The vibrant terrain of Johannesburg, South Africa becomes the backdrop for a new kind of fashion show.

By Lindsay Samson

Nov 23, 2020

South Africa’s geographical landscape is an undeniably breathtaking one. It’s a land that is rich in resources, color, and heritage; a diverse locale that’s steeped in cultural significance with a complex and sometimes painful history. The legacy of apartheid-era spacial planning remains, with many still enduring the effects of land dispossession and forced removals. Despite these darker historical landmarks, there’s a palpable love of the land from its inhabitants, and it is against this beautifully complicated backdrop that African Fashion International Fashion Week Johannesburg SS‘21 took place. This year’s crop of designers turned to pre-recorded short films to present their collections, placing their models against the sunset-lit, dusty setting of the African bush, the rugged mountainscape, and even some of the country’s heritage sites. The assortment of curated locations showcases the beauty of Johannesburg, each setting reimagining the runway and each designers’ storytelling through culture and heritage. Here are some of the highlights of this surprising runway reset.


Optimistic Refinement

by David Tlale

David Tlale has been a fixture on the South African fashion scene for years now, and this year, the COVID-19 pandemic provided direct inspiration for his collection, aptly titled “Rise From The Ashes”. For Tlale, the opportunity to virtually present his collection was an exciting one; a change that he acknowledges is just one of many the world is facing right now. The garments he presented this season were an exercise in exaggerated femininity; a showcase dominated by shades of gold, yellow, soft pink, and eggshell, tones that Tlale considers to be hopeful ones. Ruffles, brocade detailing, and eyelet and lace fabrics emerged as key details of his collection, and his combining of these graceful elements created a marked delicacy that worked against the hardened backdrop: Constitution Hill in Johannesburg, a historic location which once housed hundreds of political prisoners and has since become a site of liberation and the host of some of the country’s major events including the annual Afropunk Festival. 

Feminine Strength 

by Gavin Rajah

An iconic South African fashion player with over two decades of experience in the industry, Gavin Rajah produced a presentation that took us out of the concrete confines of Con Hill and straight onto a set of lusciously overgrown green river banks. The legendary designer’s collection was filled with colors that looked as if they were plucked directly from the natural setting against which he presented mossy greens, fiery reds, and animal and nature-inspired prints abounded, while the intricate layering he employed lent his creations a hefty amount of texture and movement, an aspect that was beautifully mirrored by the dense vegetal setting. Oversized jewelry and bold makeup lent the models a warrior-like air, as they moved about in a collection dedicated to the countless South African women who have been victims of gender-based violence, with Rajah acknowledging that though he knows his work cannot “save the world”, he believes fashion still has a transformative ability to change minds and spread ideas.

Photo: David Tlale SS‘21. Courtesy of David Tlale

Photo: Gavin Rajah SS‘21. Courtesy of Gavin Rajah

Photo: David Tlale SS‘21. Courtesy of David Tlale

Photo: Cindy Mfabe SS‘21 by Eunice Driver Photography

Photo: Ephymol SS‘21 by Eunice Driver Photography

Photo: Lukhayo Mdingi SS‘21 by Eunice Driver Photography


Maternally-inspired Magic

by Seditsi

Founded by designer Lesedi Baakwalanya, Seditsi—a ready-to-wear womenswear line that made its debut at this past AFI Fashion Week—boasts billowy, cocoon shapes, sumptuous floral prints and experimental structures as part of the brand’s aesthetic language. Inspired by Baakwalanya’s late mother’s spiritual beliefs and sense of style, the brand’s “Martha 31” collection consisted of elegantly tailored pieces that were largely rendered from cotton and chiffon. The designer also places a great deal of emphasis on the spiritual nature of his work, stating that his ranges are created for the woman who understands her spiritual side. Baakwalanya’s collection of “lady-like” creations looked unexpectedly at home against the backdrop of a traditional, African-style village, his models embodying the poise and presence of the maternal figure by whom the collection was influenced. One might think the subdued, feminine nature of his collection would look out of place in such a setting but rather, the juxtaposition presented an unexpectedly poetic merging of tradition and modernity. 

Minimalist Elegance

by Taku Dlamini

Taku Dlamini is an eponymous contemporary South African womenswear brand that prides itself on creating sustainable, versatile staples made unique by unexpected detailing and masterful tailoring. The Zimbabwe-born Dlamini’s made-in-Johannesburg pieces meld richness and restraint: clean lines, loose fits, and unfussy silhouettes are deliberately employed so as not to emphasize or determine the “ideal” feminine figure. Rather, what Dlamini wants is for her pieces to allow the wearer to determine what femininity is for themselves. Called ‘Mukadzi’ (a Shona word that means ‘woman’), the collection is one rich with tailored pieces that are minimalist enough to serve as the core basics of a capsule wardrobe. In short, her quality garments rebel against what’s shiny and new, opting instead for the tried and trusted. Dlamini’s collection is yet another that was presented in Jozi’s natural landscape. This verdant, lush, foliage filled setting breathes life into the AFI first-timer’s range, the elongated lines of the grass and greenery echoed by the clean lines of her garments. 

Elevated Athleisure

by Inga Madyibi 

A standout range that fully embraced the activewear trend, designer Inga Madyibi’s collection of mens and womenswear presented a uncommonly smart kind of casual wear, from his voluminous dresses and tailored trousers that experiment with color combinations (baby pinks are paired with forest greens, while intense caramel shades swirl into rich, sea blues), to the unisex bodysuits that feel ideal for both a casual errand run, or even a night out. Shot against the rocky backdrop of a mountain quarry, Madyibi’s first solo AFI presentation (he previously showed in 2016 alongside designer Nandi Mngoma, his co-creator of a brand called COLOUR) stunned against the jagged terrain, adding an extra shot of toughness and energy to a collection that’s already a dazzling exercise in comfortable refinement. Still, there’s an immense ease of wear to the sporty line: throw-on-and-go jumpsuits, shorts, and tights feature frequently, and oversized parkas and bomber jackets amp up the comfort and cool level. Meanwhile, unexpected touches of glitter and sheen also come out to play, serving as a reminder that though athleisure must be comfortable, it need not be boring.

Photo: Seditsi SS‘21. Courtesy of Seditso

Photo: Taku Dlamini SS‘21. Courtesy of Taku Dlamini

Photo: Inga Madyibi SS‘21. Courtesy of Inga Madyibi

Photo: Mantsho SS‘21 by Eunice Driver Photography

Photo: Mmuso Maxwell SS‘21 by Eunice Driver Photography

Photo: Lukhayo Mdingi SS‘21 by Eunice Driver Photography


Sustainable Style

by Shamyra Moodley a.k.a Laani Raani

A 2020 nominee for AFI’s Fast Track Programme—the organization's national graduate fashion platform—Shamyra Moodley a.k.a Laani Raani’s appearance at this year’s AFI saw her present three looks that centred around recycling and renewable materials. Armed with over 200 neckties donated by her grandfather, father, and father-in-law, all of whom are now retired teachers, Moodley embarked on a creative journey to explore her family history—one steeped in the academic world—through fashion, aiming to create timeless, one-of-a-kind garments to be loved and enjoyed by future generations. Using techniques of quilting and free-motion stitching, Moodley’s resulting collection is a joyful and bright one that pays tribute to those who’ve come before. Neon threads, an ode to doodling at school with highlighters, run through the collection, while handwoven statement pieces, earrings, and clutch bags were all created using scraps of old ties and fabric, becoming symbols of beauty, sustainability, and transformation. For her presentation at AFI, Moodley also recorded her film at Johannesburg’s Con Hill, the bold colors of her collection (complete with matching masks) flourishing against the sun kissed walls of the former political prison site.

Photo: Lukhayo Mdingi SS‘21 by Eunice Driver Photography

Photo: Judith Atelier SS‘21 by Eunice Driver Photography

Photo: Mmuso Maxwell SS‘21 by Eunice Driver Photography

Photo: Boyde SS‘21 by Eunice Driver Photography

Photo: Gugu SS‘21. Via @fashionhandbooksa

Photo: Xavier Sadan SS‘21. Via @fashionhandbooksa