Photography by Nkuley Masemola

Siyabonga Mtshali is at the forefront of what fashion is and where it’s going

Siyabonga Mtshali is a name that needs no introduction to keen followers of the fashion industry in South Africa. The young designer’s flamboyant personal style and uncompromising take on what fashion should be in a modern world have garnered him some well-deserved attention.

Like many other creatives, however, Siyabonga cast his creative net wide while young before focussing in on what he felt he was best at. “From a very young age I was interested in arts and performance, but it took years of finding myself to understand my strongest discipline. I grew from performing and writing to styling and now I incorporate all these elements into my designs giving them life and movement. My work in fashion started in Grade 9 with a group of friends consisting of 9 individuals called ‘The Movement’ where I worked as a creative director, stylist and designer. I strayed away from the group to start my own independent brand at the time called ‘Vulgar’ which is the blueprint to what Siyababa Atelier is.”

Initially, he started out by deconstructing garments he had bought at thrift stores with nothing more than hand needles, safety pins and scissors as equipment. This avant-garde deconstruction has thematically stayed in his work through garments from Siyababa S/S 18 that incorporate foam exteriors reminiscent of some of Comme des Garcons’ runway staples.

Although inspiration within the industry comes from much closer to home than Rei Kawakubo and Comme des Garcons he explains the avant-garde edge to Siyababa Atelier with a nod to legendary designer Alexander McQueen.

“The spirit of Alexander McQueen will live through me, he taught [me] not [to] dilute my designs in exchange for sales. The likes of Thebe Magugu, Rich Mnisi, Nao Serati the list goes on made the dream of becoming a designer in South Africa sound like a reality for me.”

It is clear that Siyabonga finds power in fashion as he explains that, “It was hard for me to look into the mirror and see someone who’s beautiful growing up. But on that one day when we were allowed to go to school dressed in civies, I would feel indestructible and crush every insecurity. That’s when I discovered the power of fashion and fell in love instantly.”

Siyabonga has aimed to harness the power of fashion and present it to the world. Designs are gender fluid and inclusive. “Fashion is self-expression, limitations will only hinder growth,” as he puts it.

Siyababa A/W 20 set to release somewhere in November is due to be an incredibly interesting season for the young designer as he admits, “Siyababa, Sibabi A/W 2020 will introduce a new principle of beauty which will either offend or resonate with the audience…”

A central theme for the collection revolves around the Femme Fatale while addressing phobias faced by people on a daily basis. As Siyabonga plays around with distortion of the human body through exaggerated silhouettes Siyababa, Sibabi A/W 2020 might be seen as a glimpse into what fashion will be in the not too distant future.

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