There's a natural excitement surrounding the first show at any fashion week, and this year's Cape Town Fashion Week proved no different. The first outfits on the ramp at Foschini Graduates seemed fresh and new enough, and even had me tweeting: "Bold shoulders and no-pants, but it works!" The promising start meandered through some uninspired territory, but I found enough shots of originality to keep me interested in what the kids are up to.
A well-versed fashion insider told me after the show that he found the student collections repetitive and badly made. This commenter laid blame strictly at the judges' doors, for their lack of leadership in rewarding design that he found far too commercially minded for a young designer show. These are still only students and while they aren't subject to the constrictions that realistic, commercial fashion dictates, he believes their imagination should be given free reign, that they need to fuel their creativity first as it will inevitably be reigned in later.
Historically, I've had qualms over the validity of these competitions, exactly because I found the student designs of the past to be too fanciful and outright ridiculous, favouring creativity heavily over wearability. (You can read what I wrote on the subject in 1998 here.)
But his train of thought did bring me to wonder what the student designs of a young Alexander McQueen or the Mulleavy sisters of Rodarte looked like. Surely they didn't start off conservative and safe before ending up as the front-runners of original, thought-provoking design?
Finally though, after spending hours looking over the show galleries, my own opinion leans favourably towards the competition and its' purpose. So in opposition to my critic friend's opinion, I'll conclude that with the recent collaboration of the CTFC and Foschini, there does seem to be more sense, worth and promise in these shows than ever before.
I can see many of these young designers finding success in reality fashion design or even starting up their own labels if they carry on maturing in concept and execution from here on.
This brilliant little collection by last year's winner, Nadia van der Schyff illustrates the point perfectly.
Ricci Janse van Rensburg (Cape Town College of Fashion Design) opened the show with strong silhouettes in a mix of matt and metallic grey fabrics. Bold shoulders have been all over the international catwalks for a few seasons, but show no signs of abating. Dolce&Gabbana grabbed fashion headlines with their under-to-outerwear granny pants for Spring / Summer 2010 but I have yet to see it look good anywhere outside a Beyonce video.
Chantel Marais (Cape Town College of Fashion Design) showed a cohesive collection with a definitive handwriting of detailed, fluid tailoring. And more granny pants.
My original judgement on the two winning collections stands: Darren Dewaal's collection stood out firstly by virtue of it being menswear, but then the quality of construction and attention to finishing details seemed noteworthy too. A utilitarian poncho with some special fold & button detail was nicely fashion forward and original.
Janet Norman : Foschini Fashion Executive
Jackie Burger : Elle Magazine Editor
Stefanie Vieira : Cape Town Fashion Council Executive Director
Shamieg Sabans : CPUT Technology Station Clothing Technologist
Natashjia Fonnie - Cape Town College of Fashion Design
Darren Dewaal - Northlink College