In South Africa, a Designer Making Individual Clothing With Political Messages


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Thebe Magugu’s powerful women’s wear has earned him a place as a finalist for this year’s LVMH Reward.

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Credit Credit Anthony Bila

When the Johannesburg-based women’s wear designer Thebe Magugu, now 25, had nightmares as a child growing up in Kimberley, South Africa, his mother would inform him to tape them in a journal. “I found them recently and believed to incorporate them in my work,” he states. He revealed the outcomes throughout his fall 2019 reveal in Johannesburg in October: a black mesh blouse, a complete circle skirt entwined with white duchess satin printed with sectors of text (one passage recounts a recurring dream including dead horses). Transposing these disturbing dreams onto clothing was a statement, the designer says, about turning “times of suffering into a favorable, gorgeous thing”– in this case, stylish garments that reference unapologetically traditional feminine silhouettes. Magugu, who is a finalist for this year’s LVMH Prize, says that his mother not just inspired these pieces however that she has actually been a formative influence on his practice. “I have actually constantly been surrounded by females,” he states. “Independent, strong, headstrong ladies at that.”

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Credit Anthony Bila

Magugu’s name brand name, founded in 2016, engages with the intricacies of womanhood in South Africa. Each collection is a mild political statement; while his structural gowns and forward-looking tailoring are lovely and often feature nipped-in waists and elements of corsetry, there is likewise lots of strangeness and asymmetry– believe wonky hems, unexpected slits and garments that are half something, half another. Magugu is not afraid to check out the darkness under the surface. In House Economics, his collection for fall 2018, for instance, he mentioned a series of highly publicized femicides that happened in South Africa in 2017 and 2018, including that of Karabo Mokoena, who was murdered by a previous sweetheart in Johannesburg. The story was simply one of numerous examples of “conditions that ladies find themselves in here,” states Magugu, describing that misogynistic violence is still swarming in his house nation. In action, his styles subverted conventional female societal roles. He used colors that recollected cleaning chemicals– sulfuric yellows, alkaline pinks and purples– but provided brand-new power by integrating them with angular uneven customizing and belted smocks with practical work-wear referrals. The collection sang of the future pulling against the past; warrior ladies strengthening themselves to claim space and impact in a changing South Africa.

In the three years since his brand name began, Magugu’s work has actually drawn worldwide attention. In addition to his LVMH Reward nomination and a forthcoming capsule collection with 24 Sèvres in Paris, he recently won the leading prize at the International Style Display in London. However “it’s insufficient for me to inhabit LVMH and the IFS on my own,” he says. In February, driven by a desire to support other South African skill, he began Professors Press, a zine that showcases what he refers to as the often ignored “brilliant minds” of his nation’s emerging style and innovative scenes. His latest collection, entitled African Studies, for spring 2019, is likewise a homage to his home nation. It integrates motifs from standard South African cultures with “something more modern,” he says. Half of a tailored cobalt blue wool and cashmere fit jacket falls away into a loose shawl– referencing the wrap-style garments common within his Tswana tribe– while the straight lines of a pleated bottle-green skirt splay out all of a sudden into an intricate chevron pattern that nods to his culture’s eager handiwork tradition. For the prints, he worked together with the Johannesburg-based artist Phathu Nembilwi, whose work he first stumbled upon on Instagram. Her illustrations happily welcome the black female type– “which has in the previous been excluded or fetishized,” Magugu states– in all its intricacy. “Celebrating bodies is also quite South African,” he adds. “We’re not shy.”

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Credit Anthony Bila

To present the collection at the International Style Display in London in February, he produced a striking installation. It illustrated three women, sporting intricate variations on Afro hairdos, seated around a table that was suspended in the air. From this table fell a scroll inscribed with the country’s constitution, which is “among the most progressive on the planet,” says Magugu, explaining it as an effort to “rewrite and right the wrongs of apartheid, which indicated that individuals like me could not inhabit particular areas.” He called the installation “Dawning,” in honor of the ladies, like those who daily inspire his work, who are shaping their nation in spite of the lots of obstacles they come across, consisting of sexism and gender-based violence. It provided a defiant, uplifting message, which is fast ending up being the designer’s trademark. While he takes pride in the truth that his collections show his heritage, and that whatever is developed and manufactured in Johannesburg, his supreme goal, he says, is “to develop an African brand name with genuinely worldwide ramifications.”

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