The man maketh the shirt

Man­dela forged per­sonal re­la­tion­ships with de­sign­ers be­hind his dis­tinc­tive sar­to­rial style

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - PEOPLE - SAMEER NAIK and RE­BECCA JACK­MAN

THERE were many unique things about Nel­son Man­dela.

His style of lead­er­ship stood out, as did his sense of hu­mour. His dance style was like none other, and his end­less work ethic was ad­mirable.

But one dis­tinc­tive fea­ture that couldn’t be missed about the for­mer pres­i­dent was his vi­brant shirts.

Whether he was at home or mak­ing a pub­lic ap­pear­ance, Madiba was al­ways seen clad in the most unique shirts.

But what most peo­ple don’t know is that he didn’t wear them to make a fash­ion state­ment, but rather for health rea­sons.

“Tata wore th­ese shirts be­cause suits were be­com­ing too heavy for his body,” Son­wa­bile Ndamase, the cre­ator of the fa­mous Madiba shirt, ex­plains. “The shirts he wore were nice and light for his body, and he felt very com­fort­able in them.”

Ndamase, who de­signed shirts for Man­dela since 1994, said it was a huge hon­our.

“Tata was not a client of mine, but rather a fa­ther to me. The en­tire Man­dela fam­ily were not clients to me, but rather fam­ily.”

Ndamase, who owns Vukani Fash­ions, said this week he was still strug­gling to come to terms with Man­dela’s death.

“We all knew that it was go­ing to hap­pen one day, but that doesn’t make it any less sad,” he said.

Ndamase first met Man­dela a few months af­ter he had been re­leased from prison. He had known the Man­dela fam­ily very well, even be­fore that.

“I knew Mama Win­nie quite well so I was for­tu­nate to get to know the whole fam­ily.”

When Man­dela left prison, Ndamase was in­vited to his house to have lunch with the fam­ily and re­calls be­ing “so ner­vous I tripped on the stair­case”.

He took the op­por­tu­nity to show Man­dela some of his de­signs. For­tu­nately Man­dela fell in love with them, and Ndamase be­came Man­dela’s full-time de­signer.

“I would show him a line of dif­fer­ent shirts and Tata would choose the ones he pre­ferred.”

Ndamase said that since Man­dela’s death last week, he had re­ceived more or­ders for Madiba shirts from around the world.

“Last week the mu­si­cian Maxwell even or­dered Madiba shirts for him­self and his en­tire crew.”

Ndamase said he would con­tinue with his Madiba shirt line, even though Madiba is now gone.

“It’s the right thing to do,” he said.

“We need to con­tinue his legacy and one of his lega­cies was the shirts he wore.”

Mean­while, fash­ion de­signer David Tlale, known for bright colours and bold African prints, says he is able to­day to ex­press him­self with pride thanks to Man­dela, who in­spired him in a “mas­sive way”.

Af­ter the inau­gu­ra­tion, he ex­plained, it be­came more and more ac­cept­able for African prints and de­signs to get their chance in the lime­light.

“Peo­ple started wear­ing African chic with pride. Then af­ter we saw him chang­ing from a suit to a Madiba shirt, we started em­brac­ing African fash­ion in a big way.

“Our pres­i­dent came out and ad­dressed na­tions in a beau­ti­fully tai­lored shirt. He brought change to the face of be­ing for­mal in a semi-for­mal way.”

Con­sciously or not, peo­ple started to no­tice African fash­ion, which Tlale de­scribed as: “We don’t see colour when we do fash­ion – we just do fash­ion”.

He con­tin­ued: “If you love it you buy it, and you buy it be­cause you love it. That’s what Madiba did. When you see a piece you’re not go­ing to ask who de­signed it or what their race was. You are go­ing to buy a beau­ti­fully made garment.”

Tlale paid trib­ute to Madiba last Fri­day dur­ing his “fash­ion ex­trav­a­ganza” at Vir­ginia Air­port in Dur­ban, which show­cased de­signs from his show­case at New York Fash­ion Week, along with new de­signs, on the run­way.

It was not orig­i­nally in­tended to com­mem­o­rate Madiba, but Tlale says he woke up on Fri­day morn­ing and knew he needed to pay trib­ute some­how.

Lo­cally, sales of the Madiba shirt are also on the rise.

Nisa Bregg, man­ager of Out of Africa at the V&A Water­front, said the shirts, many from Desré Buirski’s The Pres­i­den­tial Shirt, sell re­ally well.

“At one point we didn’t stock them, but peo­ple came in and asked for them all the time.”

Just last weekend they sold eight shirts to peo­ple who wanted some­thing that made them think of Man­dela. Bregg said eight shirts might not sound like much, but con­sid­er­ing they cost be­tween R950 and R1 700 each, that was healthy trade.

Fiona Adams, sales as­sis­tant at Thomas & Benno, also at the V&A, agreed that the Pres­i­den­tial Shirt is a good seller that’s al­ways been pop­u­lar.

“A lot of peo­ple ask for them,” she said.


WELL GROOMED: Nel­son Man­dela in one of his fa­mous shirts.


PRES­I­DEN­TIAL: Madiba shirts by Desre Buirski’s of­fi­cial Pres­i­den­tial Shirt brand, for sale at Out of Africa at the V&A Water­front.

DE­CEM­BER 14 2013


MADIBA SHIRTS: De­signer Son­wa­bile Ndamase with his fa­mous Madiba shirts.

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