Local is Luxury
Now, more than ever, local design is about substance and storytelling.
As South Africa grows as a creative force, all the while becoming more integrated into the global design world, we start to see how wider trend influence local design. Moving away from a parochial, ethnic-centric approach, designers in the luxury sphere are producing products that speak to a universal aesthetic, while retaining a strong sense of identity and cultural pride. Trend analyst Li Edelkoort confirms this inward-looking trend and a desire to focus on where we are, and predicts that 2018 will prompt a need to create sanctuaries of our homes, and catalyse a need for simplicity and humanity that will undoubtedly affect our relationship to design. This also reinforces the ongoing trend of mindfulness in design, which has steadily been gaining momentum, where the origin of a product – its story and its impact – is as important as what it looks like. The idea of luxury objects that are not used is also outdated. Luxury design in the South African context often comes in the form of everyday items made beautifully.
GLOBAL BUT LOCAL
Designers Katy Taplin and Adriaan Hugo – the creative couple behind the brand Dokter and Misses – have found global success with their minimal contemporary designs, which feature clean lines that have universal appeal and an upbeat industrial aesthetic that signals a South African optimism and boldness. In a more obvious nod to local design techniques, the studio collaborated with Swaziland craft collective Gone Rural in an intricate screen showcasing traditional weaving skills in a high-end contemporary execution. Cashmere designer Trebene is also a globally inspired brand. Based in South Africa but with products made ethically from Kashmiri cashmere, using ancient technique and printed with designs inspired by the merging of the contemporary and traditional worlds, it’s truly the epitome of a global modern luxury brand. Merging Italian leather workmanship and Swazi grass weaving, Khokho has elevated these humble skills into a luxury handbag range that boasts a global aesthetic and high-end finishes.
This theme of collaboration to produce desirable objects ties into trend forecasting company WGSN’s recent prediction around African design in 2018. “Kinship” comes down to an increased sense of community in the design world, where cultures come together, borders are crossed and craft techniques blend in the making of something new. Art and design collective Southern Guild and the GUILD Group as a whole have mastered this approach. They provide support and mentorship to emerging talent, and facilitate new partnerships among artists and makers, often pushing them to explore new territory (as in its most recent Extra Ordinary show) and in so doing generate a spirit of innovation, with new work that crosses genre lines. These collectors’ items often blend functionality with the sense of luxury that comes with being one of only a few pieces made.
This preservation and elevation of craft by incorporating it into design items allows us to view it in another light, as something valuable. Similarly, a hand-made item is considered precious precisely because it is rare and by its very nature cannot exist in great numbers and so remains desirable – the antithesis to mass production. Textile company Mungo, which is based in Plettenberg Bay, has created its whole business around the craft of weaving – where time-honoured techniques are used to create high-quality pieces with soul and substance. Tanzanian jewellery design company Sidai Designs takes traditional beading methods and interprets them for a contemporary audience, while honouring the craft. Perfumer Agata Karolina has centred her business, House of Gozdawa, on a small-batch artisanal product. Her perfumes are all made with natural essential oils and bottled by hand in Cape Town. Her collaboration last year with Norwegian design studio Atelier Kaja Dahl on a solid perfume was inspired by the City of Cape Town; the fragrance highlighted the location-specific scents of sea air, fynbos and kelp, cementing a memory forever associated with the city.
Storytelling in design and establishing a sense of place are playing bigger roles than ever as consumers seek authenticity from brands. With South Africa’s rich and complex cultural heritage and the beautiful visual opportunities this presents, the possibilities for execution in the luxury realm are exciting. Brands like Chandler House, headed up by Michael Chandler, a champion of Cape Town’s scenic beauty and history, weaves details specific to the city into his homeware and decorative pieces, such as a Cape Dutch architectural motif, beading techniques and indigenous fauna and flora. Also updating and reinventing a traditional skill, Gold Bottom brings the historical and symbolic value of African motifs and patterns to a new audience in a fresh and vibrant interpretation on its painted concrete planters.
TEXT Julia Freemantle PHOTOGRAPHS Jay Perez Photography, Frances Marais, Annalize Nel