Thebe Magugu has made headlines since the start of his career and after becoming the first and only African to win the highly acclaimed LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) prize for young fashion designers. From his first collection, dubbed ‘Geology’ which was featured in Vogue Italia, the South African designer has been lauded not only in the fashion industry but by world leaders such as French President Emmanuel Macron.
Magugu has also captured the attention of celebrities and tastemakers. Issa Rae appeared on ‘Insecure’ wearing a safari jacket from his ‘African Studies’ collection, poet laureate Amanda Gorman was photographed wearing his shirt dress on the cover of PORTER, Rihanna wore his design to announce Fenty’s arrival in Africa, actress Michaela Coel donned his half-cape wool suit for an Emmy Awards afterparty, and actress Zendaya posed for InStyle Magazine in denim from his “Anthro 1” collection.
His rising star has taken him as far as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. The institution acquired his “Girl Seeks Girl” dress to “preserve it as an example of outstanding contemporary design.” In an interview for the Museum’s website, he explained that there is more to identity than the stereotypes surrounding expression, “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.”
Citing examples, he said, “For “Counterintelligence,” my spring/summer 2021 collection, I interviewed South African women who worked as spies during Apartheid. The current menswear collection for spring/summer 2022, “Doublethink,” explores how corruption debilitates the country and widens the inequality gap. These are modern African stories that can’t be explained by just slapping a print on a textile.”
While he tends to create designs for women, the designer has challenged himself to explore other sides of his aesthetic with a recent pivot into sportswear.
Adidas X Thebe Magugu
Magugu’s first collaboration with sportswear staple Adidas is a performance collection called ‘Finding Beauty’. The range that invites people to “explore the power of expression by honouring memories and creating bold champions” will be worn by prominent athletes at this year’s U.S Open. Players including Stefanos Tsitsipas, Dana Mathewson, Jessica Pegula, and Dominic Thiem, will compete in the bold colours and vibrant graphics that define the collection and the designer.
Speaking it on his Instagram page, Magugu said it came from “memories of my family and childhood to bring you a bold collection that sits on the intersection of lifestyle and performance. The campaign imagery intentionally features South African nostalgia and a proud cast of models, including my mother Iris Magugu & Aunt Esther Magugu.”
“The collection pulls from colours and image direction that are quite nostalgic, taking cues from references I grew up with like prints pulled from ‘tapeit’ (laminated flooring) or the textural wall of a Spaza Shop because I am incredibly proud of where I am from, it’s where I found my sense of beauty, and I hope this offering reminds people of that.”
Adidas details that it has a real focus on fit, form, and statement style and delivers in both performance and aesthetic expression.
Similar to the current overwhelming interest in African music, international brands are increasingly looking to Africa for fresh ideas and inspiration. Other collaborations include Nike working with illustrator Karabo Poppy to design an Air Force 1 collection, South African fashion label Mantsho collaborating with the Swedish retailer H&M, Crocs teaming up with designer Wanda Lephoto for a complete, and Louis Vuitton inviting Nicholas Hlobo to reimagine the Capucines Handbag.