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SHINING BRIGHT Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Joburg 2016.

Summary: African Fashion International (AFI) -- the organiser of Africa's Mercedes-Benz Fashion Weeks -- decided to host the Spring/Summer 2017 season in Johannesburg instead of Cape Town. Despite the change of venue, Kyle Boshoff reports that the runway at MBFW Joburg was brimming over with talent.

Presenting arguably the most celebrat- ed womenswear collection of the season, Marianne Fassler delivered another tour de force. Innovative fabric manipulation, crafting and unexpected juxtapositions are central to the brand's DNA.

Fassler and her young creative director Lezanne Viviers have identified the troubling local and global political atmosphere as the starting point for the collec- tion. They are strongly connected to the world around them and their fashion is very much about dissecting it, understanding it and responding to it.

While their previous collection (Autumn/Winter 16) embodied a sense of heaviness, in response to uni- versal issues such as xenophobia and forced migration, the design duo decided to take a lighter approach for Spring. Sometimes, in the face of a depressing world, you simply want to "play like children", says Viviers.

They created a bold floral print, presented both as an applique on shift dresses and tulle skirts, and digitally printed on light, laissez-fair frocks. The playfulness was evidenced in the abstract, cut-and-paste-like nature of the print. A Henri Matisse exhibition in Johannesburg (the first major showcase of the artist's oeuvre on the continent) was highlighted as another muse.

These florals were married with geometric pattern- ing, brightly coloured lace and the brand's signature leopard motif ("nature's camouflage," says Fassler). Throw in a healthy dose of military camo and you have a collection that effortlessly straddles both a ladylike charm and a wild, ready-for-anything sensibility.

Another collection that brought worlds together with ease was the latest from MaXhosa by Laduma. The designer Laduma Ngxokolo explains: "I aim to express the beauty in the cultural exchange of Western and Xhosa dress codes." Titled 'Appropri- yeshin' -- a vernacular spelling of "appropriation" -- the collection sought to answer the controversy surrounding the subject with a positive spin.

Ngxokolo, who has just returned from London where he was studying for his Masters in Materials Futures, explains that while international markets are important to his vision, he is concentrated on expansion at home, both in South Africa and other African markets such as Nigeria and Kenya. The line-up was produced in 100% cotton for a sum- mer-ready lightness and saw crew necks for men and tasselled crop-tops for women, in three colour palettes: pastel, bright reds and oranges, and mon- ochrome black and white.

The runway presentation was electric. Jessica Mbangeni, a Xhosa praise singer, strutted on to the runway trumpeting free-flowing bilingual verse. Her performance, announcing the brand as "the gold of our times", had the audience spontaneously ululating, joyously -- there were chills before even the first model hit the ramp.

Other shows that drew cheers from the packed hall in Nelson Man- dela Square included Ruff Tung with a tribute to the brand's late founder Jean-Paul Botha; mother and daughter power-couple Stefania and Shana Morland; and of course, David Tlale. Opting for a more muted colour palette -- crisp white with flashes of black -- Tlale showed an ethereal collection charac- terised by draping, lots of lace and flowing cuts. Floral embellishments added to the drama expected from a Tlale show, as did the front row packed with famous fans (along with Tlale's number one fan, his beaming mother). Rapper Riky Rik opened the ladies- and menswear presentation, upping the star quotient.

Indeed, this was the season of the South African celebri- ty at Fashion Week. Both Nandi Mngoma, a singer-presenter, and Nhlanhla Nciza (of Mafikizolo fame) showed collections on the runway -- for Colour and NN Vintage respectively. Despite the resulting controversy, with some in the indus- try saying the celeb circus detracts from the pur- pose of Fashion Week, it cannot be denied that the involvement of celebs added a more widespread appeal to the event.

Adding to the conversation, AFI FastrackTM (a young designer competition) paired its finalists with well-known DJs while Rich Mnisi (the 2014 competition winner) was paired with famed all-rounder Maps Maponyane -- the latter's was per- haps the most successful celebri- ty engagement on the platform. Rich Mnisi X Maps Mapon- yane, a menswear collection dubbed Neck, drew inspiration from the grace and strength of the giraffe and struck the perfect gen- der-bending balance, which is becoming part of Rich's signature.

The season closed with a marathon show -- 10 designers from around the continent, in one sit- ting. Entitled 'Couture d'Afrique', it was part of AFI's commitment to developing the platform into a pan-African showcase. The show was anchored by the talents of Kiko Romeo from Kenya (a fresh take on couture tech- niques), Congo's Tina Lobondi ("sexy, elegant, with a princess touch"), Haute Baso from Rwanda (inspired by the military and the designer's national pride) and Adama Paris of Senegal (paying homage to Malian photography icon, Malick Sidibe).

As a whole, there have been stronger sea- sons. With the global fashion system in a state of flux, we can expect a trickle-down effect. That said, it is the visionaries (the likes of Marianne Fassler, MaXhosa by Laduma, Rich Mnisi, Adama Paris and more) whose ideas, whose clothes and whose dreams for the future keep platforms like this relevant. And judging by their showings this season, it's a future we can all look forward to.

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Publication:New African Woman
Geographic Code:6SOUT
Date:Nov 30, 2016
Words:912
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