The Simulacrum of Vogue

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04 November 2013

Jonathan Lubala

What if I said that fashion has become a bore lately? The state of ‘style’ locally has turned into quite the disappointment. Looking at the traffic in malls, universities and local instagram accounts irks me, and perhaps this wouldn’t be the case if it weren’t for a few particular set of style choices that the youth have taken a liking to. First up is the ‘eclectic-purposely-mismatched-urban-look’ that just grates my cheese. White Converse high tops or the latest ‘innovation’ pushed out by Topshop/ Woolworths, light blue faded jeans (sometimes shredded sometime not), some quirky accessories (a bow tie ring here, a lil golden wrist game there) and a loosely fitted sweater/cardigan to finish the look off (bonus points if its brash in color and incongruous with the rest of the outfit). When this look first came to my attention, admittedly I was taken by it. The trend seemed to express a ‘cavalier-cool vibe’ combined with an understated sense of what’s in vogue, but over time its overuse by local ‘indie’ heads and ‘urban-wear-loving’ teens has left a bad taste in my mouth. The looks that some of these kids are wearing are utterly interchangeable despite gender differences (and I’m not one to revile breaking the rules and rocking unisex clothing), it’s just that it makes it painfully obvious to me that no one is attempting to break the norm. Don’t get me wrong, this look isn’t unattractive, it’s simply trite.

With the arrival of top fashion retailers such as Zara and Topshop in quick succession—last year and this year respectively—you’d think local consumer’s taste had developed and become more individualised. Yet I’m still accustomed to seeing trends that have passed their sell by date. A few months ago, even Ricardo Tisci made this mistake by producing yet another collection that focused on the ‘kilt-matched-with-formal-wear-and-gladiator-sandals-look’ for the Givenchy Spring/Summer 2014 show. Granted the guy has almost single handedly changed the classic silhouette of a man in a suit, and I love him for that, but I’d just like to know, who is bringing something new? Who is South Africa’s breath of fresh air?

Here she is, the only South African to have made the prestigious Bof 500 list—a comprehensive record of the world’s top 500 individuals in the fashion industry to keep an eye on:

South African retailer Hanneli Rupert’s chic, African concept store, Merchants on Long, houses a curated selection of luxury, hand-crafted products and designs sourced entirely from the African continent, as well as designs from her own ethical luxury handbag range Okapi. She has become one of the industry’s most compelling advocates for ethical production and sourcing.

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Launched in Cape Town in 2010 to fill a void for boutiques selling African products, Rupert’s selected range of artisanal products such as organic parfum soaps by Tammy Frazer, accessories from Ethiopian brand LemLem and sneakers from Cameroon based SAWA, quickly gathered a cult following. In 2012 the young entrepreneur launched her first pop-up store in London based concept store The Shop at Bluebird.

A dedicated ethical fashion supporter, Rupert’s emphasis on sustainability and fair labour practices is reflected in the production of her handbag range. Launched in 2008, all elements of the bag are produced in South Africa and entirely traceable from source to end product. All brands stocked at Merchants on Long are vetted for their ethical and sustainable practices.

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An active member of the global fashion community, Rupert spoke at thevInternational Herald Tribune luxury conference in Rome on ‘the Promise of Africa, and the Power of the Mediterranean” in 2012 and addressed the Women of West Africa Entrepreneurship conference in Lagos in 2013.

Prior to launching Okapi, Rupert worked as an event organiser at L’Ormarins Queens Plate, a sports venue located in Cape Town. The designer graduated from Wimbledon School of Art in 2007 with a bachelor’s of arts honours degree.

Ms Rupert is the daughter of Richemont chairman Johann Rupert.

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