Thebe Magugu was back in Paris from Johannesburg again, a highly welcomed visitor to a presentation slot at the Palais de Tokyo. “I wanted to do something optimistic. All around me, there’s been a lot of ugliness in the air because of the social unrest in South Africa,” he said. “So I just wanted to turn inward, at what keeps me very optimistic – and that was my family.” Instead of a runway show, he had an installation of his clothes and was screening a film of himself chairing “a roundtable” with his mother and aunt. On one side of the screen Magugu was seen playing the intergenerational talk-show host as they opened a box of family photographs together and related all their memories and anecdotes about who wore what, where, and why. And on the other half were his images of how he’d affectionately and elegantly translated each photo into the pieces of his collection. All over again, it was true to Magugu’s extraordinary talent for telling stories that honor people through his clothes – as well as a bit of a by-the-by explanation of how he became who he is through growing up in a family that enjoys clothes and dressing up. There’s a picture of his mom in a checkerboard mini suit, which became a tailored red-black-and-white high-waist jacket and a knife-pleated skirt printed with a black-and-white family snapshot. His aunt’s minidress inspired a neat pair of shorts suits teamed with black knitted bralette sweaters beneath. His grandmother’s dedication to her profession as a nurse was celebrated with a pair of blue dresses echoing the color of her uniform. The cool personality of an uncle as a young choir member dressed in a white shirt and black tie was captured in the exaggerated gesture of the tie, extended and looped up over one shoulder of a crisp shirt with high-waist pants. With his chic, young signatures – sharp, feminine tailoring, handkerchief-point sunray pleated skirts, sculpturally flattering knitwear matching gele head ties – Magugu tells stories that resonate internationally. As fashion ambassador for young South African creative talent, he’s a pioneer in the forefront of a generation that is now rising in countries all over that continent.
Collage by Edward Kanarecki.