By  on August 19, 2005

JOHANNESBURG — Does a nation like South Africa, with a population of 47 million, 27 percent unemployment and a per capita income of $1,100 really need three fashion weeks within weeks of each other? 

"No," said Marianne Fassler, one of the most enduring creative forces on the South African design scene. "The industry is in the most extreme dire straits. We used to be highly geared up for export, with very sophisticated manufacturing facilities. Today, that is all gone, with massive job losses in the sector. It becomes more important, then, for the whole industry to pull together. All we need is one prime showcase, one fashion week."

The country's fashion season kicked off with the first Durban Fashion Week, held in the coastal city from June 15-18. Johannesburg was the next stop, with the long-running South African Fashion Week from July 28-31, while Cape Town Fashion Week, now in its third year, took place from Aug. 10-13.

Gavin Rajah is in a unique position to comment on the emergence of competing fashion weeks. The Durban-born, Cape Town-based designer is equally known for his sleek, luxurious tailoring and his controversial profile. Once heavily involved in Cape Town Fashion Week, he has since turned his attention to Durban.

"SA Fashion Week is so beauty pageant," he said. "Is it a seminar or a fashion week? A trade show or young designer expose? There's this focus on being so politically correct and pushing avant-garde design that the realities of the business are completely overlooked.

"Cape Town, on the other hand, is very rah-rah-rah. Though it's probably more in touch with fashion reality than Jo'burg, it is ultracommercial."

Durban, Rajah believes, is well placed to become the fashion week, and it's not just because of the abundance of talent. "It's a chance to do something right, to offer not just great design and amazing quality, but professionalism of the highest standard, as well. All the press came, local and international. We had buyers flying in, notably from the Middle East. But we didn't wait for the buyers to see us; we went to see them within a week after the shows with a complete and polished look book."

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