SA is home to some of the world’s best-quality and most prolific mohair. But though grown on home soil, 80% of it is exported. Prompted by the lack of SA-produced and sold mohair products, and how little was being done locally to maximise this abundant luxury material, mohair designer Frances van Hasselt and fashion designer Leandi Mulder collaborated to create a concise range of unique pieces.
Drawing on Van Hasselt’s north star — the Karoo — as a source of inspiration, and the colours and textures of nature, the collaboration, Desert Homage, is the culmination of their dream of creating a collection that showcases yarn, mohair specifically, as an art form.
“We wanted to create pieces that were simple, versatile, true to the characteristics of the fibre. A timeless, seasonless, collector’s piece,” Van Hasselt says. The resulting collection is made up of five oversized unisex multipurpose blankets/scarves, each with a different colour and textural makeup.
While the talent, raw materials and inspiration are local, the collection draws on the expertise of the Italians in terms of its production process. Van Hasselt and Mulder both completed a textile residency in Italy, skills which they have adapted to the SA mohair industry.
“Our primary takeaway was discovering the art of yarnmaking; being exposed for the first time to the skill and craftsmanship needed to combine fibres to create woven pieces that look, feel and behave completely differently as a result of the composition and makeup of the yarn,” says Van Hasselt.
This technical know-how and expertise filters into the end result, with each piece combining a variety of yarns to create texture and movement, as a way of drawing attention to the threads.
“These are the techniques and details that make the finished piece fall, function and feel the way it does,” she adds.
Mulder and Van Hasselt share more than just a knowledge of mohair and textiles. Longstanding friends, they also uphold similar practices and philosophies — simplicity, a reverence for nature and handicraft, and design that tells a story.
“We are passionate about seeing local, mohair textiles recognised for the artisanal skill they represent, and want to create an increased appreciation for mohair in SA as a phenomenal home-grown material,” she says.
To elevate its status, she believes they should demonstrate the characteristics and potential of the fabric and dispel the idea of it being “scratchy”.
“It most certainly isn’t when treated and worked correctly,” she notes.
The pieces themselves reflect local pride too, and showcase the beauty of the Karoo — Van Hasselt’s home. One of earth’s most ancient landscapes, its delicate palette, vast sense of space and millennia of history inspired the textures and colours of the pieces.
From the ancient seabed, to the fossilised skeletons of plants and shells, and the contrast of gentle pastel skies and harsh, dry earth, the collection encapsulates both the starkness, and softness of the Karoo.
“We share a deep respect for the natural world and want people to recognise the cyclical nature of producing sustainable fabrics from natural fibres. The process does not start in factories, it starts long before that — with rainfall, the vegetation of the veld, the health of the animals, the care of the herdsmen and the many actors and elements along the way that finally make up a finished piece,” she adds.