By Sasha Simon
The South African catwalk welcomed in WGSN’s Idiomatic Macro trend (WGSN Creative Team, 2011) in full force this year, as the SA Fashion Week S/S13 collections were unveiled at The Crown Plaza Hotel in Rosebank, Johannesburg. This Idiomatic trend represents a global celebration of, and appreciation for regional cultures (WGSN Creative Team, 2011). As a reaction to an overwhelming dominance of Western culture through Globalization, a need has risen to preserve, enjoy and experience the uniqueness of regional cultures, by sharing the splendor of these cultures with a global audience (WGSN Creative Team, 2011). Rather than the phenomenon of Globalization suppressing the spirit of non-Western cultures, the Idiomatic transforms Globalization into a tool through which the customs and eccentricities of the regional can be celebrated and shared globally, while inspiring the world to revel in diverse cultural beauty (WGSN Creative Team, 2011).
The South African nation is heterogeneous and diverse in nature. The multi-cultural reality in which South Africans live has ultimately led to a strong appreciation for, and propensity towards the cultural. As a result of this fascination for indigenous culture and heritage, South Africa would naturally respond to the Idiomatic Macro trend, and embrace the characteristics of the trend in manner that is both unconscious and instinctive. Idiomatic seeks to pay respect towards the traditional, while simultaneously progressing in the modern (WGSN Creative Team, 2011), and in doing so, cultural characteristics become contemporary tastes. In other words, the celebration and preservation of the Idiomatic seeks to enhance the cultural in a way that is no longer sentimental, but instead dynamic and progressive (WGSN Creative Team, 2011).
Thus, the South African adoption of the Idiomatic Macro trend will find contemporary expression through the celebration of a range of Eastern cultures, including the Orientalism of India, the aesthetic of Japanese tradition, and the symbols of the Middle East. The trend has found inspiration from regional Eastern heritage and created a wearable East-West fusion, ultimately delighting in the stylistic elements of these cultures while adapting them into an aesthetic that is suitable for the modern South African lifestyle and taste (WGSN Creative Team, 2011).
The East-West fusion catwalk trend was first proposed by WGSN in 2012 as a S/S13 capsule catwalk trend (WGSN Womenswear Team, 2012). The trend’s Eastern references paired with a Western interpretation, encompasses the celebration of the Idiomatic. While WGSN’s capsule trend has found shape purely in the Japanese aesthetic (WGSN Womenswear Team, 2012), the South African interpretation of the trend is in the majority formed by Japanese inspiration, although as already abovementioned, has extended across a broader range of Eastern cultures: the Oriental Indian aesthetic, Japanese culture, and Middle Eastern tradition. The trend explores and references Japanese floral prints and embroideries, traditional silhouette shapes such as the kimono and sari, ‘origami’ construction, Japanese inspired waist-belting, natural and layered or draped fabrics, volume, and clean lines, among other design elements common of the East (WGSN Womenswear Team, 2012).
On the SA Fashion Week S/S13 catwalk, the East-West fusion takes form in three categories or elements, namely: nostalgia, pattern, and technique, construction & silhouette. These elements mould together to shape the essence of the East-West fusion catwalk trend appropriated in South African fashion.
Suzaan Heyns was the first to introduce a Japanese nostalgia on the runway, on day 1 of SAFW with her much anticipated bridal collection featured in the TRESemmé & Motions Sheer Glamour Collections show. The image of a model gliding down the runway with an ancient Japanese inspired parasol in hand, referenced the beauty of Japanese history, while igniting an appreciation for the tiny symbols of Japanese tradition still hidden within the now booming urban culture of the Japanese empire (see image 1).
Amanda Laird Cherry followed in Suzaan Heyns’ direction with reference for ancient and authentic Japanese architecture in the design of the headwear worn by the models presenting her collection down the runway (see image 2). The collection further referenced Eastern culture through the element of construction. Dresses with an aesthetic alluring towards Japanese origami were seen; an aesthetic achieved through Amanda Laird Cherry’s craftsmanship in clean lines and folds (as seen in image 3 & 4).
Following Amanda Laird Cherry’s collection on the first night of SAFW, Black Coffee presented a breath-taking collection that fused an image of both tribal and Japanese beauty. While the collection was in essence inspired by a tribal aesthetic, Jacques Van der Watt explains that while the mud cloths of the Congolese Kuba tribe inspired his collection entitled Imprint, a merge between the African and Japanese aesthetic occurs naturally in his work, and his designs always create a fusion look between the two cultures (Interview, Crown Plaza Rosebank, 11/04/2013). This was most clearly displayed in the opening scene of the Black Coffee show, in which two men clad in black Japanese-inspired dress, slowly made their way down the runway, leaving a trail of yellow petals along their path (see image 5), and an air of Japanese naturalism filled the space of the show (see image 6).
The nostalgia of the East-West fusion trend was introduced on the second night of SAFW by designers Paul Harris and Dominique Gatland in their Lunar collection, which was inspired by the Mahatma Gandhi salt march in the 1930s (SA Fashion Week, 2013). With nostalgia for Indian history, the collection was presented to the sound of Indian instrumentals, as flowing pieces came down the runway in natural fabrics of silks, cotton and linens. In colours of whites, neutral beige tones and eggshell blue in reference of the ocean, the loose silhouettes and drapery referenced clothing pieces of Indian tradition. Sari inspired pieces, leather sandals and delicate necklaces made of white stone referencing salt, affirmed the appreciation of the historical Indian event (see image 7 & 8).
Day 2 of SAFW marked the close of the Eastern nostalgia, with designers Laz Yani for Cutterier, Anmari Honiball and the Palse Homme installation. Japanese nostalgia was concluded with Cutterier’s presentation of exquisite drapery referencing Japanese silhouettes (see image 9), and nest-like headwear with further reference to Japanese naturalism (see image 10), along with Anmari Honiball’s use of flatform shoes with an aesthetic alluring towards traditional Japanese footwear, termed Geta (JapaneseGeta.com, n.d.). Palse Homme presented nostalgia for the Middle East in his static menswear installation, referencing traditional Middle Eastern dress (see image 11), while adorning his models with black turbans (see image 12).
The East-West fusion trend incorporates Japanese inspired and Oriental florals as a dominating print, as well as embroidery this S/S13 season (Clarkson, 2012). The fusion ultimately creates a hybrid print design that references the naturalism and splendor of the East, while catering to Western taste (Clarkson, 2012). Eastern inspired floral prints and embroideries were seen on the SAFW catwalk in a wide range of designer collections, including Blaklisted, oriental embroideries in Terrence Bray’s Sheer Glamour collection (see image 13), Sies! Isabelle’s Japanese inspired florals (see image 14 & 15), oriental brocade prints on silks from Sober (see image 16 & 17) and brocade prints on menswear blazers in the Ephymol collection (see image 18, and dainty floral prints from Vesselina Pentcheva in her bridal wear collection (see image 19).
Technique, Construction & Silhouette
A number of collections presented over the course of SAFW found their place within the East-West fusion trend through construction and design techniques referencing the East. The reference towards Japanese origami appeared in an extensive number of collections. Such construction work is characterized my immaculate folding in craftsmanship, in conjunction with clean lines in the design of the pieces – like that already mentioned of Amanda Laird Cherry. Origami inspired pieces were seen in collections from Kottin & Twille (see image 20) and Black Coffee. Origami reference found expression in the form of statement origami necklaces in the Just collection (see image 22). Additional to the Japanese reference of origami, was a repeated reference towards the kimono dress, by designers such as Sies! Isabelle (see image 21) and Just (see image 22). In a range of collections, the use of Japanese and Indian inspired drapery, pleating common of renowned Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto, billowing sleeves, and fabric layering, all contributed towards creating the East-West aesthetic that paid homage to the Idiomatic celebration of Eastern style.
Joel Janse van Vuuren’s collection embraced an ancient Japanese dye technique termed Shibori (Janse van Vuuren, 2013). The result was a collection enhanced by beautiful fabrics, while exhibiting the magnificence of Japanese tradition (see image 23).
A fascination with the East emerged as early as the 1700s during an era termed the Exoticism period (Mackenzie, 2009). The period lasted throughout the 18th century, during which the novelty of non-Western cultures, and Eastern cultures in particular, strongly influenced textiles and fashions, among other arts (Mackenzie, 2009). A similar fascination re-emerged in the years leading up to World War I, in which Orientalism, the Middle East and Asian aesthetics played a dominant role in determining Parisian fashions (Mackenzie, 2009). An appreciation for cultural dress made its mark on fashion once again in the late 1960s, early 1970s (Mackenzie, 2009), while a Japanese take-over occurred on the Paris runways in the 80s and throughout the 1990s, as Japanese designers such as Rei Kawakubo and Issey Miyake lead design innovation, creating a Western appeal towards a Japanese inspired aesthetic (Fukai, 2005).
Re-appropriated into the S/S13 South African fashion season, the Eastern Influence trend will be most readily adopted within contemporary and commercial womenswear. While the trend may not initially be adopted by the commercial market, fashion forward consumers will act as models for the trend off the runway, and this will thereafter trickle down into retail stores where the trend can be adopted by the commercial market in a manner that is both suitable to their taste, and to the degree at which these consumers exhibit fashion forward behavior.
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