Thebe Magugu Spring 2023 Ready-to-Wear Collection


Thebe Magugu put on his first-ever women’s runway show in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum last Friday. In the cavernously grand Raphael Room, Magugu’s audience watched avidly as models wearing his bright, neat trouser suits, happy-looking graphic prints, and dippily-swishing knife-pleated skirts emerged from a giant pink checkered laundry bag installation at the end of the gallery. His appearance at the V&A was part of the museum’s long-running free public-access Fashion in Motion series.

And with that, the young guest from Johannesburg found himself heralding part two of London fashion week. It’s now running concurrently with the influx of art events and high net-worth audiences inundating the city around the Frieze
fair in Regents Park (part-planned, like Alexander McQueen, and part-rescheduled because of the Queen’s death, like Roksanda and Raf Simons). But the timing was happenstance for Magugu: a live event for excited visitors to
take in alongside the museum’s must-see “Africa Fashion” exhibition, whose narrative showcases the explosion and variety of young fashion talent from countries all over the continent.

The appeal of Magugu’s brand is tuned into the life-affirming, upbeat international frequency of fashion—lots of pinks and vibrant reds for spring, classily sexy cutaway ribbed knit dresses, caped tracksuits. But there are deeper dimensions
to Magugu’s work than immediately hits the eye, as everyone realizes who’s followed his Paris presentations, and watched his absorbing videos about his Johannesburg family, friends, and culture. So, too, this time. The clue was in the
collection’s name: ‘Discard Theory.’

Magugu made it explicit in a documentary video, which follows him making a dawn visit to Dunusa market in downtown Johannesburg, one of the mountainous textile markets that are dumping grounds for American and
European clothing waste all over Africa. “In fashion school, we learned about Thorstein Veblen’s essay on conspicuous consumption,” Magugu reflected. “And how being extravagantly wasteful was part of showing off wealth and
status. Here you see it all—all the brands sprawled out on the floor. It got me thinking that places like Dunusa market almost act as a sort of nexus between local and global. It’s like the melting pot, where all these sorts of things come and influence us, and maybe we influence them in some sort of
way. A very interesting sort of a melting pot.”

Dunusa, he explains, “translates as ‘Bend Over,’ because that’s what everyone does to rummage.” We watch him retrieving handfuls of men’s ties (in some of the red-spectrum shades that ended up in the collection), salvaging cargos and jeans, and sports tops and track pants in the middle of the graying heaps and the frantic chaos of hagglers and traders. Then, back in his studio, he begins reworking the garments. “What I wanted was to invert Veblen’s theory, to turn it into a trickle-up theory. Taking from things that had been in bins in the market, and pushing it back up into a luxury space.”

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