Glamour (South Africa)
How Bonang Matheba and Rich Mnisi are uniting the fashion industry
He established himself early in his career as a new visionary
ready to take the local and global fashion market by storm, while she reigned supreme as queen of serving enviable looks and championing SA fashion.
Now, designer Rich Mnisi and business mogul Bonang Matheba are at the forefront of showcasing the country and the continent’s style, diversity
and local fashion talent.
STORYTELLING THROUGH DESIGN
RichMnisihasaccomplishedalotfora27-year-old.Hisdesigns have featured in international publications and been worn by a host of international icons, including Beyoncé, Ciara, Imaan Hammam, Adonis Bosso and Naomi Campbell. The LISOF graduate and AFI Young Designer of the Year winner is a creative genius who has been masterful at collaborating and adapting his brand to live with other brands on international campaigns, such as with Coca-Cola and Miller Genuine Draft, and his Rich Mnisi x Style by SA collection has retailed at Woolhworths since 2017. He is currently in partnership with Lexus. To top it off, he made the Forbes Africa 30 Under 30 list this year. It was a much-deserved accolade, considering his brand, originally OATH Studio, has grown phenomenally since its creation in 2015.
“Under OATH, I collaborated with stylist Gabrielle Kannemeyer and photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman on my spring/summer ’16 campaign, which we shot in my late grandmother’s house in Chiawelo, Soweto. I was proud of that,” says Rich. “The name change came about because I was done hiding behind the brand. I had reached the point where I wanted to be a full-time designer and I was ready to take on that responsibly. That’s how Rich Mnisi was born.”
Rich’s most recent venture is furniture. An admirer of design in all creative forms, breaking out into home decoration has been one of his greatest highlights. “It’s expanded my way of thinking, not merely from a design and functionality perspective but also from its contrast to fashion’s demanding calendar. After a year of research, design and prototypes, I’m excited to announce that I’m collaborating with Southern Guild on a group show opening on the 24 October to launch my new furniture pieces, titled Nwa-Mulamula: Alkebulan. A fashion collection with the same name will follow.”
His latest work, the Rich Mnisi Nwa-Mulamula collection, centres on the role of his late great-great mother, NwaMulamula, and her contribution to shaping his family. “She’s a creative muse whom I’ve unpacked through the sub-themes of Mother, Lobola and Milorho (dreams). I see her also as a symbol to pay homage to the role of African mothers, whose stories are rarely documented or given the light they deserve. Mothers are the foundation of every family, and when systems of oppression all over the continent have reared their ugly heads, it’s women/mothers who are the casualties,” he adds.“The brand’s aesthetic is based on these untold stories and how layered and vivid they are.”
“A combination of heritage and futurism is how my brand tells the South African story, which I view as the ability to express who we are and to live our truth. The ability to create without limitation but being grounded in our identity. We are drawing from the past, reimagining the future while living for the moment. It’s everything. It’s such a beautiful time to be South African and African – even with our very real issues.”
His designs have gained praise not only for their uniquely African flavour but also for their non-binary aesthetic. He explains that he approaches furniture design in the same way he approaches fashion: “The human body, and how it interacts with the garment or furniture, is always considered. Clothing and furniture both serve the same purpose – to support the human body while being aesthetically pleasing. It’s the human body that I design for, not people’s ideas behind them. The clothes are not prescriptive to gender. They appeal to anyone who wants to wear clothes that they can feel good in.”
For Rich, the style trends most prevalent in SA fashion that make us unique are a sense of individuality and a spirit to push the envelope, a playfulness with colour and being unafraid to go back to our roots. Characteristics that are gaining widespread international recognition, which he feels is greatly deserved. “The tide is turning, and as local designers, we’re working together. A lot of designers are getting international deals and collaborating more on the continent. The rest of the world is hungry to explore our aesthetic. We’re growing at a reasonable pac, and we have a growing market to attract. It’s a clear sign that we’re magic and that our work travels well globally. I’m excited to see more young designers making it and the prospect of more of us pushing the boundaries of fashion in the country.”
His reaction to having international figures wear his designs? “I always feel incredibly humbled and motivated to do more when people wear my clothes no matter who they are. As long as people feel good in them, then I am fulfilled, and more so when I get to fly my country’s flag high.”
An empire of Style
With a passion for style and beauty, Bonang has often highlighted the importance of investing in your image. “Fashion isn’t only an important part of my career, but also my life. I grew up around many stylish women, such as my mother and aunt, who always stressed the importance of being presentable. It wasn’t about being fashionable, per se, but they instilled this sense that women always have to look neat and beautiful, and it’s from them where I get all of my style inspiration from.”
On how she has built her fashion identity and her brand up to an international level, she says that it certainly has taken hard work, being authentic and cultivating relationships based on mutual respect. “I spend a lot of time doing research and communicating with designers in putting looks together. And I think I got people’s attention just by being myself from the beginning.”
Whenhostingthe2016MetroFMMusicAwards,sheworked with Law Roach, stylist to Zendaya and Celine Dion. And while Bonang knew her fashion was big locally, only after she started workingwithLawdidshefeelthattheworldwaswatching.Law then introduced her to stylist Harrison Crite, who has worked with the likes of actress Angela Bassett and shoe designer AngelaSimmons.Sheworked withHarrisonattheMTV Africa Music Awards. “Following the MTV Europe Music Awards, I started attending New York Fashion Week, I worked with presenter Claire Summers and stylist Ty Hunter, and I think that’s how I got my intro to the world of international media. Social media played a huge role in that, too. If we didn’t have Instagram, no one would know what’s happening down here. People don’t look to us [South Africa] for fashion advice and inspiration."
In saying that, she’s exceptionally pleased at the rising number of local designers achieving global recognition. “It’s about damn time. I have great pride in South
“I have great pride in South African and African designers
because I feel they make clothes like no other”
African and African designers because I feel they make clothes like no other. It’s the craftsmanship, the fabric, the Afrocentricness that you can’t get from anyone else. It’s an inherent African gift that makes us unique. But with that, I am worried that people will steal our ideas,” she admits, “and I want the credit given when it’s due. Put our designers front and centre, invest in and support them – give their names recognition. It’s getting there and I see it every single day, though. Fantasia, Kourtney Kardashian and Kelly Rowland wear designs by Gert-Johan Coetzee, Thebe Magugu was an LVMH Prize finalist. It’s a gradual process. SA is still young, so ultimately we’ll have this conversation in 20 years again asking, ‘Can you believe how far we’ve come?’”
Over the years, Bonang has been a loyal supporter and promoter of local fashion, consistently championing designers such as Orapeleng Modutle, Gert-Johan Coetzee, David Tlale, Rich Mnisi and Mmuso Maxwell. And while there are certain designers she will go to for specific occasions, she enjoys working with new upand-coming talent. She has several fashion collaborations under her belt, one of the most beloved by herself and fans being her Distraction lingerie line, released in 2013 by Woolworths. “Not only was it something that had longevity, as it’s something that every woman loves and needs, but it was a market that few people had gone into. Few celebrities have intimate collections and go into lingerie. However, since the launch of Distraction, we’ve seen many more coming into the picture – which is exciting.”
Conquering the lingerie market is only one milestone of the brand vision for House of BNG. Boasting a luxury beverage line (Bonang MCC Brut), her future plans include a beauty line and fashion collection. While global domination rings a nice bell, and she hopes that within the next 20 years House of BNG will be as global and recognised as House of Fenty, her main goal is ensuring that her brand is loved, recognised and synonymous with luxury, first at home, and then in Africa, where she has already made an impact.
She’s made no secret of her love for Nigeria, having visited the country frequently, graced the cover of local magazines, and collaborated with standout Nigerian designers, like Toju Foyeh. “I first went to Nigeria a couple of years ago, when I hosted the The Future Awards in 2015. That’s when I was introduced to their entertainment industry, and it was love at first sight. An exceptionally high level of people work in the Nigerian beauty and fashion industry – incredibly talented hair and makeup artists and designers that are some of the best in the world. They understand a ‘look’. I go there to sip from their well of knowledge and their dynamic fashion presence,” says Bonang, hinting at an upcoming 2020 collaboration.