For his fall collection, Thebe Magugu teamed with photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman on a short film inspired by 1970s B-movies, ranging from spaghetti Westerns to Japanese pink films. Think machete-wielding girl gangs, busted noses and a love affair between two members of rival tribes.
“There was a machete choreographer on set with us to help guide the girls so that no one was getting butchered,” Magugu said via Zoom. “Those are literally all my friends converging on a mountain somewhere, and just trying to make something interesting.”
Shot in Setswana and Zulu, with English subtitles, “Banyoloi A Bosigo” (“Ultimate Midnite Angels”) is all about female empowerment, though its non-linear narrative ties in with another form of power that speaks to Magugu: African spirituality.
Feeling adrift during lockdown, the designer noticed that a growing number of his friends were turning to traditional healing. “It’s interesting, because some of them are stylists, law students — youthful, modern people who then also have this entirely different side to them,” he remarked.
One of them is Noentla Khumalo, a Johannesburg-based stylist and traditional healer who uses bones as a medium to communicate. A key print in the collection features blown-up images of objects she uses to divinate, including goat knuckles, an old police whistle and red dice.
The colorful pattern appeared on a flared tailored pant suit layered with a matching long shirt, and on one of Magugu’s signature knife-pleated skirts.
Another is eco-printmaker Larisa Don, who created a pattern by pounding cannabis and imphepho, a plant used by traditional healers, onto merino wool — a key fabric this season, since Magugu is one of the six finalists for the Woolmark Prize.
“It was just interesting, this idea of modernity through the indigenous, because those two terms are often separated or seen as opposites. With this collection, I wanted to explore how it looks to merge those two worlds together,” he explained.
That balance between strong personal storytelling, and cool-girl designs with universal appeal, is what makes Magugu’s creations so compelling, and won him the 2019 LVMH Prize for Young Designers.
A case in point: his first shoe design — a pointy boot style with a wedge heel, inspired by the elongated shoes worn by pastors in Johannesburg, featuring a silver buckle in the shape of the brand’s sisterhood logo. Due to be launched with a U.K. retailer soon, it will be available initially in black or white, in an ankle or knee length.
“There was an armed robbery at my studio and one of the samples that they took was another shoe development, which was quite heartbreaking,” Magugu lamented. “It’s probably downtown in a clothing dump somewhere being sold for 100 [South African] rand ($6.65).”
Whoever ends up buying the stolen shoes will no doubt pick up on their badass vibes. Whether they’ll feel spiritually sound is another question.