Monday, October 26, 2009

When the Web Breaks Tradition

Imagine this; editor-in-chief at Vogue Anna Wintour sits in her presumably posh New York office at Conde Nast HQ. Her assistant, whoever that may be, sits at the edge of the fashion ruler’s chair, handing Ms. Wintour one Kleenex after another. Anna’s make-up is smudged and her nose is red after all the blowing. You’ve probably gathered that she’s in tears.
“How could they do this to me,” cries a livid Anna, “They are nothing but petty wannabes. How can they let them encroach on my crown like this?”
Okay, maybe this is an unlikely scene, but an encroachment on that crown is what we’re currently seeing as a new breed of fashion aficionados are being officially ushered into the exclusive club of world fashion elites.
Bloggers- the click and post, seemingly insignificant creatures who load the web with seemingly insignificant information- were, at the recent collections at New York, London, Paris and Milan fashion weeks, invited by designers to sit side-by-side with the likes of Suzy Menkes and Anna Wintour on the coveted front row. If this isn’t a confirmation of elite club membership, then what is?
The presence of these cyberspace fashionistas on the front rows of some of the world’s most respected fashion events is due to an increasing perception that a shift in power and influence is becoming evident in the world of fashion and the statistics do confirm such a notion.
The Telegraph UK recently reported that, a blog that began as one London College of Fashion student Gemma Cartwright’s labour of love, bags more online hits per day than Vogue’s website.
Manila’s 22 year-old blogger Bryanboy’s diary like blog not only landed him a string of invitations (that he was more than happy to share by posting pictures of those invites on his blog) to some of the world’s most popular fashion shows but also got him a Marc Jacobs bag named after him.
Scott Schuman’s photo gallery like blog,, earned him a spot on TIME Magazine’s list of the most influential individuals in the design industry.
The power shift is not only symbolic of the democratisation of the fashion media landscape due to the web, but clearly exhibits its increasing dominance over traditional media platforms.
US fashion house Halston, for instance, opted for a video blog to launch its fall/winter 2009 line instead of putting together a fashion show. When the recession ploughed its claws into Mother Earth’s womb the head-honchos at the US’s Nylon Magazine made a decision to can the print version in favour of an electronic one. Subscribers were told that they wouldn’t be receiving their copies in the mail anymore, but rather via email.
What is also changing is the model’s chokehold on being the canvas on which designers display their creations and their dominance of magazine fashion spreads as bloggers like Scott Schuman and Yvan Rodic of prefer taking pictures of average stylish folk on the streets. The popularity of their blogs signals the audience’s preference for “normalcy” rather than the photo-shopped, fantasy-fuelled world of the magazine fashion spread.
The instant nature of the web, which allows news to travel at unprecedented speeds, will further render traditional media a secondary source of news. Why wait for Saturday’s edition of The Showbizz Report, a three months late edition of your favourite glossy or even tomorrow morning’s newspaper to read about tonight’s news when a simple click can deliver it almost instantly?
Anna Wintour herself is realising the web’s insurmountable and undeniable power albeit via Twitter’s micro-blogging platform. That is if her twittering during the recent fashion week season is anything to go by.

Friday, October 23, 2009

"The State We're In" between covers

The economic downturn has fostered many changes in the way we live. It has sparked a revolution, changing our way of life fundamentally. Technology has provided the tools for change and through new media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter we have seen the occurence of social changes and industrial revolutions; one I can think of on the top of my head is how the consumer magazine market is having to adapt to the rise of web based blogazines that are increasingly becoming the prefered source of lifestyle news for many consumers. Traditional print publications have had to close down as a result, just like many businesses have had to pack up shop as a result of the greatest global recession since the Great Depression.
There are many other changes that we've seen in the past year and the 2010 Flux Trends Review book "The State We're In" investigates these through contributions from some of South Africa's most recognisable and respected voices. Get yourself a copy of this compilation of intelligent observations and understand the state we are in as the human race. Available at all good bookstores.
Visit for more information and other interesting trend observations

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Put Your Hands in the Air for the GQ Man of the Year!

Okay, so I borrowed some lyrics from rapper NAS, but this is, ladies and gents.... GQ SA's Best Dressed Man of the Year 2009. Meet Cape Town entrepreneur Jon-Paul Bolus.
Check out the November issue of GQ to see the rest of the top 40.
(pic: courtesy GQ Magazine)

The T-Shirt: More than Just a Piece of Cloth

As summer draws ever so close there is one garment that we are bound to see more and more of, in various colours and diverse patterns. It’s not that this item disappears in the colder seasons, it serves rather as an undergarment, but in summer the t-shirt becomes apparent on almost everyone’s back, covering the torso, revealing a larger portion of our upper body limbs.
The t-shirt is probably the most underrated of all fashion items, yet its power is evident on wardrobes the world over. And this little guy is no softy, he’s been around for ages, playing his part in political activism whenever called upon to do so and being the force behind many brands through what has become known as the human billboard. Yes, the t-shirt also plays a role in advertising.
In recent years the street fashion culture in South Africa has become well acquainted with the decoration of t-shirts, creating brands such as AmaKip Kip which, just by keeping eyes peeled, one realises is probably one of the most powerful brands in South African fashion’s recent history. Whether or not the head-honchos at AmaKip Kip are willing to exploit this, the t-shirt did provide a good foundation for them to build an exceptionally influential brand.
Model Agyness Deyn’s chum, Henry Holland, did just that using the t-shirt for its most powerful known function- self expression- yielding results beyond what he even probably imagined.
House of Holland, his t-shirt brand, has earned him recognition and success for the bold, multi-coloured, 80’s inspired tee designs that incorporate fashion-insider wordplay printed on the front. The most popular of his tees features a boldly printed ‘I’ll Show you who’s boss Kate Moss’. The wit is impeccable.
Holland has even earned himself a deal with Levi’s Strauss, designing tees for the popular denim brand.
And the t-shirt’s history of activism within and beyond fashion is well known. The hippie movement has been known for using the t-shirt in self expression. ‘Make Love Not War’, probably comes to mind as the most popular slogan ever printed on a tee. Tie and dye- can anyone say treehugger?
When it began, South African fashion label Stoned Cherrie, became known for their t-shirts embossed with iconic Steve Biko and vintage Drum Magazine cover imprints. The label went on to become one of the biggest brands in South African fashion and for many those tees remain symbolic of the brand.
So, the next time you adorn that t-shirt- which in this summery weather will probably be as soon as tomorrow- maybe for the comfort it provides you, do acknowledge that it is not just a button-less, collarless and pocket-less piece of cloth with short sleeves commonly made of cotton and knitted in a jersey stitch. The t-shirt is way more than just that. Looking back at the post-Polokwane, pre-election period the African National Congress is probably well positioned to attest to the power of the tee!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Is all that's African curio?

Browsing through a blog this morning I stumbled upon pictures of a fashion spread, supposedly from TIME Magazine, called "Out of Africa". I'm sure by now you know what the look and feel of it is; it's a no-brainer. Africa theme + fashion spread= Curio!
Big, round, wooden earings. Hats made of straw, fastened with a piece of scarf-like cloth. Necklaces resembling a Zulu kraal. Bold print blazers and peacock print skirts. And at the model's feet? Is it not always sandals? It is all just exhausting.
In 2009, this is how Africa is still represented in the world of fashion; as some sort of archaic, non-evolving organism. It makes me want to puke!
Don't get me wrong, the garments look amazing, I just can't help seeing beyond the theme given to the spread though and the Grace Jones clone they used as a model... oh, wow! What can I say?
As an art form it is amazing how fashion has, after all these years, only managed to explore Africa from a very shallow perspective choosing to only see it as a place that can only inspire tribal couture. Where do they think most of the world's gold comes from? Have they not been to Johannesburg and seen how not-so-dull and wooden the colours on the streets are?
Besides, are they not getting tired of exploring the continent from one perspective. If I think of all the "Out of Africa" like fashion spreads I have seen, I could swear that all were inspired by one African tribe. South Africa alone happens to have 11 that I know of (and you thought I'm counting English people as an African tribe. No, it's just Afrikaners- they exist nowhere else in the world- and the Khoisan) and all differ from the other quite vastly, let alone the history that will teach one about the existance of such civilisations as Mapungubwe. Thanks to Stoned Cherrie and their collection shown at Sanlam SA Fashion Week earlier this year Mapungubwe was finally explored by fashion. South African designers could do well to explore our rich heritage and stop regurgitating the same old same old, year in year out. The Westerners should learn something from us, it's the only way we can escape being pigeonholed.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

French Vogue paints white models black

So, I believe there are no black models in France, are there? There are? Why, then, did French Vogue's Carine Roitfeld see it fit to paint white models black for a fashion spread? Would it have not been much simpler to just hire actual black models?
I'm not sure what informed the decision and quite frankly it's in bad taste. Read more on
(pic: page from French Vogue,

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

The history of SA fashion will be distorted

One day when Vogue loses the record for the biggest fashion issue ever published to some or other title they will go down in history as the ones who set the trend and such information will be available to those who will want to write about this; on the internet, in Vogue's archives as well as in film format, thanks to the documentary "The September Isuue".
Our industry here at home will also one day be well developed, yet those who will want to credit our trendsetters will battle to do this reason being our failure to document properly the goings on in our industry.
But how does the failure to document history come about?
It begins with the failure to disseminate news, because what makes the news today is what will go down in the history books; facts that can be verified in totality. The reason why the history of South Africa's indigenous people is so terribly distorted is because the culture of documenting it only occurred through verbally told stories, descending through the generations and the trouble with verbal storytelling is that, over time, the truth tends to bend; our memories have not the capacity to serve us well enough for such to be prevented.
In the interest of informing future generations of the humble beginnings of our fashion industry- and I believe this is the responsibility of all parties involved, from the designers themselves, to the PR companies that work within the industry and also the media- we should all make sure that the correct information is detailed fully in all possible forms of archiving.
As one who reports on fashion events in this country I struggle, being a new industry entrant, to find information. Designers are, for some reason, unable to communicate wholly with the industry at large, about their brands.
PR companies either communicate information way too late and there seems to be some sort of elite society one must belong to in order to find information.
That aside, where does one go to find out how the industry operated prior to fashion week? Can anyone tell me what the progress on the city of Joburg's Fashion District plan is? Has anyone ever attempted to analyse how the industry has been affected by trends outside of fashion itself? The world is intertwined, fashion is not isolated, such analysis should be done in order to understand fashion itself.
I truly believe that all parties- PR, media, designers- in our country are failing to properly preserve the legacy of South Africa's fashion industry (I think such is also the case with most art forms, to a certain degree). It would be a shame to one day read a book- written 25 years from now- about SA fashion and find it packed with undocumented history that can neither be verified as fact or fiction.
The history of Shaka Zulu and our indigenous people at large should have taught such a lesson to us a long time ago. Why do we ignore it?

Monday, October 5, 2009

Good brands adapt to change. So will Fashion Week.

I've heard some really weird comments from people regarding Sanlam's withdrawal from SA Fashion Week, where they've been headline sponsor for four years. People are prophesying doomsday for the country's oldest fashion week (urgh, even having to call it the oldest leaves a bad taste in my mouth- the conundrum of having thousands of them in one country) and others are assessing what the fashion week gains have been for the industry.
Designers do acknowledge that fashion week has been a great marketing platform but exhibiting doesn't always produce the desired results on the business front. Like... what was fashion week supposed to do- catapult fashion labels into powerhouses?
It has always bothered me how designers in this country tend to have this silly idea that fashion week, and it alone, is enough to take care of all the required marketing of a brand.
From where I stand or as far as I understand fashion week is one, a marketing tool (yes), two- where designers exhibit their collections for the season in the hope of enticing interest from buyers and three- or at least I think this should be number three- to gauge direction and growth.
Glitz and glamour is a part of it. This shouldn't be read as a hindrance at all. I read one online comment where a reader said fashion week was more about glitz and glamour than the industry and I thought such is a comment that adds no value to the argument.
What people need to realise is that it takes a lot of hard work to establish and sustain a brand. This tendency of off loading responsibility and blaming things on fashion week is a sign of laziness and a lack of business savvy. Work and stop moaning! Think... how else does one make money in the fashion business besides trying to sell your ideas to buyers and private clients?!
With that said, Sanlam's exit from the business of fashion should not be seen as the end of the world but rather the end of an era where the industry grew in leaps and bounds. This also presents an opportunity for many companies that I am sure would like to associate their brands with that of fashion week, which Lucilla and her team have worked a great deal to turn into one that I think many of us love, to do so.
Things come and go. We should not be resistant to change. Fashion Week will not suddenly disappear, it will simply adapt to the change. That's what good brands do!