THE KENTSE CONNECTION
Kentse Masilo, the first winner of Project Runway SA, comes from a small town in North West Province. However, she’s about to take her futuristic fashion to Paris – and beyond
the first winner of Project Runway SA
‘While I was standing there waiting for the announcement, I was thinking about how long I’d waited for this and why it was so important to fight with everything I had to succeed. When my name was announced, I knew instantly that my dream had turned into reality,’ says 26-year-old Kentse as she reflects on the moment she was named the winner of the competition. Along with thousands of rands in gifts and opportunities, the reward will see her jetting off to showcase her work in Paris and visit New York Fashion Week. Not bad for
a small-town designer from Bethanie in North West Province. The reality show was a gruelling 12-week process which saw contestants battle it out in weekly fashion design challenges and present a final range of 12 pieces to the judges, who included Noni Gasa, Rahim Rawjee and Khanyi Dhlomo. Gert-Johan Coetzee, designer to the stars, mentored the 12 contestants through the process. But Kentse stood out from the start, winning the first two challenges off the bat and going on to win two more. She impressed the judges so much, in fact, that Twitter fans started calling it The Kentse Show. Here she shares about her futuristic approach to fashion, designing for women in her community and the future of her fashion business. Congratulations, Kentse! Thank you. I’m still trying to figure out the right words to explain what happened to me up there. But I was filled with gratitude, because standing in front of four inspiring individuals, as they basically told me they believe in me, felt incredible. Tell us about the range you created for the finale. As a futuristic designer, my aim is to bring the experiences of tomorrow to the present. I decided to take Africa’s most valued art form – the African mask – through a digital transformation using hand embroidery and overform to embrace ancient traditions, while providing a modern perspective through shapes and patterns, creating a celestial being. This range suggests a new approach towards technological innovation and modern design practice. You had a few weeks to put together your 12 final looks. What’s your design process? With every range I create, I decide on the design motif and explore fabric choices before sketching my creations. I find it difficult to design without telling a story, which is why I usually reference Africa. It’s an attempt to preserve our history and provide a different interpretation of a progressive future. How did the Project Runway SA journey differ from what you imagined it would be? The reveal of our judges and hosts was a pleasant surprise and, honestly, even when I got bad criticism, I still went to bed very grateful. Runway days were surreal for me; I couldn’t wrap my head around the idea of being part of the same show I’d often watched at home, with dreams of making it. One thing I didn’t anticipate was the level of exhaustion I’d feel during challenges. Things became intense when there were just six contestants left. Tell us about the most challenging part of the show. The one-day challenge which left me shaken was when we had less than 24 hours to design, buy fabric, shop and construct our garments. The funniest part of it was when I looked into my competitors’ eyes for validation, only to realise that we were all seeing flames! I wouldn’t trade that for anything. I still laugh when I think about all the crazy scenes that weren’t captured on camera. What was your high point? Winning the team challenge with Stephan and hearing Khanyi Dhlomo, CEO of Ndalo Media, say she’d wear my shirt. I was speechless! What about the bonds formed in the Project Runway SA house? I got to know [fellow contestant] Gift and loved everything about him. He knows his truth and isn’t apologetic about who he is. I find that very refreshing. Sandile is also someone I’ve grown to appreciate; he has a strong personality and is very caring… at least, to those he likes. That’s Sandile for you: he doesn’t bother with pretence. What did you feel about the judges’ critiques? I think the judges expected a certain standard from us. However, if we thought someone’s garment was the best, when we got to the runway, it wasn’t the case. That made the competition difficult. Who was your favourite guest judge? Laduma. His brand, MaXhosa by Laduma, is one of the leading brands in Africa. The quality he produces is of an international standard and I love the brand’s DNA, which he stressed was crucial for a brand’s identity. What did you learn from Gert-Johan’s mentorship? Gert-Johan taught me many things, including how to manipulate patterns. The biggest lesson I learnt from him was to push boundaries without doubting my creative ability. For a long time I’ve been seeking a mentor who not only understands business, but is someone I can relate to. Gert’s journey in fashion inspires me and he’s very supportive. He encouraged me to be great. What did your family and friends feel about the show? When I moved back home after graduating, my family thought that was that – I was now a seamstress. When my friends asked me: ‘Why Bethanie?’, I always replied: ‘If I can’t dress the people in my village, how am I ever going to dress the people in Paris?’ That’s something I learnt from Coco Chanel; before she became the greatest designer who’s ever lived, she dressed the women around her. That was how she revolutionised fashion and it’s always been my drive. You can imagine how the women in my community feel now that I get to pop up in Paris! What advice would you offer designers wanting to enter Season 2 of the contest? Don’t wait until entries open to prepare yourself – start now so that when it’s time to submit your portfolio, you’re ready. Be brave enough to say that you want it and don’t let other people’s insecurities distract you from doing what you need to do. Your dream will come true – you just need to work for it. Are you the next big designer? Enter Project Runway SA Season 2 now. Visit: www.projectrunwaysa.com Project Runway SA is presented by Ndalo Pictures and Mzansi Magic in association with 4th Street Wine, Edgars, TRESemmé, Lexus and the Menlyn Shopping Centre.