Amidst free-flowing bubbly and canapés fit for princesses, South Africa’s own fashion royalty joined their peers from 53 other Commonwealth countries to present the country’s design credentials to T.R.H.’s The Duchess of Cambridge, The Countess of Wessex and Princess Beatrice of York, at a glittering reception in Buckingham Palace on Monday 19 February 2018.
Attended by hand-picked elite from the international fashion circuit in town for the Autumn/Winter 2018 London Fashion Week, the official opening of the inaugural Commonwealth Fashion Exchange design exhibition featured a bespoke creation by top designer Clive Rundle collaborating with Lesotho-based textile design duo, Phutheho Ranooe, and Maleeto Monyau, of House of Thethana.
The public reception followed an intimate private audience in the palace’s White Drawing Room at which South African Fashion Week director, Lucilla Booyzen, who represents the country on the Commonwealth Fashion Council, was officially presented to the attending royals.
The Commonwealth Fashion Exchange, conceived by sustainable fashion advocate Livia Firth, founder of Eco-Age with support from both The Commonwealth and British Fashion Councils, is an ambitious long-term undertaking to draw established and emerging fashion talent from across the Commonwealth’s 53 countries together to create new networks, trade links and showcase the power and potential of artisan fashion skills.
With uncanny prescience, Booyzen, spearheaded and ran successfully, a highly similar, local version of this collaborative concept, the Fashion Fusion Crafter/Designer Project with the Department of Arts and Culture in all nine provinces from 2007 to 2011.
“I was fortunate to get a personal copy of our publication documenting this project to each of their Highnesses prior to the audience and was delighted at the incredible interest expressed by the Countess of Wessex in particular,” she says.
Rundle worked in collaboration with House of Thethana which specialises in futuristic printmaking.
Drawing inspiration for Lesotho’s rich horsemanship culture, crafter Monyau worked under Rundle’s direction to develop a print suited to a high fashion garment and for printing on luxurious fabrics such as silk and organza.
“The equestrian theme became a fundamental part of the pattern construction referencing anything to do with riding a horse so that the whole garment is about horses and saddles. However, it was important to us that we allowed the Lesotho image to transcend its’ geography to become a universally appealing idea. The pattern pieces are a complex arrangement of many seasons, many collections, that together now make the idea of saddles,” explains Rundle.
“As a member of the Commonwealth Fashion Council, I was approached to make recommendations on South African designers that would have both the design capacity and sensitivity to work on the complexity of collaborating with cross border crafters. Clive Rundle was one of the first designers to embrace our Fashion Fushion Crafter/Designer Project in 2007. He is also the one designer that continued to collaborate with the crafter community once the project was terminated due to a lack of funding. He is supremely qualified to make a success of an undertaking of this nature and to fly the SA flag high in such august company,” Booyzen says.
Other Commonwealth participants include Karen Walker representing New Zealand, Bibi Russell representing Bangladesh and Burberry and Stella McCartney representing the UK. Following the official opening during London Fashion Week, the collection moved to a public exhibition at Australia House on February 21 and will travel to other public locations in London too in the run up to the Commonwealth Heads of Government Summit in April 2018.