ArtFashionFilm / TV
Insecure Designer Thebe Magugu Is Out To Redefine South Africa To The World Of Fashion
By Tai Saint-Louis
March 5, 2022
The first time HBO viewers were introduced to Thebe Magugu’s work via Issa Rae’s onscreen looks on “Insecure.” The South African designer was already well on his way to becoming a household name in fashion circles.
The first time Rae’s loosely autobiographical character sported one of Magugu’s looks – on season four during the episode that rekindled her romance with “Lawrence” – viewers clamored to identify the designer behind the shoulderless red blazer in question.
The second time, during the second episode of “Insecure’s” final season, Magugu took matters into his own hands.
The inclusion of Magugu’s work on the show not only reaffirmed Rae’s dedication to supporting and promoting Black designers on-screen and in real life; it fell right in line with the rising fashion icon’s own determination to “decolonize fashion” by keeping his work rooted in his cultural origin.
“So many African countries have past and present realities that have been stifled by their respective colonizers,” he told AnOther Magazine. “Let’s retell and rewrite our own story.”
The retelling of that story comes in many forms for Magugu, some more overt than others. His spring/summer 2021 collection “Counterintelligence,” for example, was inspired by the experiences of South African women who worked as spies during apartheid.
When he tackled menswear for his spring/summer 2022 collection, “Double Think,” he used his work to explore the impact of corruption in his country. He explained in a recent interview with The Met that he believes this to be a more effective way of capturing the essence of South Africa than by simply incorporating cultural aspects in his designs.
“In my own small way, I hope to demystify, or rather disabuse, people’s stereotypical thinking when it comes to African or South African fashion,” he said. “I’m not portraying this fantasy of being a South African. There are so many distinctions between South Africa and North Africa—including things that might not necessarily even read as ‘African.’ These are modern African stories that can’t be explained by just slapping a print on textile.”
Growing up in the suburb of Ipopeng, Magugu discovered his love of fashion through glimpses of the industry through television or the occasional fashion magazine his mother brought home when extra cash made it possible. Though he originally intended on traveling to London to study, studying at the STADIO School of Fashion in Johannesburg (then known as the London International School Of Fashion) put him squarely on track to do the work he does now.
“In the beginning, it was incredibly Western, and focused heavily on the capital cities and the designers who stemmed from them,” he recounts. “As the degree progressed, a conversation developed around decolonizing fashion. We started looking towards South African designers like Clive Rundle and Marianne Fassler, who do incredible work using their heritage to tell stories.”
Magugu is very intentionally continuing that legacy while also using his eponymous fashion house to shine a light on other talents.
When he was awarded the 2019 LVMH Prize for emerging talents, Magugu shared his personal mission, one which he told The Met he still holds: “Creating clothes with cultural significance, exploring social issues, sharing stories from my country, empowering those I can, and making beautiful yet functional clothes that women want to wear.”
As a brand, Magugu also prides itself on sustainability, ethical and environmental-friendly practices, and innovation: they are currently developing a yarn with anti-viral properties.
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