It wouldn’t have been SA Fashion Week (April 11-15) without a nipple or two peeking through sheer fabric, girls on stilts, boys channeling Filipino superstar fashion blogger Bryan Boy with a clutch bag in one outstretched arm and lots of jostling for tickets and attention…
It’s a world, with its own rules, etiquette and social structure where the front row is the “only row”. This year the invitation came with an etiquette guide. Among the useful tips were “Watch your hairstyle – the person behind you might also want to see the show”, “Don’t scale the gifts out of the (generous) goody bag on the seat next to you” (enough headline sponsor Tresemme haircare products to knock out any unsuspecting filcher) and “Don’t pretend you are media if you are not”.
Credit Anna Wintour, the British-born editor-in-chief of American Vogue, with providing guidance on front-row comportment. Exude elegance, be compact in the space, wear a slightly stern but composed expression and cross your arms, long ago decoded by the body language experts as a sign of closing yourself off to social influence. It has clearly worked magic for Wintour who is actually the social influencer of the fashion world.
As with all things fashion one must take these rules not too seriously while taking them very seriously indeed. Fashion rules worlds, powers economies, builds fortunes and status, fuels popular culture and shapes hierarchies. It is also fickle, and can, if the spikes on designer Gert Johan-Coetzee’s shoulder pads were anything to go by, be dangerous [I could hear my dear departed great-aunt Stella yelling in my head “What’s he trying to do, take someone’s eye out”. It’s a good thing she wasn’t there to witness Amanda Laird Cherry’s odd Spring/Summer felt-covered shoes that had models skidding past on the sheer runway.]
The idea was to go backstage to observe the pre-show chaos, a contrast to the order of the catwalk. But fashion is unpredictable and at 6.30pm on opening night backstage was a sea of calm compared to the goings-on out front, as the crowd rapidly multiplied in the foyer of Rosebank’s Crowne Plaza Hotel and queues for tickets swelled with the accredited, the chancers and the indignant. So I stuck to the front row – safely ignorant of the celebrity filled drama that erupted sometime around 7pm – full details on Fashion Cap City.
Inside the venue were the watchers and the texters. The media photographers and camera-people flanked one wall grandstand-style while the audience held up cellphones and even a few iPads to record and share the action throughout the shows.
And what about the actual fashion? Opening night gives a sense of each designer’s personal style rather than any sense of a signature South Africa fashion style. But fashion also tells a story, and it is at its best when you can discern its narrative thread. For the most talented designers there’s always the tug between the commercial and the conceptual for one scores no points at the Durban July wearing wit or irony, or for that matter large grey felt booties but I like the idea of fashion week also being a play space for creativity as long as the finer wearable details such as a good fit are not overlooked.
Suzaan Heyns’s bridal wear collection wowed most of the audience, especially the fine spiderweb-like parasol that doubled as a veil and had my seat mate on the right gasping for breath. To the right of me there was talk of structure, details, intricacies of lace while to the left of me someone whispered “it looks more like wedding wear for 50 Shades”. By the time the piece de resistance appeared – a model dramatically swathed in a black tulle wedding dress – comportment gave way to visions of the dress one should wears after offing one’s dearly beloved.
In the designer pantheon Clive Rundle is the god of fine details and he forwent a solo catwalk-style show for an installation piece that crossed between fashion, performance, photography and art, all laid out to the soundtrack of someone taking a Rorschach inkblot test. It was a compelling piece – but unseated and competing for space with the vertically advantaged all that remains is the power of the soundtrack and the close-up still images projected above the action.
It was Jacques van der Watt’s Black Coffee that made sure you know why it’s called a show. Dramatic and beautifully told it started with yellow fabric rose petals being strewn across the ramp, making a dramatic contrast with the Congolese Kuba-cloth inspired evening wear that followed. On every front-row seat was a black and white leaflet bearing one element of these patterned textiles and the background to the technique and colour palette used in the collection. Beautifully fitted, intricately detailed and telling an African story made new through reinterpretation it was the show and the showstopper.
Although it was Clive Rundle’s Rorschach-test soundtrack that continues to play in my head as probably the most accurate take on fashion. “Should I get help because I am seeing all kinds of weird stuff. Okay plate 5 …What do you see? … I’ll give you a little bit of time because it took me a second to see something in this one. It’s kind of like nothing…better look harder there’s something in there.”
and some final pretty stuff …