Thebe Magugu, a young designer hailing from a small town in Kimberley and now based in Johannesburg, South Africa, always had a keen eye on photography and fashion. He was also awarded the prestigious 2019 LVMH prize, from the competition’s seven years of history, becoming the first African designer to win in this competition.
For Thebe, his passion for fashion didn’t grow recently but from his childhood days where he would be so mesmerized with all the runway shows broadcasted on television from Paris and New York. This fascination for fashion led him to move to Johannesburg to study fashion photography, fashion design, and fashion media from Leaders in the Science of Fashion school (LISOF). During his year he won the best graduate collection and he got to work for many designers and institutions which helped him gain so much exposure in his field.
After 2 years of him interning and with all the experiences he gained while working with designers and institutions, in 2016, THEBE MAGUGU, a South African Fashion brand was born where they initially offered Women’s ready-to-wear collections. It has now been a renowned luxury fashion brand and not only he creates ready-to-wear collections but also explores different concepts through multidisciplinary capsule projects. He wanted to bring a modern, elevating twist on the cliché vision of African fashion through culture, modern with original patterns and quality rich.
Thebe mentions that “together with our pillar values of quality, novelty, and culture, we constantly seek new ways of presenting women with clothing that both comply with and enhances the everyday. Sleek, forward-looking design intersects with motifs from our continent’s storied past, providing smart, multifaceted clothes as valuable as their woman”.
His label bears his name, culture, and his home with a modern twist. Most of Magugu’s clothes are inspired by the changing landscape of post-apartheid in South Africa. He says that it’s a form of social commentary. “Clothing is a way that I can engage with the issues that are close to my heart, close to what’s happening, and close to my country,” Magugu says. His clothes are not only inspired by the post-apartheid in Africa, but he also pays reflects the sartorial traditions of his ancestors, too: “All of these traditional visual cues were erased or stifled during apartheid,” he says. “I think it’s so important to celebrate that heritage in a way that can live in the modern world and preserve the craft so that it’s not lost.”
His latest collection is an accolade to his hometown. In his presentation at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris the guests were welcome with large portraits of his town and people which were captured by South African photographer Kristin-Lee Moolman and Sierra Leone–born stylist Ibrahim Kamara. A photo with a group of schoolgirls wearing smart blue-and-white uniforms to depict Magugu’s crisp shirting looks. His childhood friend Bernelee Ndubula was photographed dress in Magugu’s take on Sunday best—a striking retro floral trench coat inspired by his grandmother’s kitchen tablecloth. “I remember hearing the church bells and watching the women pass by in their pleated skirts,” says Magugu. “These were my earliest references.”
This young, talented, soulful 26 year old caught the world’s attention on fashion where he was awarded the prestigious award LVMH prize 2019 and he became the first African fashion designer to win this. Thebe Magugu is known for his deconstructed suits in vibrant hues and elegant dresses with attention-grabbing prints and this made him win the LVMH 2019. He also won the British Fashion Council’s International Fashion Showcase for curation and fashion content. He also made his debut in Paris Fashion week during the fall 2020 season.
Magugu recently made his debut on his new E-commerce site where he hopes to bring light on students on his designs and how they are informed by his heritage. Education has been one of the important things which revolve around his brand. He has his own collection names after subjects he studied in college: Geology (spring 2017), Home Economics (fall 2018), Art History (spring 2019), and African Studies (fall 2019). Further, he wants to develop his website after a course syllabus. He has made his landing page which includes his past collections and resembles the spines of books, a line of graphic tee named Extracurricular, and named the editorial part which includes stories about traditions, culture, and racial dynamics in South Africa.
Since Thebe Magugu’s recognition on the global platform, still he has no plans to leave Africa. “I think people assumed I would just move my production to Europe because it would be easier—but how could I lament the brain drain in my country if I up and leave?” says Magugu, who relies on factories and artisans based in Johannesburg and Cape Town to make his collections. “I’m committed to being here, regardless of the challenges. I’m just happiest when I’m home.”