Jun 30, 2015

Labo International 2015: the fashionable four of South Africa

Photo’s: courtesy of LAETITIA SABITI

When launching a fashion event with a spectacular runway show presenting South Africa’s top designers, it is bound to set off fireworks. And that’s exactly what Labo International has done. How it shed sparks, and how it burned!

For the 9th edition of Labo International at Paris, Yvette Tai-Coquillay – founder of the event – invited Africa’s most inspiring and renowned fashion designers. Based on the concept of giving young Afro-European creators of fashion more exposure and visibility, more than 60 designers worldwide united from the 12th till the 14th of June to exchange international fashion experiences.

Our attention, however, was drawn to the little South African reunion that was going on behind the catwalk. Where top designers Gavin Rajah, Rich Mnisi, Craig Native and Marianne Fassler shared one dressing room, about 20 models and a great taste in fashion. This opening show was destined to be explosive. Well, at least these designs were.



While the technicians were rushing to finalize the finishing touch of the catwalk, it was as busy backstage, where models were getting dressed in Gavin Rajah’s Cruise ’16 collection. Luck be it they had endlessly long legs, as most of Gavin’s dresses required a minimum height of 5’9″ to join in on the fun of twirling around the feathery hems. It was pleasant to see Gavin’s craftsmanship from up close, even more pleasant to actually see him open the Labo International show. Not only because he’s one of South Africa’s fashion pioneers, but also because he would only organize his own fashion events after being accused of copying another designer’s work more than once.

What an entrance! Not caring bits about the rumors and accusations, he let a couple of Labo angels parade over the catwalk wearing the latest glamorous and dreamy creations of his Cruise ’16 collection as if it were a red carpet event. To top that off, he even let Yvette Tai-Coquillay wear the notorious – so-called – “copied dress” of his AW ’15 collection to host the event, sending out a clear message that he’ll just continue doing what he has been doing all along: creating haute-couture with haute attitude!


Being the youngest of the fashionable four, Rich Mnisi has already accomplished great things. Only in three years time, this rising new talent graduated with a BA in fashion design & business management at the LISOF, was awarded the AFI Young designer award at Mercedez Benz Fashion Week Africa, established the fashion brand OATH and had his first fashion show in Paris, right here at Labo International. What a pleasure to see this fresh breeze of creativity mixed with a dash of boldness.

Seeing this young designers SS ’16 “Unthinking” collection at Labo, it became quite clear why he called his brand OATH. Having his models wear shiny satin shorts and fish net ensembles, Rich Mnisi agreed to a pledge of truthfulness, staying true to his own style while embracing the daring aspects of fashion. A message that is also clearly put forward in the OATH’s studio campaign, as the designer told Elle:

It’s all about allowing the collection to breathe fully in all its exaggerated forms while also questioning the different relations between things.”


If each designer of the fashionable four had a super power, Craig’s power would be his charming self. Dressed in all black sportswear and a beaded traditional Zulu necklace, he radiated a cool, laid back vibe and nothing but positivity. He’s the type of designer you’d love to hang with. From the Cape Flats to the catwalks in Paris, he’s definitely the type of designer you’d look up to. And the manner in which he translates art and cultural heritage into ready-to-wear masterpieces, he’s definitely the type of designer you’d want to wear.

Strongly influenced by funk and his own roots, Craig Native put together a SS’ 16 collection that embodies an avant-garde African pop culture. Each of the items reflect a strong and energetic personality, making these models look like athletic African deities.  While it isn’t Craig’s intention to make clothing for red carpet events, he managed to kindle Lenny Kravitz’ interest as he once wore a Native outfit to the MTV music Awards… Making Craig’s clothing brand fit for rock gods as well.



Marianne Fassler, the ever so joyful designer known for coloring up the catwalks with her vivid designs, was also present with her creative collective Leopard Frock. Here to present their print-à-porter collection “African prints disrupted” with strong statement pieces inspired by the South African city Jo’burg.

The New Babylon, the New Nineveh… still the place to find whatever personal ‘gold’ you’re looking for”.

Set up as a portrait of the cosmopolitan city, this collection highlights the city’s diversity as well as the unreasoned fear of that which is perceived as foreign. Within this cheerful patchwork of fabrics, patterns, printed masks, and the caption “xenophile”, the collection aims to draw people from restless places, in search of a better or a different life in South Africa. As Amazons of the vibrant city, the models each gave away a little insight of what Jo’burg stands for: transition, change, greatness and a breathtaking urban jungle.

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