Stiaan Louw is one of South Africa’s most talked about menswear designers. His collections shift season to season with various themes and, sometimes, homoerotic undertones. He creates both ready-to-wear and custom designs that range from incredibly wearable to the more fun, special-event-only appropriate pieces. His style is always intriguing and will definitely thrust you right out of your comfort zone. Here is my interview with the visionary.
AB: Why did you choose fashion as a career?
SL: I developed a strong interest in fashion in my early teens. At the time (late 80s), growing up in a suburb in South Africa, it was difficult to access fashion magazines. I collected as many as I could find at second-hand magazine stores or markets. I would visit with my parents, and taught myself about the different designers of the time. As a result, I initially studied photography, with the hope of going into fashion through this, but quickly realized I wanted to be able to make the clothes in the photographs.
AB: How is men’s fashion fundamentally different on the continent of Africa as compared to the rest of the world?
SL: Many menswear designers in Africa, specifically South Africa, still take direction from designers elsewhere in the world. At the same time, menswear brands are a fairly new phenomenon here. There is a gap in the market to create an aesthetic that is truly South African, yet resonates with a global audience. There are some incredible menswear brands emerging on the continent, but it is still in its early days.
AB: What is lacking in menswear in Africa, South Africa in particular?
SL: Originality. I feel there are few brands in South Africa that offer the consumer more than chain store clothes at designer prices and some designers still travel abroad to buy samples from well-known brands. I would like to see more brands telling unique stories of modern African men – and I don’t mean the clichés we’ve become used to.
AB: How did you start your line?
SL: I studied fashion over four years and graduated in 2000. I started a womenswear brand in 2003 following the path of designers who had emerged in the independent designer boom around the end of the 90s. At the time there were very few independent menswear designers. In 2008 I refocused the brand to menswear as I felt the local market was becoming more exposed.
AB: What do you hope to contribute to menswear and the image of African designers around the globe?
SL: I have always been interested in deconstructing the idea of traditional menswear. I have incorporated techniques reserved for womenswear and also explored what it means to be an African menswear designer. The new campaign is a continuation of this. It represents different facets of living in Africa, specifically Cape Town, and explores subcultures we tend to turn a blind eye to. Why not explore this through fashion? Fashion is all forms of self-expression to me and closely linked to socio-economics, so why not represent the myriad of subcultures on the street?