Un­planned At­trac­tion

SLOW Magazine - - Edition 51 -

In a digital world fu­elled by pop­u­lar cul­ture, the so­cial land­scape is chang­ing faster than we ever thought pos­si­ble. The days when Western celebrity cul­ture in­formed and shaped the wants and de­sires of ev­ery na­tion is long gone, re­placed by a more acute own­er­ship of the unique­ness of in­di­vid­ual cul­tures and be­liefs, and a lo­calised rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of what is con­sid­ered “hot” and “fash­ion­able” … This is the world of Rich Mnisi.

A grad­u­ate of the Lead­ers in the Science of Fash­ion (LISOF), de­signer Rich Mnisi’s keen in­ter­est in the world of pop cul­ture has been a defin­ing in­flu­ence in his work. Whether it is mu­sic, film or art, and at times even na­ture, Mnisi is clearly im­mersed in the senses ac­com­pa­ny­ing each, draw­ing from the mul­ti­ple el­e­ments to in­form his imag­i­na­tion. His de­signs re­main young at heart and dis­tinc­tively as­pi­ra­tional, balanc­ing the syn­ergy between her­itage and fu­tur­ism to tell the story of mod­ern cul­ture, while never for­get­ting to up­hold the trea­sures in­grained in Africa.

In an in­ter­view with Busi­ness Day’s **Wanted** mag­a­zine, Mnisi traces his love for fash­ion back to his child­hood. “Grow­ing up, I was al­ways in awe of my sis­ter’s de­sire to out­shine her friends. She looked at a pair of jeans and she saw a skirt; the way she re­worked and al­tered her cloth­ing was ab­so­lutely in­spir­ing,” he ex­plained. “She trig­gered my de­sire to play with clothes. At the age of five, I was also cut­ting up cloth­ing, wrap­ping cur­tains around my body and cut­ting out clothes from mag­a­zines to dress up my pa­per dolls.”

That spirit for ex­per­i­men­ta­tion and the pas­sion for what could be, has been nur­tured and fu­elled over the years, as ev­i­denced by the unique aes­thetic that Mnisi is to­day known and adored for. His work has a min­i­mal­ist ap­proach, de­spite at times be­ing ex­treme, but he uses this jux­ta­po­si­tion ef­fec­tively to pro­mote the in­tegrity of de­sign. There is also a tremen­dous fo­cus on crafts­man­ship, as ev­i­denced by the ef­fects of sil­hou­ette, lay­er­ing, print and tex­ture in his col­lec­tions. More than any­thing, the vi­sion is vividly con­tem­po­rary, lay­ered with the com­plex­ity of an artis­tic imag­i­na­tion and firmly rooted in the melt­ing pot of lo­calised pop cul­ture.

When asked about the spirit of the South African aes­thetic, the unique­ness of our city’s style, Mnisi de­scribes a ne­ces­sity to overdo ev­ery­thing and be overly present as the phys­i­cal and lo­cal man­i­fes­ta­tion of Western pop cul­ture. “If we are do­ing colour, we are wear­ing ev­ery colour pos­si­ble. If we are do­ing glam­our, then just a di­a­mond ear­ring won’t do – add pearls, stones and gold to the equa­tion,” he ex­plained in an in­ter­view with Between 10 and 5. “South Africa is fire, and more and more young peo­ple are con­fig­ur­ing this sys­tem to fit their views on style and ex­pres­sion. It re­ally is good time to present style wise. I love our ex­ces­sive na­ture as Africans.”

It’s crystal clear that Mnisi ac­tively taps into the vox pop­uli when look­ing for in­spi­ra­tion, as em­bod­ied by the strong in­cli­na­tion to­wards non-bi­nary looks in his work – a look that has less strictly de­fined mas­cu­line and fem­i­nine com­po­nents. In fact, Mnisi is very well known for his an­drog­y­nous aes­thetic, and his run­way shows es­pe­cially have, in re­cent years, sparked many con­ver­sa­tions about the flu­id­ity of gen­der lines.

For Mnisi, it’s a sim­ple prin­ci­ple rooted in the bal­ance in both gen­ders, and an ex­plo­ration of lib­er­a­tion. “I think we’re try­ing to let go of defin­ing the look that each gen­der is sup­posed to sub­scribe to, and in­stead of­fer op­tions and re­de­fine the wheel a bit,” he ex­plained in the same in­ter­view. “That’s what trends do; they rep­re­sent dif­fer­ent peo­ple each sea­son and open the mind to more di­ver­sity in style.”

This re­fresh­ing take on fash­ion has cer­tainly been bearing fruit lo­cally and in­ter­na­tion­ally. Africa Fash­ion In­ter­na­tional de­clared Mnisi their Young De­signer of the Year in 2014 – the same year that he started the epony­mous brand – while his work has graced the ed­i­to­rial pages of mul­ti­ple fash­ion pub­li­ca­tions such as Marie Claire, ELLE, GQ Style, VOGUE Italia, Chas­seur, Dazed and Con­fused,

High Sno­bi­ety and Sun­day Times. Mnisi was also one of but a hand­ful of South African de­sign­ers se­lected to cre­ate ex­clu­sive de­signs for fash­ion re­tailer, Wool­worths’ ex­cel­lent “Style By SA” cap­sule col­lec­tion.

More re­cently, Mnisi has also made his fur­ni­ture de­but through a spe­cially com­mis­sioned piece that formed part of a group show of mul­tidis­ci­plinary artists, all in cel­e­bra­tion of South­ern Guild’s decade­long jour­ney of pi­o­neer­ing col­lec­tive de­sign in South Africa. Mnisi’s piece, con­sist­ing of a chaise and a stool, fol­lowed on his Nwa-mu­la­mula col­lec­tion from ear­lier this year, and is named af­ter Mnisi’s late great­grand­mother. The pieces stand as a phys­i­cal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Nwa-mu­la­mula as the ever-present guardian, whose teach­ings live on through sto­ry­telling gen­er­a­tion af­ter gen­er­a­tion.

“For me, the chaise, which takes the shape of Nwa-mu­la­mula’s body in the form of a navy blue leather couch, presents her pres­ence and long-last­ing teach­ings, and the stool, in the shape of an eye with gold pud­dles, rep­re­sents her tears, which were never in vain,” Mnisi ex­plains. “With­out her pain and her ex­pe­ri­ences I wouldn’t ex­ist. I couldn’t be the per­son I am to­day.”

Text: Christo Va­len­tyn Im­age © Rich Mnisi

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