A lively relaxed social gathering in a garage full of light with young people hanging out in clothes popping up with brilliant colors in the spotlight: at Lukhany Mdingi’s presentation in Paris, the atmosphere was boiling. The couple rode on scooters, the others stood in threes, wearing Mdingi’s irresistibly attractive layered variations of trouser suits, fine and hand-knitted, dresses, pleated skirts and sportswear – all singing together in a perfectly matched visual chorus of lavender, turquoise, ocher , yellow, brown and grass green.
Mdingi circled talking about his collection, its origins and the valuable collective culture that has experienced the phenomenal rise of South Africa as the epicenter of young fashion creativity. “I realized we were moving through community and moving through sharing,” he smiled. “I think it’s just something in our blood.”
What Mdingi achieves by showing how the arts, crafts and techniques of African artisans can play a central role in raising today’s contemporary higher-level design fashion. He named this collection Burkina, in honor of the CABES Textile Community in Burkina Faso with which he worked during the pandemic and hosted a documentary about the community of weavers and dyers who produce much of the collection.
As an example, he reached for a group of striped pieces of lavender and silver threads – a crumpled men’s suit and a sleeveless dress with sets. “So this is a blend of pure organic cotton and metal thread. “I worked with them to get the right Pantone colors, and those intense orange work clothes there,” he explained. “There is so much sincerity that is literally woven into the fabric. It’s really a collaboration and I rely on their ingenuity. It is important to show that there is a sense of authority in what they achieve. This is how it should be: really understand how I can add my expertise, see how I can sharpen the design and really make it much stronger. I want to overcome the misunderstandings that people sometimes have about the craft. “
In close-up, his clothes are refined, light, soft and subtle in style – eminently wearable wardrobe of knitted polo shirts, fine hand-made mohair knitwear, two-layer shorts and tailoring. His signatures — stripes; his remarkable wicker and wicker stoles; his sweater with graphic contrast – well-known sellers on Net-a-Porter and Selfridges. The relativity of his work is a key point of his mission. He is engaged in sales, and with good reason: success in sales comes back to pay artisans, mostly women. “There is a strong social influence in that. As I get older, I am in a phase where I want to recognize that and I wonder how to use what I do to be purposeful and useful? And I think the best way to do that is to work with these communities. ”
Mndingi speaks as if he were an old man — it might seem so to a designer who has been steadily building his brand between Cape Town and the European and American fashion markets since 2015. But in reality, it’s been a very few years since he created such a mature but completely fresh and youthful brand — and with such attention to the ethics woven into it. He is a finalist for the Andam Prize next week. Everything he showed showed how much he would be a deserving winner.