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?


Angie said...

Under normal circumstances I'd just say "well come to iFashion and check out the photo galleries we have that stretch back to 2004 or read the trend reports or feature articles we publish (all to be found under extensive categories in the news and trends drop down menu)" but considering you have written for iFashion and still feel that there is no one covering the industry I'm pretty much at a loss.

You do realise there used to be a publication called Pursuit that covered south african fashion industry news and features, but they closed down because there is very little interest in and outside of the industry on information that niche. It is one thing to say we need to preserve an archive of information but that information has to be consumed by someone and so highly niched information has less consumers than general broad based information and therefore less opportunity to raise to the surface.

Having said that there are books and papers published every year on South African Fashion. Go to Wits and spend some time in their library - you will see what I mean. Being unable to find the kind of material you want does not mean it is not out there and if you feel that it isn't, why are you not writing it?

Jenny said...

Hello, you bring up so many issues. For starters your first issue is how the history of fashion is recorded in South Africa, having studied history at varsity I can say that the recording and subjectivity of history is an ongoing issue that will never be resolved. The best way to ensure extensive coverage of history is multiple voices. This is important even in modern day articles and reports. For example, when I write articles for iFashion or any publication really I speak to several people, not just one source and this is the norm if not the rule for media coverage. However, even if you and I spoke to the same people we would still pick up different quotes we found interesting and give the article a different voice. For this reason it is important to keep relooking issues from different angles.

The question of whether South African fashion is fully covered is complex because as Angie points out, it all depends on the interest in this niche. Also since it is a business it depends on whether it can make a profit. This is the reason for the demise of many of our favourite publications, if they don't make money (no matter how fabulous we think they are) they get closed down. Pursuit was a fantastic publication and began to probe some real issues but eventually it was closed down.

In my humble opinion, I think the trick is maintaining a balance between all the different aspects of the fashion business - it's not all events, designers and fashion weeks. There is also the need to focus on retail and manufacturing. A balance that iFashion works hard on. I remember that when I was writing for Pursuit a big trend that was coming up was the fact that clothing manufacturers were starting to diversify their businesses and step into other industries to bring in extra business and prevent closure - I found this particularly interesting.

I think it also helps to have independent voices like yourself probing questions and investigating issues. It also gives an idea of who is interested and how big the interest is. As for covering quite indepth issues, Angie is right to direct you to Wits as well as the Cape Peninsula, KwaZulu-Natal and Tshwane Universities of Technology (the old Cape Tech, Durban Tech and Pretoria Tech) as all the final year and fourth year design students have to write a thesis and I have read interesting studies - for example the influence of traditional dress in mainstream fashion across designer and retail levels.