IN: Inspiration


David Tlale is a pioneer for the local industry, being the first South African to showcase at New York Fashion Week in 2009.


When it comes to South African fashion, the name ‘David Tlale has become a pioneer for the local industry, being the first South African to showcase at New York Fashion Week in 2009.David Tlale’ is one that should definitely ring a bell. In recent years, The road hasn’t been simple though. After studying fashion design and lecturing for several years, Tlale spent more than a decade building his brand. “The road has been both beautiful and challenging”, he says. We stopped by for a chat at his Maboneng studio in downtown Johannesburg to find out more about his life and creative journey.

You’ve undoubtedly been a pioneer for the South African fashion industry. What hopes do you have for other up-and-coming local designers?

I really want to see more South African fashion brands become global brands, because I don’t want to be the only one. It doesn’t give me pride to say I’m the only South African fashion designer showcasing at New York Fashion Week. As a way of trying to help that, we conceptualised a project in 2012 called ‘The Intern by David Tlale’. It started out in Kwa-Zulu Natal, where we worked with the provincial government. Basically, we go out and scout young designers who have already graduated. We run a competition, find two winners and relocate them to Johannesburg. They work with us for a year. In September we also take them to New York Fashion Week so they can have the experience. It’s the only way we can inspire young designers. I really believe that South Africa is in a very exciting time, where young creatives are now starting to think out of the box and really explore with great ideas.

Where do you find your inspiration?

Inspiration comes from everything and everywhere. I don’t have a particular place I go to when I need inspiration for a collection. It’s a natural process, although I do find a lot of inspiration when I travel internationally.

You say that the international fashion scene heavily inspired your mindset and work. Inversely, what do you think the rest of the world can learn from South African design?

Many times in the past, people have promoted South Africa as the country with the Big Five and Zulu beads. I think we’ve gone beyond that now. Our stories have grown and today there are some amazing South African designers, artists and musician that are doing so well overseas and telling our country’s beautiful stories. The whole idea of the world seeing us as South Africans living in the jungle is slowly changing. I can’t wait for the day that South Africa becomes a fashion capital.

Let’s discuss the PPC Imaginarium Awards’ categories. Starting with architecture, is there any particular architect you admire or aesthetic you really love?

In South Africa, we have such amazing architecture and a really special South African signature. I think the most iconic South African building, even though it’s dilapidated, is the Ponte tower in Johannesburg. It tells what South Africa has been through and where it is right now. It really brings in different cultures, different aesthetics and different textures of human beings that have lived there over the years.

Going back to when you mentioned the ‘South African Signature’. How would you define that?

I’d say that it’s very bold and dramatic. I curse the day when somebody introduced those Tuscan houses to South Africa! We actually have so much of our own to offer, and you can start seeing the evolution of our signature coming through in certain buildings. I’ve seen some houses that reference rondavels from the Zulus and Ndebeles. I’d also say that South Africa’s architectural signature is very nature-oriented.

What about jewellery design? Jewellery and accessories obviously go hand-in-hand with fashion.

Personally, I adore jewellery. When I’m not wearing any I feel like I’m naked! I really think it’s time for more jewellery designers to collaborate with fashion designers and create jewellery we can sell to both our own people and overseas. Here in South Africa, I think Charles Greig is doing really amazing work.

What role do you think alternative materials, such as concrete, have in fashion design?

Using different materials in fashion is the most amazing thing. I remember my university days when I always experimented with different textures and media. In my second year I incorporated cane into my designs. After that, I had an exhibition at Gallery MOMO where I collaborated with (furniture designer) Charles Storr. I created sculpted dresses with cement, which were then exhibited with his furniture. I would say there is always room to explore with cement, because it’s mostly viewed as being used for building and yet there is so much more to it.

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