Shaping an Identity: What Tartan does for Scotland, MAXHOSA AFRICA does for South Africa.
All Image Credit MaXhosa Africa. Images Sourced from MaXhosa Africa Facebook
A luxury brand from the southernmost tip of Africa has been capturing the imagination of the world. But hang on, that’s a gross understatement! MaXhosa Africa has, in fact, taken the greater world by storm with its inspired combinations and permutations of pattern, texture and colour, using the universal, age-old language of knitting to convey its message. And believe me, this is knitwear that sings and dances and makes you jump for joy.
To liken MaXhosa Africa, brainchild of designer Laduma Ngxokolo, to iconic labels like Missoni or Burberry or any of the conventional tartans goes some way in describing this design phenomenon, but it falls miles short of celebrating the unfathomable genius of this man and his ingenious creations.
When looking at a piece of MaXhosa Africa – like all great design, it’s as if, in an archetypal sense there is a sense of endearing familiarity … you imagine you’ve seen it before, in another life perhaps, in a different universe? And yet … it’s indescribably novel and fresh and above all, infinitely pleasing to the eye. It’s got that illusive quality of perfection in shape and line, colour and texture that’s hard to articulate but makes all the aesthetic sensory cells in our cerebral cortex stand upright and take notice.
Laduma Nxgokolo’s use of colour is nothing short of genius. Take for example, the recurring theme of sky blue to juxtapose the earthy, muddy shades that the designer is so enamoured with. Chevrons and stripes rub shoulders with tassles and beadwork in meticulously designed, colour-harmonious garments, each teasing and pleasing the eye, each an utterly covetable must-have. Produced from South African mohair and wool, each product has the hallmark of authenticity and the reassuring stamp of homegrown magic to boot.
Every design tells a story and Laduma Ngxokolo is a raconteur par excellence, a bard-like narrator of folk tales and tribal secrets alike. Every piece of Maxhosa Africa is part and parcel of the intricate story of a Xhosa, but also of a greater African, heritage. Every sinuous geometric pattern and every beadwork patch that make up this landscape of sheer design brilliance come from a desire to express the evolution and the intricacies, the intuitive sagacity, the heritage and the inimitable culture of Mother Africa.
I’d like to rather arrogantly assume that those of us with Africa in our blood are blessed with a perceptual set and a natural appreciation for the way combinations of colours and patterns come together in MaXhosa Africa’s work, but alas, this is not the case. We’re sadly not that special! The greater world is in love with this brand too, it has a universal appeal like few others and an international following with celebrities like Beyonce and Alicia Keys gagging to hoard and enjoy these stylish collectibles.
Named one of the most Influential Africans of 2017 by New African Magazine, the brand has repeatedly been featured in style bibles like Vogue Italia (in fact, winning the 2015 Vogue Italia Scouting for Africa Prize) and displayed in the likes of Smithsonian Museum and MOMA in New York. Since its inception in 2010 MaXhosa Africa has collected more accolades and awards than any other fashion brand in South Africa. Just recently Laduma has been collaborating with Academy award-winning costume designer Ruth E Carter in creating key pieces for the film ’Coming 2 America’ and was part of the cohort collaborating with IKEA on its first African-designed collection.
Impressive, for a boy who grew up in a financially constrained single mother household. He recalls how, as a teenager, he accompanied his mother to a charity shop to purchase the family’s first TV, and how disappointed all the siblings were when she chose to buy a small knitting machine instead. The rest, as they say, is (design) history.
Of his late mother he says, ‘She loved collecting anthropology books. She taught us about traditional crafts and beadwork, about where we come from … as bedtime stories sometimes. What I noticed from these stories was the sense of elegance that was there. Even though our identity was lost somewhere due to colonialism, we had a sense of elegance and luxury as black people. I appreciated that a lot.’
The meteoric rise of this brand has seen it expanding into lifestyle items like mobile phones, home décor and luxury hosiery. Everybody wants a slice of MaXhosa Africa – it’s entirely up to you how you want it served up. Truth of the matter is, this man’s legacy will undoubtedly transcend his existence. I predict that, within the foreseeable future MaXhosa Africa will be as generic and intrinsic to the South African fashion landscape (and much further afield) as Royal Stewart tartan is to Punk and Queen Elizabeth.