While other parts of the world are dying from frustration, citing a “lack of innovation” from the Spring/Summer’15 shows and the fashion industry in general, the menswear season that was showcased at South African Fashion Week Autumn/Winter’15 proved otherwise, reports Innocent Ndlovu.
Sometimes fashion week season is monotonous. For some us who attend every show – from the unknown emerging designer to top of the crop with years of experience – sitting through a string of multiple lukewarm collections over a three day period is demoralizing, and actually quite boring, to say the least.
The element of surprise is a rare fixture in menswear. All we have to go on are tweaks here and there, usually in the form of prints, patterns, fabrics and styling to modify old ideas and excite the consumer. But perhaps not everything can be blamed on the designer, for a lack of innovation can be accredited to the fashion media also, who can indeed contribute to the mediocrity. For example, during the recently concluded SAFW, l overheard bloggers and fashion writers secretly criticise collections while singing a tune of praise in their reviews. But what’s fashion without an honest opinion and constructive criticism? How else can an industry grow to excite when the ‘experts’ don’t voice their true opinions?
This season at SAFW, there were three types of designers: ones that stuck to their old tricks, ones that pushed boundaries and ones who simply went over the edge, like Roman Handt who blurred the lines with a heavily female-themed and provocative showcase, resulting in probably his most un-wearable collection to date. Thick knits, exaggerated, structured architectural shapes and a mix of silky and mesh fabrics all featured. The mystery and perhaps the message were hidden behind his models’ face masks, which varied from embroidered mesh and sequins to gas mask-like forms.
For Handt, a masked knight or soldier carefully armored in dark clothing seemed to be at the root of the collection’s inspiration, with ropes loosely tied around models and cropped pants tightly tied with strips of fabrics for added effect. The designer took things a step further too, purposely dressing the models in what seemed like incomplete looks; a knitted jersey worn with nothing but a mask, and long pieces of cloth put over shoes like knee-length socks. In unmasking the fantasy element of the collection which indeed stirred up excitement on the ramp, one would describe the range as being structured with layers of fabrics piled against each other for unusual silhouettes – details l have come to know and expect of Roman Handt.
But Mr Handt wasn’t the only one that made waves though. Another designer breaking the boundaries of boredom was the 2014 winner of the South African Fashion Week Menswear Designer competition. His presentation was characterised by ancient military accents, tailcoat silhouettes and boho influences. A vintage look was created by pairing a peach-hued trouser with a brown short-tailed blazer, with prominent button detailing; a silky fur coat was worn with an equally silky black trouser; and in one instance a model was draped in a loose-fitting top with a brightly coloured shawl-like garment tied around the waist.
Fellow emerging designers also showed potential with their carefully constructed and thought out presentations. Amos Tranque explored with textures and cuts while unexpected strips of cloth were found stitched on pockets. Another impressive debut came from Touch of Bling who presented a clean and minimal collection, where dangling chains and buttons were strategically placed on hemlines, pants, dungarees and jumpsuits – all worn with sandals and safari hats, which was good but just didn’t seem appropriate for Winter.
Unlike overseas, where big fashion houses make big extravagant shows in which the audience almost forget about the clothes (think Chanel’s protest at its Spring/Summer’15 showcase), everything is kept almost minimal (venue and set-wise) on African runways, with one hundred percent concentration on the clothes. With that in mind, strong looks also came from House of Ole where hand-painted suits and what looked like an Angora knit, stitched with yellow leather, featured together with slim fit ensembles that were perfectly styled with fedora hats. In some other showcases though, only a selection of looks came out strong enough to make an impact, which was sometimes the case at Amos Tranque, Ephymol, Palse and House of Ole’s shows, but even then, there were some looks that felt quite unnecessary and left me wondering and scratching my head.
It seems therefore a rare fit for everyone to get it right and leave that coveted element of excitement, with it being so easy to go overtop and create confusing looks, or fall short in the interesting stakes, with many on the ramp that did nothing for my fashion senses. The likes of Naked Ape have become quite predictable, for example – their collection for Autumn/Winter’15 not being all-bad, but not bordering on exceptional either. Emerging brands like Meistre House of Design also failed to strike a chord, with unflattering oversized suits and un-missable lapels. In the case of Kim Gush and Nairan Samy it was nothing l hadn’t seen before; tailored suits for the latter and uninspiring black and white looks from Kim. To quote British fashion journalist and critique, Alexander Fury;
“Most people are content just to make a nice pair of trousers. Nothing deeper”.
– that’s exactly how it felt with some of these designers.
With all the recent collections from around the world considered, it therefore seems accurate to say that while globally it might be an uncertain time for menswear, with all the extreme exploring of fabrics, aesthetics, seasons and ambiguity taking a backseat, in South Africa, that’s not yet a concern. The true focus – taking South African Fashion Week Autumn/Winter’15’s collection showcases as an example – isn’t about crafting unpredictable innovations and stirring up the front row; for now, it’s about creating wearable and sellable fashion that people will buy and wear, as unexciting as that might sound to some.
Image source: Safashionweek.co.za