David Tlale’s South Africa
It’s a balmy Friday afternoon as I manoeuvre through the downtown Johannesburg traffic on my way talk to fashion designer David Tlale about fashion, South Africa and what inspires him.
The first thing I notice as I enter his 5th-floor studio in the Maboneng Precinct is the huge gold-and-black throne behind a glass office desk … and I get nervous. Will I need to bow down to his highness?
But I’m glad to discover that one of the biggest names in South African fashion is down to earth and very easy going. And more than happy to answer my questions.
Tell us something interesting about where you were born and raised?
I was born and bred in Vosloorus, which is east of Johannesburg. I went to school there, primary and high school. And I think if I grew up anywhere else in the world I wouldn’t be David Tlale, so I’m so ever grateful and blessed that I grew up in the dusty streets of Vosloorus.
I think of the diversity and multicultural space I grew up in – we had Tswana-speaking people next door; we had Zulu and Xhosa people living around us. All these influences played a major role – how people celebrate their traditional ceremonies. When there was a wedding or thanksgiving, people would just rock up in their regalia, and those influences were directly in my face, and as I grew up, those things played a major role and were recorded and cemented in my headspace.
So as I create pieces today, all those memories come back – the influences, the cultures, which I texture.
I focus on our heritage; we have 11 official languages and these are things that play a major role in my creative process. What really makes South Africa beautiful is that we are so diverse yet united; you see it on Heritage Day [on 24 September]. When I went to church on Heritage Sunday, people came in their traditional outfits, and it was so beautiful to see everyone singing and dancing and being happy. I think that’s what we need to be showing to the world.
What’s your favourite destination in South Africa?
Johannesburg. The city is the heart and soul of South Africa – it makes the world go around; it makes people love coming to South Africa because it’s the so-called ‘New York of Africa’. People come from the Eastern Cape, Western Cape and all over to make it here. So this is it. I’m not much of a coastal person. I love Johannesburg. I’m a city boy, I love the heartbeat of the city.
Johannesburg is constantly changing. Do you find this inspiring?
It is inspiring. Since we’ve moved here there is so much that has happened. This area itself [Maboneng] is so inspiring – the people that come here, the people you meet and bump into; you meet global people.
The beautiful part is that there is a beautiful revolution of Johannesburg city – people are coming back to work, live and party in the city, and I think it takes us into a global space. Two to 3 weeks ago we had visitors from the US and we took them around Johannesburg. They loved it. We had a great time on the Nelson Mandela Bridge, where I once showcased, and it was really beautiful, taking them to Braamfontein, taking them to Maboneng; I think it’s what the world is looking for.
My message to people is that it doesn’t matter that I grew up in Vosloorus or anywhere in the world. You can make it if you believe in it. My focus is to take a South African product and present it to the world – let’s take South Africa to the world because we have it going. It’s not only about possibilities; we are inventing new ways of doing things.
Is there a particular place in Johannesburg that you go to relax or let loose?
I love going to galleries. My favourite gallery right now in Johannesburg is Gallery Momo in Parktown North – a really beautiful space. The gallery owner himself is so welcoming, and because he’s so well travelled he’s brought South Africa, Africa and the world into Gallery Momo.
It’s a small space, but when you get in there the art is super amazing. I also love being out at Arts on Main.
What’s your message to young designers who want to attain the global recognition you have?
I’m saying that you can build a brand that is made in South Africa, and make a living from it, and you can make a difference in your country.
I am a brand and I believe we are revolutionising the fashion industry in Johannesburg, in Cape Town, in Africa, and taking it to New York. I just came back from New York Fashion Week in September, and I showcased there as the 1st South African designer to do a solo presentation. And for me that means our journey has just transcended to another level. I’m saying that you can build a brand that is made in South Africa, and make a living from it, and you can make a difference in your country.
Who has been your favourite person to dress and who would you still like to dress?
I enjoy working with Simphiwe Dana, she’s amazing. And on my wish list is Lenny Kravitz.
Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa runs from 24 to 28 October 2012 at Melrose Arch.