever hope to give meaning to the last 14 years. The brains behind SAFW and the money behind the Motsepe's have got to settle their differences. If we really want to develop this industry, we've got to come up with a different format, Fashion Week as we know it leaves a lot of people poorer than they began, despite the exposure. Nip it in the bud, continue changing it until we find something that works, otherwise nobody is going to win. I think the buyer and media and networking sessions really worked for designers at this year's shows and I think those kinds of innovations are examples of where we should be headed. What didn't work was having people like Uyanda Mbuli's ego take up 30 minutes of people's time. To me, her show was a slap in the face of the industry because not only were her clothes insanely badly cut, sewn and thought of, it was more of a spectacle that she could have put on on a private platform. She used celebrity and booted media reps out of their seats so that her friends and fans could watch the show. Of course she's not the only person that's ever done that before but this time, her show stood out because the other shows didn't have that element of dull celebrity. Nobody cares about celebrities anymore, especially in this country.

It's like there's an indispensable plant that we all need for sustenance, but it has weeds all around it. We need to smoke the weeds out of the garden. I couldn't for the life of me post a frivolous report about who showed what because I think this problem has eclipsed that option. If this is going to work, the media, corporates, retailers, designers and other important legs of this industry, need to come together and pull up our socks otherwise everybody is going to lose. I'm tired of keeping quiet and hoping things will be better. I want to act. South Africa is on the precipice of something nasty if the right people don't stand up and speak. Jonathan Jansen has warned us of the dangers of pretending as if things are fine when they are not. Some say it's the year of the Tiger's tendency for aggression and schisms that's making our air a little bit thicker, whatever it is, we've got to come together and save our industry and our country.


Being Brazen said...

good post :)

Nadia said...

You've raised some interesting points and they do need to be addressed if the industry is to grow and really reach its potential.
When one starts feeling bored at the mere thought of Fashion Week, you know there's a problem.
I like the idea of a national fashion council or something along those lines. Do you think there will ever be enough emphasis on fashion in this country to establish something like that though? I live in hope, because not too long ago there weren't awards for fashion journalism, so it could very well happen.

Milisuthando Bongela said...

I live in hope with you Nadia, we can't just pack our collections away and call it a day. Our industry is merely 14 years old and our city is but 124 years old. We are a unique case, we have incredible talent and I think if we continue doing what's right, we will get to where we are going. We need people like Lucilla in this country, but she can't do it alone. We all need to band together start fires where there is no hope and darkness. The infrastructure that needs to support designers is what's lacking: media, manufacture and retail. We'll get there though. The designers from TWO stock 56 shops in the country. There is hope, we all just need to look beyond the minor obstacles that some people place along the way.

Jenny said...

I loved every bit of this article, it is well written and seems to tap into my thinking. The idea of a fashion council is so thrilling, it started with the Cape Town Fashion Council but then seemed to fall flat - a national council with local sub-committees would be awesome, particularly to nurture entrepreneurship and encourage a system of mentorship. Rather than some dubious characters claiming to mentor young designers. I'm big on systems and with a proper system a national fashion council is something I have such faith in.
I do think certain criteria have to be laid down - are we doing ready-to-wear fashion weeks or do we want couture? What is the end game? Are we going to follow the American/European model or are we going to tweak this outline?
The council needs to meet with industry so that inviting buyers to fashion week is not just lip service but will actually equate into business.
Lucilla is a visionary but as you say, she can't do it alone!
Jen Searle

Milisuthando Bongela said...

Thanks Jenny and Being Brazen,

We have to tweak the current system because we're not on the same level as the US, Europe and Asia when it comes to our Fashion Industry's maturity, and I'm sure they also started somewhere smaller and less showy than where they are now. There are markets for couture and ready to wear. I especially like that there are a lot of people who benefit from brands such as Amanda Laird Cherry, Two, Soda, Colleen Eitzen and Gugulam, who are strictly ready to wear. But in order for the industry to be more than a ready-to-wear mill and in order for us to draw fancy sponsors and money, we need the fantastical aspect of couture. We need shows that inspire fashion editors and writers, and of course, we need platform for creative designers to work from. It's all about balance. The council would administrate the various platforms, have two or 3 consolidated events which everyone falls under and work from the top down. If people don't want to become part of it, that's fine but we can't have these random Fashion Weeks popping up every year. It causes further fragmentation, alsmost brings growth efforts to a halt and it's just not a good look. It's evident that this system where the money has no vision and the vision has no money is not working - both need to make sacrifices. We all need to get together to figure this out, nobody can do it alone. Nothing's ever been achieved by one person's effort. It's going to take time yes, but we can't leave thing as they are. I like the conversation that we've started.

Blckseed said...

I'm in total support of the National Fashion Council idea. There needs to be serious engagement on that. This idea of nine fashion weeks, or however many it is, is absolutely ridiculous and in my opinion, framenting the industry.
Designers and creativity is another issue oaltogether, seems like each year is a drop i n standard.
Thanks for the lovely read, Milli.

Vista said...

Milli, interesting points indeed. It is rather sad to witness the output of some of these designers today. I categorically co-sign with you on the representation of the African ideal on a fashion week platform. So, such a body of fashion experts is indeed needed in this country.

I am however disturbed at ur playing into the whole rumour mill about the Sanlam/Patrice deal. You're intelligent enough to realize what makes logical sense and what doesn't.

I'm anxious to read what your thoughts (and other fellow bloggers') would be after the upcoming Africa Fashion Week.

Milisuthando Bongela said...

Vista, I understand you may be a little dare I say biased because you do AFI's PR. That rumour's been going on for ages and where there's smoke I believe there's something smoking, fire or not. And logically, it makes total and complete sense! I'm on the outside remember???

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