Mar 8, 2021
Tucked away in the suburb of Westcliff, Johannesburg is a mid-century modern home known as Lotus House. Designed in the 1960s by architectural firm Osmond and De Kock, the distinctive structure is surrounded by warmly-hued rockery and masses of lush succulents, splashes of red and blue paint popping against a pristine white exterior.
Viviers SS'21. Photo: Danielle Smith
Step inside and the sensory experience continues; beautiful South African art adorns the walls, while vibrant colors and fascinating architectural elements set the tone for a unique sartorial experience. This is the home of Viviers, a South African clothing brand that produces made-to-measure, conceptual, handcrafted garments.
“When I found this space,” founder Lezanne Viviers explains over a call with Industrie Africa, “I knew it was the right time [to start the brand].” The former creative director of iconic South African fashion label Marianne Fassler formed Viviers in 2019, and it’s at Lotus House that life is breathed into her experimental designs. An open space that serves as a studio, showroom, atelier, and the designer’s home. Her clients are welcomed into the vibrant setting where they’re able to interact with the work on a profound level and are welcomed to see all the garments on offer, try things on, and place their orders then and there. “We’ve got our cutting tables where we create patterns and samples,” Viviers tells us. “In the next room are our three tailors, as well as two artisans who create the embroidery and beading, and sew pieces by hand.”
A striking marriage of femininity and androgyny, Viviers’ design sensibilities redefine standard notions of luxury. Featuring myriad colors, eccentric patterns, and an air of ebullient optimism, hers is a bold aesthetic, one that she began cultivating at a young age. She’s unable to recall a time when fashion and art were not important to her, noting that her personal style was honed through vintage and thrift shopping, a practice she gravitated toward as a way to distinguish herself from those who donned more mainstream trends. She was also drawn to the world of visual art but ultimately abandoned the idea of attending art school in pursuit of a fashion degree. “I thought it would be a more practical way for me to apply my art and to bring those two interests together.”
Just shy of two years old, the Viviers brand is young, but it has achieved a lot within its time. It’s been featured on the pages of international publications including Italian and Ukrainian Vogue and The Wall Street Journal. In 2020, Viviers made its debut at Berlin Fashion Week, unveiling a collection that was a reflection of its designer’s love for experimental silhouettes; one of a kind prints and a fearless embracing of the avant-garde resulted in a series of richly textured and acclaimed original looks. There’s an unabashed confidence to the brand’s conceptual pieces, a confidence that it no doubt imparts to its wearer. And though a common thread of the unconventional runs through all of her work, each of her collections are markedly distinct from one other; imbued with a playful and open spirit, her garments feel fluid, curious, and unafraid of change. “When I start a range, I start with myself,” she explains. “What do I need? What do I want to wear?” Still, she never forgets her client, taking care to ensure that she caters to as wide an array of women as possible. “In South Africa, the luxury market is very small so it’s vital to consider different personalities, different lifestyles, and different body shapes.”
“To me, a collaboration is when you create something with another that simply couldn’t exist without you and that party coming together. There cannot be ego in the room, only play.”
One of the more prominent elements of Vivier’s work is the idea of collaboration. Over the years she’s worked with artists including Marlene Hettie Steyn and Pascale Theron, and in 2020 she teamed up with TWYG Magazine and local NGOs Biru Experiments and The Beach Co-op to embark on the #Plasticfreemzansi project. For the latter, she reimagined plastic as a valuable material via a coat fashioned from single-use medical fabric. “To me, a collaboration is when you create something with another that simply couldn’t exist without you and that party coming together,” she says. “There cannot be ego in the room, only play. Working with others there's this amazing birth of newness. The most creative things don't happen in isolation but in collaboration.”
Titled ‘Everything is, Still Life’’, Viviers’ latest collection keeps this collaborative spirit alive. Inspired by the challenges and changes of 2020, particularly what she has termed “the illusion of time”, it features hand-made bronze jewelry pieces created in tandem with her friends James Barry and Carlo Gamberini, as well as an assortment of leather bags produced with Cape Town-based leather crafters Cape Cobra. The striking collection teems with a vibrant yet soft array of colors, audacious silhouettes, eye-catching prints, and even loungewear, and according to its designer poses a thought-provoking question: “What kind of fossil would I like to leave behind, to define my life’s work? What kind of fossil will be representing our time as humanity, in a million years from now?”
Created during the initial COVID-19 lockdown period in South Africa, the garments were presented in a characteristically unconventional showing which took place at Lotus House itself. Her clients (including South African creative and muse Yasmin Furmie) and their families served as models, a decision that echoed the brand’s efforts to produce items that will become heirloom pieces. An embodiment of considered South African quality that’s unique and unexpected, the showing was an immense success, but for Viviers, it’s in the act of creating and customer satisfaction where she finds fulfillment. “Showing at Berlin or Lagos Fashion Week is great but that’s not what makes up my day,” she states. “My interactions with my team or a client loving a garment is what it’s about for me. It’s about the day-to-day moments of joy and happiness, and the freedom to do what I love.”
Shop Viviers' full collection here.