Loxion Kulca at SA Fashion Week 2021.
Loxion Kulca at SA Fashion Week 2021.
Image: Loxion Kulca

As a child growing up in an SA township, my style references were mostly through my fashion-loving mother, who had huge collections of titles such as Cosmopolitan, ELLE and the occasional issue of Vogue. On the walls of the small bedroom I shared with my two male cousins were posters of Yves Saint Laurent fragrance ads and racy Tom Ford-era Gucci campaigns. 

On the streets, however, it was kwaito music and pantsulas dressed in Dickies work pants, spotis and Converse All Stars. Gradually, we started seeing Kangol penetrating the culture, as did the likes of FUBU and others brands that one associated more closely with hip-hop music than kwaito. What was true then, as it is now, is that black music determined what was in style for many of us.

When I started collecting magazines myself, my go-to was GQ, which gave me a global outlook on culture, and men’s fashion, specifically. It was through those pages that I developed a palette for the luxurious, but it wasn’t lost on me that black faces like my very own were largely absent from those pages. So I also spent my saved-up pocket money on Y-Mag, which was, at the time, a sister publication to youth radio station YFM. What a time!

My first Y-Mag had former president Thabo Mbeki and afro-pop/kwaito pioneers Bongo Maffin on the cover. I remember it like it was yesterday. Y-Mag gave me a sneak peek into the world of black youth culture in a way that not even SABC 1’s Selimathunzi did. I cherished reading about the who’s who of the Joburg music, literary and fashion scenes. I was introduced to the likes of Stoned Cherrie, Magents and Loxion Kulca — three brands that did not exist in the pages of ELLE, GQ and all those international titles. It made me proud to be young and black.

The likes of Stoned Cherrie, Magents and Loxion Kulca had parallels to the likes of Baby Phat, Phat Farm, Sean John, RocaWear and other brands that the US hip-hop community created out of necessity in a world of luxury brands that frowned upon black artists and, according to many reports, even declined to dress rappers and other black musicians.

Dapper Dan.
Dapper Dan.
Image: Supplied

Black designers and stylists like the legendary Dapper Dan used luxury brand motifs to make custom looks for these stars, arguably giving the likes of Gucci a street edge they really did not possess. Back in SA, it wasn’t the black community’s struggle for acceptance in mainstream culture that brought about a fresh aesthetic. We were a nation healing from its apartheid past, forging a new identity. One that was true to us.

Stoned Cherrie tapped into Sophiatown nostalgia while Magents and Loxion Kulca tapped into the energy of the streets, their efforts running parallel to the proliferation of kwaito music into the mainstream, the early days of SA hip-hop going mainstream, and the rise of a new generation that embraced its own indigenous cultures culminating in the arrival of such stars as Simphiwe Dana and Thandiswa Mazwai of Bongo Maffin going solo. What they wore was at once modern and simultaneously African. It would later be dubbed Afro-futurism.

What started then gave rise to what we see today through the likes of Sho Madjozi’s xibelani-wearing ways, Maxhosa and even Thebe Magugu and the Afro-centric storytelling their brands imbue. Indeed, on the streetwear side, Loxion Kulca precedes the likes of Tshepo Jeans, and this is something we ought not to forget (with our very bad tendency of ignoring those who are the actual pioneers).

Pharrell Williams joined Louis Vuitton as the new Men’s Creative Director in February 2023. He will debut his first collection for the luxury brand in June during Men's Fashion Week in Paris.
Pharrell Williams joined Louis Vuitton as the new Men’s Creative Director in February 2023. He will debut his first collection for the luxury brand in June during Men's Fashion Week in Paris.
Image: Louis Vuitton

In the future, it’s not just black culture that fashion will seek to draw from. If Pharell Williams’ appointment at Louis Vuitton signals anything, it’s that black culture is culture on a global scale. The rising profile of designers such as Magugu and others from across the continent, is a sign that, as the stock of blackness increases in value, so will stories of black origin. We are already seeing this by way of the much-talked Victoria & Albert Museum’s Africa Fashion exhibition, currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum in New York City. Here, decades of liberated African expression that has swept through the continent since Ghana became the first colonised nation to gain independence is on full display. The evolution continues.

Sure, local fashion titles are all but nonexistent on store shelves today, so I doubt there are walls plastered with posters of today’s trendiest brands and faces, but it’s nonetheless exciting that the influence of black culture on fashion is far more abundant today and the children growing up now are not just looking at almost-naked white models in Gucci ads. They are looking at people who look like them on social media feeds celebrating Tshepo Jeans, Maxhosa, Rich Mnisi, Wanda Lephoto and others.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, its influence on culture in general more apparent than ever, we are also watching African music stars like Tems and Burna Boy lighting up global stages, and amapiano rapidly encroaching on the 808-drum’s territory in music. It doesn’t seem very farfetched to me that Africa’s influence on popular culture more broadly, and in fashion, specifically, is the wave.

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