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The South African and Nigerian designers’ new collections bring a sense of national pride to the transformed bi-annual event. 


By Lindsay Samson

Oct 7, 2020

Paris Fashion Week has officially drawn to a close and, as expected, the sole two African designers on the schedule—South Africa’s Thebe Magugu and Nigeria’s Kenneth Ize—delivered collections that were a marker of creative excellence. Given their impressive achievements over the past few years, it’s difficult to dispute the two designers’ prime positions as ‘ones to watch’ on the international circuit. In 2019 Ize received a stamp of approval both from Naomi Campbell, who closed his FW‘20 PFW show, and Anna Wintour, who named him one of the top young designers to keep an eye on during a digital interview with Rihanna for Vogue. And while both were selected as finalists for the 2019 LVMH prize, it was Magugu who ultimately walked away with the year’s top honor, making him the first African designer to win in the competition’s seven-year history.

This year, there was a distinct authenticity felt in their showings, the bold aesthetics and rich stories of their new ranges displaying a thoughtful engagement with both the past and present. Paris Fashion Week is an event that has long been known for its showmanship and both Magugu and Ize’s presentations stayed true to this assurance, exhibiting a degree of drama and ingenuity that didn't disappoint. Deftly thwarting the limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Magugu turned to the art of filmmaking for his fashion week display, producing a 7-minute film that touches on elements of espionage and surveillance, expressing the essence of his intelligence agent-inspired collection. Meanwhile, on the opposite end of the spectrum, Ize chose to gently wade back into the “real world”, his short but captivating, socially-distanced physical presentation drawing on aspects of visual art, performance art, and fashion design. And while both Magugu and Ize’s new work was profoundly inspired by the idea of heritage and a shared African pride, their presentations at this year’s PFW were each very much their own. 

Thebe Magugu

Photo: Thebe Magugu SS‘21 at PFW. Courtesy of Thebe Magugu

Photo: Thebe Magugu SS‘21 at PFW. Courtesy of Thebe Magugu

Photo: Thebe Magugu SS‘21 at PFW. Courtesy of Thebe Magugu

Since winning the LVMH Prize in September of last year, South African fashion wunderkind Thebe Magugu has been on a steady climb to the upper echelons of the global fashion industry. This past year alone has been charged with a list of major achievements for the young designer including the recent September launch of his label’s first e-commerce site. Presented in a short fashion film directed by South African fashion photographer Kristin Lee Moolman and styled by ID magazine’s British-Sierra Leonean fashion editor at large, Ibrahim Kamara, the collection he revealed last Tuesday for Paris Fashion Week was one filled with understated shades of olive green, mustard yellow and warm taupe, unusual silhouettes and asymmetrical hemlines emerging as some of the more prolific details. Of his collaboration with Moolman and Kamara, Magugu told 10Magazine “...There’s something so familiar about [my collaborators’ style], especially with [them] being African. There’s something very other-worldly about their image-making”. Titled ‘Counter Intelligence’, Magugu’s film is one that’s steeped in political history, and greatly inspired by the designer’s fascination with the psychology behind the moves of apartheid era spies—particularly one named Olivia Anne Marie Forsyth. Originally an informant for the state, she ultimately switched sides, becoming a spy for the anti-apartheid movement. So fascinated was the South African designer, he even took the time to interview her ahead of the creation of his collection, a move that reveals Magugu’s honest commitment to understanding his nation’s history and, ultimately, his and his work’s place in it.  

“Titled ‘Counter Intelligence’, Magugu’s film is one that’s steeped in political history, and greatly inspired by the designer’s fascination with the psychology behind the moves of apartheid era spies—particularly one named Olivia Anne Marie Forsyth”

 Against a narrative voiceover that tells the stories of confessed female ex-spies who worked for and against South Africa's Old Regime, sharply clad models play at being undercover agents, moving through imagined scenarios of espionage in classically cut, timeless trench coats and coordinating separates like tailored shirts tucked into mini skirts, all captured through a hazy, 90s style filter. Though Magugu’s presentation and collection are both, in many ways, a follow up to his SS‘20 range, “Prosopography” (which was an ode to the-female-founded-and-led, non-violent resistance organization that fought against the apartheid state named the Black Sash), his latest collection is even more unapologetic in its directness, screen prints of famed anti-apartheid activists boldly emblazoned upon deftly tailored shirtdresses, and 70s style berets designed in collaboration with miliner Crystal Birch and jewelry designer Kirsten Goss signalling what American Vogue termed a “revolutionary spirit”. The collection also places a strong emphasis on texture, with soft jersey materials and frayed fabrics popping up throughout: leather harnesses (another clear reference to traditional ideas of a spy uniform) are feature in a number of ensembles, juxtaposing a kind of hardened toughness against the delicate femininity of Magugu’s knee-length dresses, and while you may think those are polka-dots you spotted all over that white, key-hole midi dress, they’re actually the scanned fingerprints of the range’s muse, Forsyth. But it’s perhaps the sheer wearability of this new collection that makes the biggest splash; despite being rooted in such a complex story, the unmatched tailoring, elegant cuts, and chic muted tones diverge from “spy wear” clichés, like black and leather, offering a richly-hued subtlety that is sure to appeal even to the most conservative of dressers.

Watch Magugu’s Fashion Film “Counter Intelligence” here.
 

Kenneth Ize

Photo: Kenneth Ize SS‘21 at PFW. Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

Photo: Kenneth Ize SS‘21 at PFW. Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

Photo: Kenneth Ize SS‘21 at PFW. Courtesy of Kenneth Ize

A reinvigorating shakeup of the traditional runway show, Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize’s sophomore appearance at Paris Fashion week took an inspired turn, his unorthodox, remixed display kicking off Thursday’s lineup assuredly. Held inside of the Sphere showroom at the Palais de Tokyo, the city of light’s renowned modern art musée, the show saw a small crop of models donning the designer’s signature modern interpretations of Aso Oke (pronouced asho oké)—a handwoven cotton fabric originally loomed by the Yoruba people of Nigeria—moving gracefully through a floor of floral arrangements designed by florists Jefferson Fouquet, all while Parisian artist Maty Biayenda live painted an enormous mural. One of a handful of designers to put on a physical runway show this year, albeit a scaled-down iteration, as they all were this year, Ize’s imaginative display was one mirrored in the designs of his Spring 2021 collection, new variations on his trademark fabrics rendered in optimal summer styles including easy to wear flared trousers, sleeveless waistcoats, and billowy button-down shirts. Some of the intricate creations displayed visible fringe detailing, an element that was created using a new thread picking technique developed by one of his employees. In a conversation with American Vogue, Ize explained: “I’ve really got to give it to her,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like it before. She’s been weaving since she was a child, and when she heard what we were doing [in Ilorin], she got in touch and told us she’d make us something special.”

“I’m not going to compromise my culture, my Blackness, my sexuality, my gayness. I’m not going to compromise who I am.” 

This fringe element is one primarily evident in a multi-color hued, sleeveless dress and a brilliant below-the-knee tunic, the embellishment combining with the vertical stripes of the Aso Oke to deliver dimension and texture. A largely unisex collection, Ize’s tailored suits, bold forms, simple cuts, and striking colorways are meant for all, dismissing fixed notions of gender, his accessories of glass pendants and face-shaped earrings, elegantly sitting upon the collarbones and dangling from the ears of male and female models. Admittedly passionate about his Pan-African cultural heritage, this fervor is perhaps most evident in his work with Aso Oke fabric, the reverence for which permeates all of his creations. And yet, even as his new collection bursting with the familiar handwoven checks and stripes that helped put him on the map, offerings like a silk grape-colored skirt and blazer set rendered in a single, solid color indicate something of a visual evolution for the brand. Drawing from diverse aspects of his culture, Ize infuses his work with a non conforming androgyny, one that speaks to anyone regardless of gender identity. “My clothes might not say it in your face, but the reason I am doing them is very political,” he told Vogue. “I’m not going to compromise my culture, my Blackness, my sexuality, my gayness. I’m not going to compromise who I am.”

Visit the Paris Fashion week website to see content from Ize’s S’21 presentation
.