Image: Supplied

Ed's note | Air-kissing fashion goodbye, dahhhling 

Whenever I try to locate the exact moment I threw up the middle finger to fashion, I inevitably land on air-kissing. There was a sustained, pre-Covid moment when the infamous air kiss — ostensibly invented for the preservation of intricate face beats — came with the fashion package. The big toothy smile, the two-cheek air kiss, the “Dahhhling,” the “Love that look,” and then, without skipping a beat, a turn of the heels, off to the next one, pining for a casual skinner about the most intimate life details of that giddy recipient of said air kiss.

It may seem petty to attack a fake kiss (of all things) like this, but this behaviour was indicative of something larger and far more toxic. While an air kiss can be handy in conveying warmth with a discernible distance (in Covid times, this can be useful), “it can also be weaponised”, Love Magazine senior editor Pierre A M’Pelé tells The Guardian. “Its purposes, depending on how it is performed, can go from real fondness to total disdain.”

It was the force of this disdain, wrapped in performative affection, that prompted my zap sign to fashion’s plastic metaverse some time ago. Leading up to that moment, fashion played a significant role in my life. Although I may have come close in the years between university and my early career, I don’t recall ever being a fashion Luddite. I was never an Andrea Sachs in The Devil Wears Prada, in a lumpy, cerulean jersey, sniggering at fashion people fashioning.

Over the years, I have received plaudits and actual awards for dressing well, but in retrospect, for me, it was not ‘fashion’ – and all that came with it – but the clothes that I loved. Where was the fabric from? What was the story of the people who made the garments? What did mathematics have to do with patternmaking? I threw myself into all of it, while acquiring items that, to this day, bring pure joy. Clothing has given me moments that have rendered unforgettable many things that would otherwise have been unbearable.

Siphiwe Mpye in a camel coat at the Società Umanitaria in Milan.
Siphiwe Mpye in a camel coat at the Società Umanitaria in Milan.
Image: Andrew Berry

Take the camel coat I wear on this page. I found this piece at a massive vintage warehouse in Midrand (the pain) over a decade ago, after spending half a day diving in and out of piles of dusty coats stacked up higher than a rugby lock standing on the shoulders of another. My lefty politics abhor the rampant fashion dumping in Africa by the Global North — a practice that undermines local industries and is unkind to the environment — but I would be a liar of Simon Leviev-like proportions if I didn’t admit to being truly grateful for the particular dump that brought this coat — warm, well-tailored, and versatile — into my life.

There are others — the leather biker jacket bought from the eccentric owner of a secondhand bicycle shop, and my first bespoke suit (and by this I don’t mean made to measure, I mean handmade) tailored by the famed Mike Narainsamy and designed by my old friend Shaldon Kopman for Naked Ape.

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As my odyssey with the cloth and other stories flood into the mind, fashion takes on a new meaning — perhaps one that, to my mind, it should always have been about. Behind every design, pleat, stitch, and sale there are talented people (some of whom you will encounter in this issue - like fashion designers Sindiso Khumalo and Lukanyo Mdingi; jewelerry designer Katherine-Mary Pichulik; Louis Vuitton’s Nicolas Ghesquiere and Industrie Africa’s Nisha Kanabar) taking pride in their craft, breaking barriers, and supporting households. Through this lens, fashion becomes love, beautiful in ways that transcend aesthetics and gross superficial airs. That is what I have since signed up for, a version of fashion with a beauty infused with meaning and sincerity. So, see you on the next front row. But please, when you see me, a fist bump will suffice.  

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 From the April edition of Wanted, 2022.

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