Thebe Magugu is known for exploring the politics and history of his native South Africa in his collections, but the past also plays out on a smaller scale.
The film for his spring 2022 line shows the designer with his mother Iris and aunt Esther sifting through a box of family photographs. Each image inspired an outfit, and prompted a stream of memories that tumbled out in a mix of English and their native Setswana language.
“I wanted to do something a bit more joyful,” Magugu said at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, where outfits were displayed against blow-ups of the corresponding photos.
“My grandmother was very conservative, so she went to church every Sunday, and my aunt was the very punk one,” he recalled. “She had a very experimental sense of style. In the township, everyone thought she was like the Rihanna of her time.”
Riffing loosely on the original clothes, he paired green or pink shirts, in a paisley print incorporating his brand’s signature sisterhood logo, with matching razor-pleated skirts. Tailored jackets and Sunday-best dresses contrasted with more casual looks, including ribbed knits, jeans with wide cuffs and a sleeveless polo shirt minidress inspired by a sleepover party.
Continuing his tradition of incorporating personal elements into his prints, Magugu blew up black-and-white family photos on a skirt, and dotted portraits in medallion frames on a wax print known as Shweshwe.
“Normally, wax print has African iconography that doesn’t really relate to my family specifically, so I wanted to make that textile development like an ode to them,” he explained. “I love this idea of immortalizing them on a fabric.”
The feel-good project struck an emotional chord, without sacrificing any of the brand’s edginess.
Magugu wants to carry over that positive spirit into his collaborations, such as his current exhibition at Paris department store Le Bon Marché, featuring 20,000 fabric flowers made by women in South Africa, which will be sold to benefit development projects.
“We were hit quite hard with everything that happened. The unemployment rate is just astounding right now, so I’m really just keen on doing projects that make me feel good over and above producing clothes,” he said.