Forget about those retro garments sporting fuddy-duddy African motifs.
Laduma Ngxokolo has not only resurrected traditional African art in his garment collection, catapulting it from the prosaic to the beautiful, he is now taking on the world from his base in London.
So captivating is his knitwear with its chic, modern interpretation of traditional Xhosa aesthetic that super diva Beyonce recently gave the 29-year-old designer from Port Elizabeth a shout-out, having snapped his work on show at the Cooper Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum in New York and posting it on her website.
It’s the most exciting endorsement yet of Ngxokolo’s fashion brand, MaXhosa by Laduma, and proof that his hard work over the past five years in taking his collection abroad is paying off.
Speaking from his temporary home in London, where he is finishing his Masters of Material Futures at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design thanks to winning a WeTransfer Scholarship in 2014, Ngxokolo says he was in Japan last month to open his collection in Tokyo. It became available there on April 15 at the United Arrows menswear boutique in the city’s trendy Harajuku district.
“I’ve been on a tough schedule but it’s been hugely exciting. And the shout-out that I got from Beyonce is a fantastic opportunity… it made me feel very special, and it will definitely increase my profile in the US,” he said. Meanwhile, orders for his colourful cardigans, V-necks, shawls, skirts and socks are proliferating on his online shop at www.maxhosa.co.za from fashion followers across the world.
Ngxokolo is now planning to open in London. “It takes a much bigger effort to get something going in the US or UK because the market is very saturated, but if all goes well MaXhosa by Laduma will have an ongoing pop-up shop in London by the end of June,” he says.
Ngxokolo’s Xhosa-inspired creations have taken him to the world’s most dazzling catwalks and won him international acclaim, and not least, he has helped give South African heritage and culture a spot on the crowded world stage. Most recently, he worked on the Chivas Regal packaging for a limited edition 18-year-old whisky, putting him in the same league as Vivienne Westwood and the late Alexander McQueen who have designed for Chivas.
Ngxokolo established his brand in 2011 after graduating from Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University. The aim was to explore knitwear design solutions based on beadwork that would be suitable for the amakrwala’s (Xhosa initiates) traditional dress. All his raw materials are sourced from his home province, the Eastern Cape, and he uses a blend of 80 percent wool and 20 percent mohair to create his premium quality garments.
In 2014, he was named Africa Fashion International Emerging Designer of the Year, and last year Ngxokolo won the 2015 Vogue Italia Scouting for Africa prize to showcase his collections at the Palazzo Morando Show in Milan, Italy. This year, on the April cover of Destiny magazine, actress and media personality Nomzamo Mbatha is beautifully styled in the MaXhosa shawl, which won the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa award at the 2016 Design Indaba.
Ngxokolo says he likes to create “slow fashion, pieces that are investments due to their obvious quality, craftsmanship and exceptionality”.
In many of his designs are bold Xs resting on vividly coloured backgrounds, the Chivas packaging being a prime example. “The X motif is very meaningful to me. I love the distinctive Xhosa sound. It’s also interpreted from traditional Xhosa beadwork dating back to the late 19th century, which I’ve translated into a more modern design,” he says.
The collaboration between Chivas Regal and Ngxokolo has created a product that is a “fine balance between bold and elegant, traditional and cosmopolitan,” says Shelley Reeves, marketing manager for Scotch Whiskies at Chivas Regal South Africa.
Ngxokolo describes his creative process as “organic” and says he is looking to diversify into a summer range for men and women. By the end of next month he hopes to have set up a distribution base in London and will be heading back home, where he’s likely to be spotted around Work Shop Newtown where his sister Lihle runs his Joburg showroom.
Other local outlets selling his wares are Luminance in Hyde Park and Merchants on Long in Cape Town.
For more information visit: www.maxhosa.co.za