Thebe Meets Alber. AZ Factory AW22

It’s so heart-warming to see that AZ Factory continues to exist and convey its founder’s legacy in fresh and innovative ways. Alber Elbaz had just launched AZ Factory when he succumbed to Covid last April. His vision for his new brand encompasssed body-positivity, sustainability, and tech, but at its heart were the women he hoped to dress. “We’re not here to transform women; we’re here to hug them,” he told Vogue Runway at the time. He had only a few months to establish a new way of doing things at the Richemont-backed company, but a year later the brand is staying true to those founding principles, and then some.

Early last month, as an exhibition of the tribute collection “Love Brings Love” featuring contributions from 44 designers opened at the Palais Galliera in Paris, AZ Factory announced it would be inviting a rotating series of talents, “Amigos” in brand parlance, to create collections for the label. The first Amigo was to be the 28-year-old South African designer and LVMH Prize winner Thebe Magugu. His collection will have two store drops this year. Magugu never had the chance to meet Elbaz in person, but he was acquainted with his work growing up in Johannesburg. “My favorite childhood memory is my mom saving enough money to buy satellite television,” he remembers on a Zoom call. “Funny enough, the first channel that came on was FTV [Fashion TV]. Lanvin shows played on repeat, and that’s how I was first introduced to the work of Alber.” Magugu’s collection stays true to the sensibility that Elbaz was nurturing at AZ Factory, but it’s equally representative of his own aesthetic.

You’ll note that Magugu’s logo, a “sisterhood emblem” depicting a pair of women holding hands, features as a belt buckle detail on the handkerchief hem pleated skirts he specializes in, and again as stainless steel hardware in a cut-out at the neckline of a dress in the engineered knit that Elbaz had been developing. The look Magugu designed for the “Love Brings Love” tribute to Elbaz, an ode to a white silk shirtdress he made for Guy Laroche, one of his pre-Lanvin postings, reappears here, only with a hem that looks like it has been dipped or smudged. Moreover, Magugu sees the African continent as the link between himself and Elbaz, who was born in Morocco. “The question I posed to myself and the design team here is, ‘What if Africa was the birthplace of couture?’ I think about that a lot. The things that make up luxury – the idea of time spent creating something, the storytelling, passing something on from generation to generation – are really the same as you find in African craft, as well. We’re best known for our storytelling and our work with our hands. I thought that was a very interesting intersection that we could explore with the collection.” The intersection is most apparent in a pair of ruched-neck caftans, a typical silhouette in Morocco, printed with paintings by the Paris-based Algerian artist, Chafik Cheriet, whom Elbaz commissioned before his passing. “They really encapsulate both of our worlds,” Magugu says. “They’re playful and something that a lot of people can find themselves in with that slight African regality that I wanted to have when we started the project.

As much as it was a melding of their sensibilities, Magugu says he picked up new skills through the process. At his own brand he typically starts by sketching, but at AZ Factory there’s more of an emphasis on draping on the mannequin. “It was an interesting challenge for me, but ultimately very beautiful.” He also learned more about Elbaz himself through the process. “In interviews I noticed how kind he was and when I got to AZ Factory I got confirmation from the team. It wasn’t a TV facade. The more I grow into the industry the more I find that kindness can lack in a lot of ways. So that’s very special to me.”

Collage by Edward Kanarecki.


Optimism. Thebe Magugu SS22

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.