The Cherry on Top

SLOW Magazine - - Contents - Text: Christo Va­len­tyn Im­ages © Amanda Laird Cherry

It is often said that light­ning doesn’t strike twice, and it’s even rarer for it to hap­pen thrice. This is es­pe­cially true when light­ning is a metaphor for suc­cess in the world of fash­ion. But suc­cess seems to fol­low the Dur­ban-based de­signer Amanda Laird Cherry. Widely con­sid­ered as one of South Africa’s most es­tab­lished, most re­spected fash­ion de­sign­ers, her ca­reer spans nearly four decades and has be­come a sta­ple at ev­ery fash­ion week in South Africa.

But the suc­cess didn’t come im­me­di­ately. Laird Cherry grad­u­ated in 1983 with a diploma in cloth­ing de­sign and, like so many aspir­ing de­sign­ers, started her ca­reer in the stu­dios of two bou­tique busi­nesses, hon­ing her skills and devel­op­ing her craft be­fore join­ing the in­ter­na­tion­ally renowned, lo­cally pro­duced surf- and sports­wear brand In­stinct. Laird Cherry’s vi­sion cer­tainly “clicked” with the In­stinct brand, and she was soon ap­pointed the De­sign Direc­tor She spear­headed the brand’s de­sign for nearly a decade be­fore de­cid­ing to strike out on her own.

Dur­ban was a ver­i­ta­ble melt­ing pot of cut­ting edge fash­ion in the mid- to late 1990s, so it was cer­tainly a serendip­i­tous for Laird Cherry to start her epony­mous la­bel in 1996. She soon started sup­ply­ing the famed Dur­ban De­signer Em­po­rium, fol­lowed by a va­ri­ety of other bou­tiques through­out South Africa, es­tab­lish­ing a sig­na­ture look for the brand while rapidly gain­ing a highly favourable rep­u­ta­tion. It was in this time that Laird Cherry be­came a reg­u­lar fea­ture of the now de­funct Dur­ban De­signer Col­lec­tion (DDC), grow­ing her la­bel – as well as her menswear la­bel, ALC – into a famed brand.

How­ever, the lifeblood of any cloth­ing brand is a strong re­tail pres­ence. Yet, con­sid­er­ing the unattain­ably high cost of re­tail space and sup­port­ing in­fras­truc­ture, hav­ing a ded­i­cated re­tail out­let often re­mains a mere pipedream for a fash­ion de­signer. Step in Laird Cherry and Neil Roake, with a vi­sion of cre­at­ing a space where es­tab­lished de­sign­ers could af­ford­ably show­case and sell their cloth­ing while giv­ing new de­sign­ers a plat­form to break into the rag trade. The very aptly named The Space started as a sin­gle, stand­alone store in Dur­ban at the turn of the mil­len­nium. To­day, al­most two decades and 13 stores later, The Space and Space MAN has grown into a much-loved, go-to out­let for cut­ting-edge de­signer fash­ion.

Laird Cherry’s achieve­ments speak vol­umes about her vi­sion, pas­sion and com­mit­ment. A reg­u­lar at SA Fash­ion Week, her work has been pre­sented at mul­ti­ple De­sign Ind­aba ex­pos over the years, and has even graced the cat­walks of Lon­don Fash­ion Week. Her work has fea­tured in ev­ery fash­ion pub­li­ca­tion imag­in­able, and she’s be­come a fash­ion jour­nal­ist favourite, as ev­i­denced by her mul­ti­ple fi­nal­ist runs for Fair Lady mag­a­zine’s cov­eted Cather­ine Award. And in 2006, she was awarded the Marie Claire (South Africa) Prix D’ex­cel­lence de la Mode for Best De­signer.

While drama and fine arts are her first loves, she found that cloth­ing gives her a very real, al­beit dif­fer­ent means of ex­pres­sion. How­ever, in an in­ter­view with ifash­ion, Laird Cherry ad­mits that she has al­ways had a love for the cloth. “My fa­ther used to tease me that I’d say hello to peo­ple and I’d be rub­bing the top of their arm and feel­ing the fab­ric of what­ever they were wear­ing,” she says.

Old habits die hard, and the type and pat­teron of the fab­ric cer­tainly plays a sig­nif­i­cant role in her de­signs, which in­clude ladies’ wear un­der the Amanda Laird Cherry la­bel, and menswear un­der the ALC Man la­bel. “I have al­ways loved cot­tons, linen and fine wool. I do use syn­thet­ics but the han­dle has to be good, sup­ple and soft. So I am very par­tic­u­lar about fab­ric, I al­ways have been. I can look through a hun­dred fab­rics. Maybe 50 of them I just won’t like, 20 of them are a maybe and 30 of them I’d love. I’m very par­tic­u­lar about prints, tex­ture and con­tent.”

This trans­lates into the phys­i­cal gar­ments, specif­i­cally its shapes and cuts, which are renowned for be­ing roomy and leisurely, and clearly in­spired by the need

for com­fort in the often harsh South African cli­mate – and es­pe­cially the hu­mid­ity of her home­town, Dur­ban. There isn’t a rigid dis­tinc­tion be­tween her ladies’ and her menswear de­signs, and it beau­ti­fully ap­peals to var­i­ous cul­tures as well.

There are many rea­sons why Laird Cherry has be­come as suc­cess­ful, loved and re­spected as she is. Yes, her de­signs are beau­ti­ful. And yes, there is mas­ter­ful crafts­man­ship in her work. But more than this, it’s the vi­sion and mo­ti­va­tion that sup­ports each de­sign and gar­ment. As ex­plained on the home­page for The Space, Laird Cherry is one of a small hand­ful of South African de­sign­ers who has his­tor­i­cally fused the de­vel­op­ment of her clothes with that of the coun­try. Her col­lec­tions over the past three decades have pre­sented a dif­fer­ent kind of rec­on­cil­i­a­tion process, one that unites out in­ter­sect­ing his­to­ries into a col­lec­tive present.

As she ex­plained in an in­ter­view with SA Fash­ion Hand­book, in cel­e­bra­tion of the brand’s 20th an­niver­sary, “Those who think of cloth­ing ex­clu­sively in terms of this or next sea­son’s fash­ion are miss­ing the point a lit­tle. The fab­rics and the cuts we wear tell us about our so­ci­ety.” It’s this col­lec­tive present, the fus­ing of per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal sto­ries, told with cloth and thread, that has struck a chord with her fans and given her stay­ing power.

One also can­not dis­miss Laird Cherry’s com­mit­ment to pro­mot­ing and sus­tain­ing jobs within the South African in­dus­try, and how she works with lo­cal crafters and skills-build­ing or­gan­i­sa­tions – such as Si­nakath­emba and the Hill­crest Aids Cen­tre – to pro­duce ac­ces­sories. In fact, she is quite adamant that South African con­sumers – specif­i­cally con­sumers of “fast fash­ion” – should re­think this ap­proach and shift their think­ing to lo­cally pro­duced gar­ments.

Asked about how to con­vince such con­sumers to change their think­ing, Laird Cherry be­lieves the so­lu­tion lies in en­cour­ag­ing peo­ple to find their own style that works for their life­style and body, and to not just rely on what is the cur­rent trend. She also be­lieves that ed­u­ca­tion on the con­di­tions in fac­to­ries and com­bat­ting the mis­treat­ment of fac­tory work­ers around the world is cru­cial – es­pe­cially how this “cheap” cloth­ing feeds, and is the re­sult of, these prac­tices. As she ex­plains in SA Fash­ion Hand­book: “From a South African, and a per­sonal brand per­spec­tive, I be­lieve we need to speak about how buy­ing cloth­ing made in South Africa sup­ports jobs lo­cally. We need to trans­late this into the re­al­ity that it sup­ports moms and dads in keep­ing house­holds go­ing, kids at school, and makes fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion a pos­si­bil­ity.”

Now based in the United States, al­beit not per­ma­nently, Laird Cherry is still ac­tively in con­trol of her brand and her busi­ness, thanks to mod­ern com­mu­ni­ca­tion tech­nol­ogy and a close-knit, trusted team that she can del­e­gate to with ease. But crit­i­cally, the brand’s in­tegrity and de­sign lead­er­ship re­mains in­tact, and proudly South African.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.