Un­planned At­trac­tion

SLOW Magazine - - Editor's Choice - Text: Christo Va­len­tyn Im­age © Palesa Mokubung

It is of­ten said that you will only find love when you’re not look­ing for it. I call this con­cept “un­planned at­trac­tion”, and be­lieve that it is a uni­ver­sal truth: You will find what you are look­ing for when you’re not ac­tively look­ing for it. It is not only of­ten true of love, but also al­most al­ways true for in­spi­ra­tion. In my life, I find that it is es­pe­cially true for dis­cov­er­ing raw tal­ent – and specif­i­cally so in the case of Jo­han­nes­burg­based fash­ion de­signer, Palesa Mokubung, and her re­mark­able la­bel, Mantsho.

When I first vis­ited 27 Boxes in Melville, Jo­han­nes­burg, a new and in­no­va­tive con­cept (cre­at­ing a shop­ping cen­tre from ship­ping con­tain­ers), I ex­pected a glo­ri­fied flea mar­ket – many small shops with traders sell­ing ran­dom bits of un­wanted trin­kets. But on that very first visit, I was sur­prised – and pleas­antly so.

The cen­tre hosts an ut­terly fab­u­lous restau­rant in the form of The Count­ess, as well as a few art gal­leries, and home dé­cor and in­te­rior de­sign stores that have truly cre­ative, de­sign-fo­cused mer­chan­dise. How­ever, it was the unas­sum­ing rec­tan­gu­lar space with a dis­creet sign telling me I was en­ter­ing the premises of Mantsho by Palesa Mokubung that en­thralled me, much like the Peven­sie chil­dren must have been when stum­bling into Nar­nia. I was soon to find out that there is much more to the story of Mantsho than what I saw on the shelves that day.

Raise by a sin­gle par­ent in Kroon­stad, Palesa’s story is one of hum­ble be­gin­nings. When it came to pur­su­ing a ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion, fash­ion was not at the top of the list. “I had a vague idea that I wanted to be in an arts-re­lated field one day,” Mokubung ex­plains in an in­ter­view pub­lished in the South African Fash­ion Hand­book, “[but] it’s not as if I had this burn­ing de­sire to be a fash­ion de­signer since the age of six”.

In fact, on ar­rival, Mokubung found the de­sign queue to be the short­est and thought to her­self, let’s give it a try – vaguely re­call­ing her mother sug­gest­ing that very route ear­lier that morn­ing. “By a twist of fate, and the lack of any in­ter­est in fash­ion among my fel­low reg­is­trants that morn­ing, I found my­self on a ca­reer path where I knew I could be­come the best I could be,” she con­tin­ues.

In an­other twist of fate, Mokubung de­cided to find work in a fash­ion out­let for the holiday sea­son. Dressed head-to-toe in a self-made out­fit, Mokubung walked into a bou­tique in Rose­bank one day, obliv­i­ous to the Stoned Cher­rie name above the door, and started talk­ing to one of the ladies, who took a very keen in­ter­est in what she was wear­ing. What Mokubung did not re­alise was that she was talk­ing to the owner of the store, the leg­endary Nken­sani Nkosi.

Be­fore long, Nkosi was ask­ing Mokubung what she could do with 100 me­tres of the ex­act same fab­ric Mokubung’s out­fit was made of – fab­ric that was sim­ply lay­ing at the Stoned Cher­rie stu­dio with no par­tic­u­lar pur­pose in mind. “Can you imag­ine this teenager in the pres­ence of a great South African de­signer – and she wanted ad­vice from me,” Mokubung told Fash­ion Hand­book. “Of course I just said ‘yes’ to ev­ery­thing!”

By the end of that week, Mokubung de­liv­ered 30 dresses to Stoned Cher­rie, and got the sales as­sis­tant job. She re­calls be­ing happy on the morn­ing of her first shift, see­ing her dresses on the rail. But this feel­ing was soon over­shad­owed as six hours af­ter the store opened that morn­ing, all 30 dresses were sold. Nkosi’s re­ac­tion to the call in­form­ing her of this was sim­ple: Go back and make some more!

The rest, as they say, is his­tory. Mokubung worked at Stoned Cher­rie long enough to gain the ex­pe­ri­ence she needed be­fore break­ing away and start­ing the Mantsho la­bel in 2004. She did even­tu­ally re­turn to fin­ish her stud­ies, and now proudly holds a Bach­e­lor of Arts de­gree in Fash­ion De­sign. She de­scribes her clothes as funky, edgy and ex­per­i­men­tal, but hes­i­tates to ap­ply the term “African” to her de­signs, de­spite find­ing great in­spi­ra­tion in, for ex­am­ple, West African fabrics with their mag­nif­i­cent prints and bold colours.

To a ca­sual observer, her cloth­ing is sim­ply mag­nif­i­cent, si­mul­ta­ne­ously con­vey­ing an air of con­fi­dence and a sense of ef­fort­less­ness. The quirky el­e­ments are sim­ply gor­geous, but at the same time, clever sil­hou­ettes are used to com­ple­ment the fe­male shape, a ma­jor char­ac­ter­is­tic of all her de­signs. More­over, all her work is rooted in metic­u­lous struc­ture.

The ul­ti­mate com­pli­ment per­haps comes from Lu­cilla Booyzen, the iconic founder of SA Fash­ion Week, who de­scribes Palesa as a fash­ion vi­sion­ary “who has a rare qual­ity to de­sign from the heart”. Like my dis­cov­ery in 27 Boxes, Mokubung is liv­ing proof of the uni­ver­sal con­cept of un­planned at­trac­tion. It’s her pas­sion, de­ter­mi­na­tion, bold­ness and per­se­ver­ance that has seen the Mantsho la­bel not only sur­vive in a cut-throat in­dus­try, but con­tinue to thrive for more than a decade.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from South Africa

© PressReader. All rights reserved.