Bespoke, meaning made to order, has become a global movement, with consumers willing to pay a premium for items that have been carefully crafted just for them. Here, we speak to some of the pioneers in creating a contemporary African aesthetic that pays homage to the care and craft of bespoke.
This year, the Sankara Rug won the coveted title of Most Beautiful Object in South Africa at the Design Indaba. The handmade rug, inspired by Ndebele patterns, is the brainchild of Nkuli Mlangeni and her team at design collective The Ninevites.
What many people don't know about the stunning handmade textile – woven using traditional methods by local artisans - is that it started as a research task for Nkuli's final year studies. 'The rugs started as a research assignment – I was researching how to use design, travel, textile, to create socially responsible projects,' she says.
Weaving, she discovered, was a dying art, and she hoped to revive the culture of traditional weaving. Nkuli initially travelled to South America to create the first samples. 'You don't really find weavers in urban centers, so I've had to travel to rural areas in Peru, Swaziland, Namibia, Lesotho, Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.'
Every step in the process of creating the rugs is a truly handmade experience – from shaving, spinning, dyeing and preparing the wool, to weaving the rug. Producing a small rug can take anywhere from one week and one month, depending on numerous factors, says Nkuli. 'Sometimes you find there is a scarcity of water, and that affects the dyeing process. Or it's been raining for weeks, so the rug itself can't dry. It's an interesting, intense process.'
The demand following the Design Indaba win has been overwhelming for Nkuli and her team, but she's committed to maintaining the quality of the product. 'I can produce five rugs for sale in two months, but I don't mind, I want to produce something that isn't rushed'. Simultaneously, she's striving to bring the entire production process to South Africa. 'We come from a country that has rich cultures of craft, but the creative economy currently produces replicas of the same things. Craft, as we currently know it, is largely targeted at tourists. How do we make it contemporary so that it doesn't appeal only to tourists?'
Ozwald Boateng, Tom Ford, Gieves & Hawkes and Caraceni – names synonymous with beautiful bespoke suiting. Soon, we'll make room for Linda Makhanya.
When the dapper Linda Makhanya started his career as a stylist in 2009, flip flops, caps and t-shirts were de rigeur for well-known men on South Africa's social scene. But Linda had a vision for what South African men could look like, and persistence has paid off. In 2012, he launched LM Tailored Suit which now boasts a clientele that includes well-known businessmen and dapper dressers such as Minister of Finance Malusi Gigaba.
'I'm creating a suit that represents an African man,' says Linda. 'This is about the power of an African success story and challenging the perception that you can't expect greatness from African men.'
Launching a made-to-measure brand has included an element of education. 'The process of creating a bespoke suit takes up to eight weeks. It can't be rushed, you have to plan for it. You can't come in and say "Linda, I need a suit for next week". I'm trying to instil a culture of bespoke suiting. We're not really used to that here and I'm trying to teach clients that the wait itself can be exciting.'
LM Tailored Suit provides three types of suits: tailored, an entry level option, semi-bespoke, 70% hand- and 30% machine-made, and made-to-measure, which is 100% handmade. What keeps bringing clients back is the attention to detail provided by Linda and his team. 'I'm not like a regular tailor because I come from a styling background. I can show you which shirts, ties, pocket squares, and colours work with your suit. I really want to help my clients build investment wardrobes.'
'Very few clients know exactly what they want,' he adds. 'They're used to buying things on display, I know so many men who can walk into a shop and buy an entire look from a mannequin. The bespoke experience is different.'
Of a fully made-to-measure suit, he says: 'The craftmanship is beautiful. There's just something about a handmade garment that feels amazing. You walk, talk and do things differently.'
Linda is fuelled by creating a new aesthetic for the continent. 'Whenever people say they derive inspiration from Africa, it's always about our beading and prints. I want to create a new vision for African luxury. My clients wear LM Tailored alongside Louis Vuitton, Gucci and Armani. When they travel for business, they aren't intimidated by men wearing Tom Ford.'
Other cool, craft brands that are proudly local:
Pichulik accessories, founded in 2012 by Katherine-Mary Pichulik, are made and designed in Cape Town. According the Pichulik, the brand is 'inspired by the intimate relationship women have with jewelry – it speaks of her travels, her mother or grandmother and the people she has loved'.
Dokter and Misses opened in Johannesburg in 2007 by husband and wife team Adriaan Hugo, an industrial designer and Katy Taplin, a graphic designer. The Dokter and Misses brand is known for its trendsetting, innovative product design, creating fresh takes on furniture and décor accessories.
Wolf & Maiden Creative Studio was started by Wade Ross Skinner in Cape Town in 2011. After a trip to India where he met a leathersmith, Wade took an interest in leathercraft. Wolf & Maiden is all about sustainable elegance.
Ready to indulge in a well-crafted masterpiece? This content was brought to you by Johnnie Walker Blue Label.