Weeks away from graduating from Central Saint Martins, the most prestigious fashion college in the world, we caught up with the designer extraordinaire, Laduma Ngxokolo, during his short Joburg visit and talked about his new summer collection, current inspirations and biggest fears – Words: Nadine Oosthuizen
Where are you right now and what are you doing?
Laduma Nxgokolo: I’m in Joburg, preparing my new collection for South Africa Fashion Week in August.
So does this mean you’re back for good?
LN:Ha! No, but I will be going back and forth between London and Joburg from now on. I first need to get back to London for my graduation on July 28th.
Having lived in the UK for a couple of years now, and showing your work all over Europe, how does the rest of the world view your work, and African designers in general?
LN:From the reaction that I have received, it seems as though people are super overwhelmed. They see culture in another dimension now as it transcended and integrated into their lifestyles. African culture in design is not just “museum” pieces to them anymore, it’s something they desperately want to get involved in. Something that’s appreciated in my work is that it is truly South African in that it’s not only the design but the entire making of the garments, from South African raw material to suppliers to and production.
For me though, the most honourable feedback was I have ever received was a young fellow that said to me that he would like to be buried wearing my Xhosa jersey. And he was actually Sotho, surprisingly enough!
So being Xhosa has been your biggest inspiration since your first show, is that still the case?
LN:Yes, my heritage is the most valuable commodity that my mother left behind for me and my family. So it’s something I will forever be celebrating. But the inspiration lies in the exploration of culture. If you look at my Xhosa Instagram you’ll see I post a lot of Xhosa anthropology images that I source daily from everywhere, the internet, anthropology books. I like to educate myself when it comes to culture, especially historical cultural activities. I feel like I have a responsibility to conserve my culture by expropriating it in a modern way for the younger generation.
With this inspiration in mind, let’s talk about the collection you’re working on now. How do you approach the production process from start to finish?
LN:I collect everyday elements, which is essentially the spirit of my collection, and put it together as storyboards. I would mix these patterns together and play with multiple of designs before I start to shortlist a few that I think would be best. These get printed and made into samples and reworked until I have the right collection.
How long does this process usually take?
LN:About three months.
What are some of the elements that we can expect to see in your new collection?
LN:The same signature patterns as before but each season has its own print, which will be announced the day of the show. I’ve focussed on a lot pastel colours, because it’s a summer collection, but also added bright colours that I combusted with dark blue, black, orange and red. It’s a very interesting palette!
Sounds wonderful! Is there a big difference (to you) when it comes to planning a men’s collection as appose to a women’s collection?
LN:I think my application and executions are the same, but when designing for women I have to make the garment much more elaborate. I find designing a women’s collection very interesting! Men’s collections are rich yet classic, but women fashion change very fast, and I naturally gravitate toward classics.
I guess that is the interesting part about being a designer though, pushing boundaries. Speaking of which, as an artist you’re constantly working beyond the normal boundaries of a fashion designer. How do you interpret yourself as an artist?
LN: I look at my art as many layers of disciplines. I’m a story teller, first and foremost, and because I tell personal stories I feel the need to present them myself, as a model, an exhibitionist. I’m also a fashion and textile designer and a colourist, as I work with colour A LOT, I always take into consideration its appearance and its impact.
Which artist would you like to collaborate with?
LN:The amazing Cape Townian artist, Athi-Patra Ruga! I love his use of colour and his entire aesthetic and approach to craftsmanship. And he is Xhosa so we would make an amazing team!
Do you have any rituals before a show? Any superstitions?
LN:As part of a protocol in my culture we’re big believers of ancestors, so when we want to achieve something great we will call on an ancestral power to be with us in that special moment so that it becomes a blessed moment. So the sort-of key concept would be praying, but obviously in a Xhosa context, so yes, that’s a ritual I would do before showing a collection, or even before doing anything practical.
LN:I’m scared of heights!
What sound has been on your playlists these days?
LN:A lot of hip hop. Prominent artists, Casper Nyovest, AKA, Tweezie, Kwesta
Any music artists you’d like to dress?
LN:Andre 3000 and Kanye West. They have a hippie sort of style that is effortlessly cool and they understand premium quality, as appose to brands. I love their great sense of opulence and the fact that they are not afraid to be flamboyant.
What would your autobiography be called?
LN:My Heritage, My Inheritance.