The latest Magugu collection is a lifetime of respect for his hometown. Guests who attended the debut presentation for the eponymous label at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris last February were welcomed by a series of large-scale portraits of the city and its people, captured by South African photographers Kristin-Lee Moolman and Sierra Leone – born Ibrahim stylists Kamara In a photo in one corner of the gallery, a group of schoolchildren gather, wearing smart blue-and-white uniforms to echo the designers’ keris. Elsewhere, his childhood friend, Bernelee Ndubula, was photographed wearing Magugu’s best clothes on Sunday – a retro trench coat inspired by his grandmother’s kitchen table cloth. “I remember hearing church bells and watching women passing by in their pleated skirts,” Magugu said. “This is my earliest reference.” Several other fine nods in everyday life were pinned into the collection, including photos of corrugated iron roof moldings of his aunt, abstractly abstracted to look like distressed denim, on buttons studded with ostrich feathers and sliced trousers.
In addition to telling a very personal story, Magugu clothing is a form of social commentary that talks about the changing landscape of post-apartheid South Africa. One illustration on a polo shirt, two black women comforting one another, is very prominent: As the designer explained, the prints were made in collaboration with Johannesburg-based artist, Phathu Nembilwi, as a political statement about increasing the rate of female killings in that country. “Clothing is a way I can get involved with issues that are close to my heart, close to what is happening, and close to my country,” Magugu said. He paid tribute to the traditions of his ancestors’ fashion too: The typical Basotho blanket worn by the Sotho people was reorganized with a blue poncho; swirling motifs on asymmetrical skirts hand painted with terra-cotta colored mud formulated by local doctors. “All these traditional visual cues were deleted or silenced during apartheid,” he said. “I think it’s very important to celebrate that legacy in a way that can live in the modern world and preserve the craft so it doesn’t disappear.”
A compassionate and thoughtful approach to making fashion caught the attention of the world last fall, when Magugu was awarded the prestigious LVMH 2019 prize, the first African designer to win in the seven-year history of competition. He now uses his newly discovered global platform to illuminate the growing creative industry at his front door. “I think people think I will only move my production to Europe because it will be easier – but how can I regret the brain dryness in my country if I get up and leave?” said Magugu, who relied on factories and craftsmen based in Johannesburg and Cape Town to make the collection. “I am committed to being here, despite the challenges. I am only happy when I go home. “
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