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Paging through the list of designers participating in this year's Cape Town Fashion Week, it becomes clear that, like tastes that shift from bittersweet to dry or avant garde to minimalist over time, the country's largest fashion platform has ebbed and morphed to reflect a new confident mood washing into the local industry.
Washed away is the old parochialism which saw designers uniformly cut off the umbilical chord to the rest of Africa in return for inspiration in Europe or America. Gone are the days when glorified tailors Prestiked "Couture" just after their names and then slapped on the ramp a frock copied from Yves Saint Laurent's collection they spotted on Fashion TV.
In just a few short years, as it moved from its original vessel the Nederburg Designer Collection into its re-incarnation as Cape Town Fashion Week, this platform for fashion on the tip of Africa has become as diverse as the cultural, ethnic and economic groupings that make up Mzantsi.
Today, it is a week-long capsule of diverse styles and designing approaches, each catering to distinctive markets. A sort of melting pot of design, a vessel enabling designers from across the country - and across the continent - to view and learn from each other.
Convenor Gavin Rajah says the diverse mix of designers, who show their collections during 40 shows during the week, is a reflection of a burgeoning confidence in local design. "Inspiration can come from different forms; nothing is the norm any longer,'' he says.
"I think that comes from the history of our country. For a long time we were isolated, with no access to the international market. Now that we have that exposure and endorsement, there is a growing confidence in exploring our unique signatures."
In a sense, the platform is a reflection of what is happening in the zeitgeist, which is global fashion. Up until ten years ago, the fashion tzars tended to preach the same sermon. So Mary Quant's Mod look was adopted by the Beatle-esque Sixties and Prada's techno-driven utilitarianism ushered cargo pants and Velcro into the mainstream in the late 1990s. But this coherent approach has fragmented into little conclaves, reflecting a search for clothing which resonates with the soul of the wearer. Instead of one overriding and all-encompassing trend, there is a palette to choose from, each reflecting a different design and even political philosophy.
Stiaan Louw Label: Stiaan Louw
"My collection is very strong in terms of pattern cut. I'm a more conceptual designer to a certain extent. Even though each item is strong in terms of cut and construction, I like to mix it with quite a soft feminine element to make it more wearable. We live in an environment where people are not so educated in terms of fashion. People are not as exposed as overseas. A lot of people have commented that it is a quite linear collection; the cuts are quite sharp."
Louw studied at the Haute Couture School of Fashion Design in Cape Town, graduating in 2000. He says he was also quite inspired by jewellery, and specifically different crafting techniques, having worked in the form previously. His collection features waves of colour in red, turquoise, beige and white, and chain-like graphic prints to highlight the garment construction, which sees a narrow shirt divided into 64 separate panels and bands winding around blouses to create knotted detailing. "Colour is not a big thing for me - and neither is print," he says.
Bongiwe Walaza Label: Bongiwe Walaza
Walaza is adamant that she will not sway from using her heritage as her main designing muse. "For me, if we part with things that are African, we are parting with our own identity. Africa is the only thing that we have in our hands which allows us to play around, to create from," says the designer, who was plucked from obscurity to show in New York as part of the AngloGold African Designs collection four years ago.
Walaza traditionally uses a palette of solely traditional, natural fabrics for her range. But this time around she has explored the combination of synthetics and knits, and modern shapes like asymmetrical tops with traditional fabrics to create a more modern collection, which is still proudly positioned in Africa.
Craig Port Label: Port
This year marked the first collection by the designer under his own name, having previously designed for Kangol and X&O. Thus the range is more personal. "Quite self-indulgent in a way," says Port. "It had to be, as a personal range, about what I love. I'm designing around my experiences, my travels."
Themed "Cape To Capri", Port said his range is 21st century resort and describes his design approach as "international modern design." "Not following overseas but rather hoping to lead side by side. With the Internet, TV and music videos, everything is global anyway," he says.
The range, reflecting splashes of bougainvillea and jasmine for day, and apple greens, lemon and orange spliced onto black for night, included clever local touches like a modern take on travel badges, featuring typical Cape Town postcard fare including proteas.
Craig Native Label: NativE
Since bursting onto the scene a few years ago, Craig Native has gained a cult following for his Afro-inspired streetwear in razorcut denims and funky tees. He seemed to have disappeared off the scene a few months ago, but is now back in the saddle with a range which, in typical Native style, celebrates a sub-culture often ignored by the mainstream media and fashion world.
"People are always doing Sandton to Soweto, so I thought, why not Manenberg,'' he says about his collection, which features a homage to the roller, an important styling tool on the Cape Flats, which was seen accessorising models hair and plastered over T-shirts. "I'm tired of shweshwe fabric. Why not represent the other parts of SA?"
The range also featured glam accessories like pearls teamed with traditionally unglam overalls. "It's a fusion of upperclass and lower class," is how Native sums up his range.
THE NEW ROMANTIC
Christiaan Gabriël Du Toit Label: Christiaan Gabriël Du Toit
The young designer who was feted by the international press last year returns with a collection which reflects a progression in his designing style. This time around Du Toit, who celebrates and accentuates the feminine form in his clothes, was inspired by cognac (as in the cinnamon orangy colour).
His shapes, elongating the bottom part of the body through high waisted skirts and pants, created a sexy silhouette. And he teamed his wardrobe in upholsteries, watermark taffeta and drapings of satin and chiffon, with sleek hair "tong-ed to death" and killer strappy heeled snakeskin shoes. "It's a sharp, in your face, fuck-up look," says Du Toit.
Jenni Le Roux Label: Habits and the younger Bad Habits
"I was in Paris in May and everything was just shouting pink. I got so excited and so the only fabric I bought was pink - from bright Schaperelli pink down to soft rose pink. I got a bit carried away," says the designer, who has a strong following for her classic cuts and simple but beautifully-made separates which can move seamlessly from the office to a cocktail party. Thus her opening show piece was a vision in… pink. Designing for 19 years now, Le Roux is astute when it comes to reflecting what women want when it comes to the classics. Her range moved into a sort of "Out of Africa" white scene, featuring cropped top pants in ragged linen and onto an unexpected ballgown in white linen - and one very revealing number featuring a split showing the money shot.
THE FACE (but more than)
Alek Wek Label: Wek1933
The African supermodel, who is the Face of Cape Town Fashion Week 2004, started her accessories line in March last year.
Featuring alligator-skin clutches with handpainted silkscreen linings, the line is a true expression of Alek as a model and an artist.
Inspired by her upbringing in the Sudan and her late father's spirit, the name of the label Wek 1933, marks the year of his birth.
Forced to flee civil war in Sudan when she was 14 years old, Wek's social conscience sees her supporting charities including Doctors Without Borders, the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
At Cape Town Fashion Week she didn't just model at the shows, she also exhibited her artworks and auctioned off a piece with the proceeds going to the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund.