Soweto's fashion set

#148. Head to Joburg’s chic-est new 5-star hotel for the announcement of the winners of the Sanlam Fashion Journalism Awards.  Last week I had a chance to pop into the very exclusive-looking The Monarch Hotel on Oxford Road, a rumoured R64-million refurbishment of the old post office building. (I have an appointment to go back and get the inside story).

I was there to attend the awards — of which I was a judge, together with City Press Editor-in-Chief Ferial Haffajee, Radio 702 talkshow host Jenny Cryws-Williams and Kassie Naidoo, creative director at King James. Fashion commentator and trends analyst Dion Chang was the convenor. And the winners were…. in the fashion editing category Business Day Wanted’s Jenny Andrew for a feature called “Paper Dolls” — an exquisite spread created together with paper sculptor Hazel Buchan, an interpretation of fashion as art to mark the Joburg Art Fair — and for fashion writing, Millisuthando Bongela’s Street Smarties which was published in Elle magazine. They had some tough competition from the likes of  Sharon Becker, Mary Corrigall and Leigh Robertson.

Paper Dolls by Jenny Andrew

Paper Dolls by Jenny Andrew

Reading Millisuthando Bongela’s piece about the “street smarties” — brown on the inside and all colours on the outside — was  like unwrapping a shiny little treat. It’s a piece about a youth subculture who define themselves by the colourful gear they wear.

Their muse is vibrancy, their chronicler is photographer Lolo Veleko (who no suprises here is big in Japan and New York where they have a depth of appreciation for sartorial flourishes).

Bongela was the first to put her finger on that pulse in the popular press and to document what is a very interesting street-fashion movement not confined only to Soweto.

“In South Africa 15 years ago, a black person was identified by his language, the music he listened to or his level of political consciousness — or lack thereof. It would be wrong to say all black people dressed the same, but perhaps safe to say that if you were black, you mostly didn’t have time to worry about how you looked.”

“We have the freedom to look like this beacuse our parents struggled for us to be whoever we want to be,” Bongela quotes 22-year-old Kepi Mngomezulu.

“Dion Chang calls them ‘Joburg’s cool young things’.”

“These are people in charge of at least their sartorial destinies,” said the Village Voice. They called Veleko’s photographs of the fashion set “an antidote to the prevailing view of the ‘dark continent’ as a place of entropy and despair” ( Luckily it takes more than a Village to reflect the world we live in). Continue reading