It’s not often that a self-taught emerging designer is received with noteworthy success the first time he showcases on a foreign runway, but such was the case for Durban-based designer – Mxolisi Luke Mkhize.
Earlier this month, Mkhize’s brand reached a new peak at Windhoek Fashion Week in Namibia, when Mkhize’s Beautiful Nightmare collection – which also includes pieces from his Black Indulgence, Zulu 100 collection which showed at SA Fashion Week – awed audiences enough to warrant purchases straight off the runway.
Three days before his rewarding show, Mkhize did not expect much beyond a new experience on an unfamiliar platform, but after tireless marketing and a stream of radio interviews, his time in the capital of Namibia far exceeded his expectations, combined with the familiar feeling of being right at home.
“Namibia is so much like South Africa and the people are so friendly. It has the same style and feel,” he says.
The designer was especially heartened by the eagerness with which his collection was met, as guests swooned over his garments prompting Mkhize to declare, “It was amazing to showcase for the first time [outside of South Africa]. It was the best Fashion Week I’ve attended and showcased at.”
What particularly struck Mkhize, was the commercial readiness of the Namibian market to buy from and support local designers. This is not a common reaction Mkhize – and many other designers – is used to seeing at home, where after a show “garments usually stay in storerooms.”
This commercial openness is perhaps helped by the media’s appetite to spotlight local designers. “[Windhoek Fashion Week] was really centred around the designers. Even before the shows, there was a lot of hype.” Such far-reaching hype was also furthered by Mzansi’s All Access show, which came to shoot a sneak-peak episode of Mkhize behind the scenes.
Following the warm reception he received in Namibia, Mxolisi has been invited to showcase at Mozambique Fashion Week where he will collaborate with a local favourite – Nivaldo Thierry – in a shared men’s and womenswear collection. Mkhize is also setting his sights westward to Lagos Fashion and design Week.
“That’s what differentiates us from the Europeans,” he says of the current wave of designers who have similarly taken to reinterpreting their cultural backgrounds with a contemporary twist.
It was abroad, during a much coveted internship in Milan – thanks to a mentorship program sponsored by the eThekwini Municipality Business Support – where Mkhize developed his virtue of African craftsmanship and heritage. Upon his return to South Africa, the designer was determined to explore the continent and infuse its culture-rich qualities into his designs. “That’s what differentiates us from the Europeans,” he says of the current wave of designers who have similarly taken to reinterpreting their cultural backgrounds with a contemporary twist.
Mkhize’s Zulu 100 collection is a nod to the Zulu nation, with marked cultural references that have become a leitmotif of his work. Minimalism and monochromes are also salient features of his designs, applying bold prints and a unique sensibility to create a much refined dandyish effect.
It is for this distinction that celebrities like Somizi turn to him for their fashion and style needs. In early November, the choreographer and radio personality saluted Mkhize’s latest collection on the designer’s Instagram account.
With this kind of star power and encouraging support behind him, it’s no wonder Mxolisi feels like “the stars have finally been aligned.”