Generally the local menswear scene is confined by narrow traditions, a dull palette and little variety, but these three collections that closed off SA Fashion Week recently showed the tremendous scope and possibility for SA Menswear.
To the untrained eye, Roman Handt’s collection, with its bold asymmetrical spiky forms, appeared as an indulgent folly: Eveningwear for amoebas, if you will, but speaking to Handt, who has produced simpler collections in the past, it’s evident how deep and considered the thought process actually was.
The range, “Systematic,” he explains, “is all about implementing new ways of thinking into the local fashion industry. Using local textile benefits the local fashion industry in many ways. We have worked closely with the Cotton Cluster of South Africa to source sustainable cottons that are grown, sewn and woven here. All these products can be traced back to their origin, ensuring that the process can be tracked and the product is very ethical.
“We are against ‘fast fashion’ and have been for years,” he adds, “Which is why we show annually rather than seasonally. We are also against expedient consumerism, and would much rather sell one garment that lasts for years than many.”
The show pieces in the collection were inspired by the cotton plant. “We artistically reconstructed microscopic structures as show pieces for the collection, to make you look and look again.” Though they may seem more like Lady Gaga showpieces than a new take on menswear, Handt insists that they are meant as clothing rather than art. “Modern masculine identities are embracing fun, excitement and freedom of movement.”
Floyd Avenue started out as a member of the township based Smartees gang a few years ago, a local take on the wild Japanese Harajuku street wear style. But his recent collection displayed new maturity and commanded one’s attention to take him seriously as a menswear designer.
This collection, In Funk We Trust, opened with a bold mustard, a step away from Floyd’s usually dark palette, but retaining the denim and camo fabric that he’s known for. The wide three-quarter pants and loose wrap jackets drew from his love for old Chinese movies and 20th Century Manga cartoons.
While the core fusion of rebellious street style and traditional tailoring is widespread in menswear at the moment, what made this collection stand out was the originality and thought behind each look.
Andrew Chandler, who won the SAFW Menswear Award last year for his collection, Beware The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing was a truly ambitious feat, juxtaposing disparate references from medieval armour to punk, to Algerian Zouave pants, and then further deconstructing each piece to present a look that emerged as heroic. “I’m not the sort of designer who’ll take one pair of trousers and repeat it,” he says. “So I worked and worked and created 16 elaborate and technically demanding pieces.”
The fabrications are all also very specific so it is a truly bespoke collection. Andrew’s background as an art director gave him the ability to think out of the box and deliver some truly ingenious hybrids. His accomplishment as a portrait painter gave him the chromatic sensibility to present a nuanced and unpredictable palette. But his very broad scope of interests – he reads voraciously, has great reverence for historical styles and the fashion history as well as art and politics – presented us with a collection that was as rich and layered as one would find anywhere in the world.
Indeed, South African menswear designers are challenging gender and style boundaries and giving women’s wear a good run for its money.