What's the ethos of the Tiaan Nagel brand? It’s a directional brand that redefines African luxury by reflecting modern culture. It provides progressive fashion and lifestyle products, with an authentic voice, to sophisticated customers.
Do you have an ideal customer? The idea of a single woman who inspires a designer feels a little out of date to me. There are, however, definitely attributes that inspire me, for example, the ideal customer inherently understands quality and is not interested in fads. Many designers say this, but I’m really not interested in clothing trends at all.
So, your pieces are less about “fashion” and more about clothing? Yes. Some designs in the new range I first made seven years ago. They are included because they are great pieces that make women feel good, regardless of season. I work with such a diverse group of people now - they are directors of art galleries and fairs; directors and CEOs in the corporate world; editors; people in the public eye; stay-at-home moms. I tend to cherry-pick some elements of each of those tribes.
Do they have anything in common? Yes - they all need great everyday workwear. There are plenty of designers dreaming up tulle confections but the women who inspire me and buy from me don’t need to feel like princesses. They are pragmatic, confident, often a little strange and complex, but I have yet to find one who compromises on quality of fabric and fit, which I find super-rewarding. And the fact that my customers can be a little peculiar and offbeat is inspiring.
Tell us about the fabrics used for this first collection – Summer 2019/20 – that's in store now. This brand is all about handmade quality and to find fabrics in South Africa that are great quality is a real struggle. Please don’t get me going on the state of the manufacturing and sourcing of clothing textiles in South Africa – basically, it’s non-existent and I was forced to work with small mills around the world. Which, of course, is not cheap, and definitely not the easy route, but I wanted the clothing to feel good against the wearer’s skin.
I explored various natural fibres and blends –we have silk woven with linen or cotton woven with silk, wool and cotton, and so on. There are no synthetic fibres in the collection at all and I would like to keep it that way.
When it comes to pattern, all the checks, stripes and dots are woven patterns – nothing is just printed on. Differently coloured yarns have been woven together to create madras checks, or pinstripes on our wool trousers, or irregular stripes on our jackets.
Some of the silk and linen fabrics are made by hand on small looms that are only 90cm wide and we had to engineer the garments around those parameters.
I also personally source fabrics from specialist mills that have leftover runs or fabric collections they are no longer producing.
I’m proud of the fabric selection in this range as it is all sustainably sourced – but also sustainable in the sense that the resulting items are long-lasting pieces.
What is the overall line/design feel of the collection? Progressive shapes done in a quiet way. I’m not interested in clothes that are too dramatic and tend to control the conversation – these pieces are really made to fit with you.
The garments are all about softer, rounder shapes, often inspired by nature – and the same goes for the colours.
Plus, the ongoing theme in the background of all of this is craft. We took inspiration from South African studio pottery. I looked at my collection of Rorke’s Drift pieces and that cued some colour direction, and then some of the Tim Morris vessels informed sleeve shapes.
I looked at traditional grass weaving in KwaZulu-Natal for some of the textures in the fabrics and I was inspired too by the photographs of artist Pieter Hugo, especially the one of a woman standing in the veld wearing an oversized blue coat Theresa Makwenya, Carletonville, 2013.
Tell us about the design of the new store. When I decided to return to fashion, I decided to only work with the best – the best fabric suppliers, the best manufacturers – and that goes for interior designers too. I believe, in South Africa, Philippe van der Merwe and Greg Gamble of Tonic Design are the absolute best.
I wanted an interior that felt like an apartment rather than a store. It was important for me to create a space that feels like someone curated her art collection for it, displays her design objects there, selects her clothing from there every day … right down to the clove-like scent in the space and the music – it’s designed to feel like you are in someone’s home.
We looked at a range of colours that appear very simple and “neutral” but that are super-chic and sophisticated. So, greys with sombre tones of blue; dark chocolates and putty; tones of clay and wheat. There’s lots of texture as well: oak floorboards, raw-textured walls, luxurious linen and polished lacquered surfaces.
The images for the look book for the new Remember You Are collection are exceptional – how did those come together? The campaign images were also the product of collaboration with some of the best creatives out there. They were photographed by Travys Owen and feature international Cameroonian model Noelle Graobe – with gorgeous makeup by iconic South African makeup artist Lesley Whitby – in Melville Koppies in Johannesburg.
The new store offers a selection of art, ceramics, books, gifts and lifestyle products – why add this to your offering? In my recent role as editor of House and Leisure, I got to see amazing craft, art and design and I really wanted the space to reflect me as well … a space that expands on all the things I find interesting and inspirational and also, very importantly, to set the brand apart from other designers’ offerings.
So it’s not just about the clothes? No, exactly, it’s about a mindset, a different set of rules to live. In my own home, I hate having things that are ugly and callous, like shampoo bottles with loud aggressive branding or tea bags with ugly tags. So, I decant, strip, remove, tear all day long so I can have a space that is about calm and gentle design, things that don’t shout and demand.
By contrast, this new brand is quiet, reflective, appreciative – and what better way to be that than with the things you love - and also to introduce other people to great crafters who follow a similar philosophy.
Andrew Walford, for example, works from his home in the Shongweni Valley and just makes pots every day, inspired by the area, but just pots, simple and honest. There’s none of the Instagram marketing feed or fabulous packaging that tends to consume great design – just a very humble studio.
The same goes for Lunetta Bartz from Maker. Lunetta found beautiful marbled papers and, without any bells and whistles, makes notebooks that celebrate those papers, as well as the craft of book binding.
Craft is such an important part of our DNA that I find it a great challenge to create a vestibule of sorts for it. And, let’s be very clear, it’s not about being “homemade” – that is something else. As New York-based milliner Albertus Swanepoel said to me: “Handmade is done by the maker’s hand but doesn’t mean it’s less than!” And I agree … it is so much more.
• Tiaan Nagel, Shop UM55, Hyde Park Corner, IG @tiaannagel.