Colin O`Mara Davis talks to Nicola Cooper about the forthcoming inaugural LISOF magazine
Nicola Cooper, you're spearheading the first ever LISOF magazine, how did this come about?
It came about with a conversation with LISOF’s Head of The Contexutual Cluster Erica de Greef and a brief that was given to the LISOF 3rd Year Fashion Media students to propose a ‘Niche Fashion Magazine.’ The brief was based on student publications from other Fashion Institutions around the world, the obvious thing to do was create a niche magazine for ourselves. To not only platform South African designers, future designers, but also those who work behind the scene’s in our commercial cluster at LISOF. The unsung heroes.
What is the LISOF magazine all about?
The current theme of the magazine is loosely based on the concept of 'Identity in Africa'. So all relevant articles and images relate loosely to this term. We have found it to be a question posed to us through fashion, the worlds current view on Africa, what we are making as designers, wearing, listening to and of course through questioning our own individuality – how we all fit into this time, place and how relevant we are to the rest of the world.
Is it intended to be a platform for the students' work?
It is intended to platform students work but from a completely new perspective. LISOF is well known for their incredible graduates such as Tiaan Nagel, Suzann Heyns, Thula Sindi amongst many, many others.
What most people are not aware of is our commercial cluster at LISOF, where students are given the opportunity to create something from a commercial perspective in fashion media. Although we will obviously be showcasing our designers, it is really special that this body of work is a student product. As our design students get their final show, our commercial students get the Fashion Book.
How do you think the magazine might impact on the SA fashion industry at large?
The concept has been incredibly well received from almost every one we have approached or communicated with. I really am so astounded by how important this is and how the industry has supported this kind of growth.
Through the development of the Book have had the opportunity to work with photographers such as Chris Saunders – who shot our front cover - to Natalia Farrara, Steve Marais and Olivia Morgado. Clothing from Suzanne Heyns, KLuK, Avant Apparel, Samantha Constable, Lisa Jaffe, Joel Janse Van Vuuren, Toy Boy, the list, honestly, goes on and on. Top international and local models and make up artists have given their time and their support to this project.
Before agreeing to Lecture at LISOF I sent out a Tweet requesting some information regarding what was missing from Fashion Institutions in this country and I recall Dion Chang tweeting back saying “A reality check”, and that’s exactly what this is. A very real learning experience. A product and labor of love, late nights, weekends, tears and laughter.
Students who have studied Fashion Media and have this as their final outcome know what goes into creating a product. From concept to final outcome and all the little things you learn along the way. The book itself gives the students insight into the industry. There is no glamorised version of the work put in, which I feel will present the industry looking to employ with the opportunity to shortlist a more well-rounded and educated individual with their feet solidly on the ground. They have learnt etiquette, how to behave on set, how to approach advertisers and how how to promote themselves. Most of all humility and teamwork. The tough stuff.
For the first main editorial, you opted for a menswear shoot. This seems like a non-obvious choice, what does this say about men's personal style?
The book is non conventional in approach, we wanted something new and fresh. Earlier in the year I was asked my thoughts regarding The Best Dressed men in South Africa and it really made me think about men who have their own unique style. Those who redefine what fashion is, to suit their personalities. I think the general public underestimate these men. A man with great personal style is fundamentally interesting and what I find especially in South Africa is they tend to push boundaries with their style.
It is an in your face confrontation and that is equitably African. We have fought, as a country for our individual rights and it does come across is fashion. It is so Punk, Gangsta whatever you want to call it, loaded with African attitude and I love it.
What were you looking for in the models?
We approached individuals who had a strong sense of personal style, unlike many of the shoots, we really sourced these individuals with the intention of only tweaking, never styling. We requested that the models to come as they would, turn the volume up a little on their style and we would shoot them as they were.
Some models are famous. Some not. What got to us is how fashion was an extension of who they were. This is African Identity at it’s very best.
Tell us about the shoot location – why Jo'burgs' Mai Mai market?
I grew up in the Transkei in a rural area and have also travelled Africa with my previous position at MTV Networks. I found the Mai Mai when I was studying my degree and fell in love with the space. It is very much what I identify as African.
It is a traditional market, where muti and traditional clothing is bought amongst telephone stands and every day needs. What it isn’t, is tame. There is an oomph of an energy in the drying animals and Sangoma’s with their muti, children and Mama’s going about their day. It’s the space most people try and deny. For me it is one of the richest representations of African culture. It is untouched. It is how people live.
How do you start conceptualising this kind of shoot? How are the students involved?
The students are involved with every thing at every level. We decided to generate a certain amount of shoots for the magazine and through brainstorming, conceptualising and of course locking down concept we came to our outcome. Those concepts when then acted upon, we discussed clothing, designers, accessories and narratives.
Each Theme was given a styling team and with my assistance we identified the correct locations, models, make up artists, designers, photographers and then of course, the work begins.
What's your take on the fashion industry? Have you noticed an evolution in design?
As a Senior Lecturer, I earnestly love my job and I say it often. Through all my subjects such as Fashion Theory, Fashion History, Trend, Marketing and of course Fashion Media I am able to bring my unique skill set to work every day and never get bored. I can only hope that I open individual minds, as my own lecturers did mine. I enjoy rattling the obvious and posing questions, provoking thought and expecting phenomenal results. I believe that these students are the future of the fashion industry.
With regard to design, as someone who has a Post- Graduate Degree in Fine Art, I find that it assists me in understanding objectively what I feel is a movement in fashion. With Designers such the late Alexander McQueen, Gareth Pugh, Black Coffee, Suzanne Heyns, there is more than meets the eye. With the fashion film makers such as Nick Knight. The trends of androgyny, self expression and emotion. Fashion has almost reverted back to being a statement rather than just pretty things to wear. We always have the pretty things to wear but I have really enjoyed this ballsy approach that Fashion and Designers have taken over the last decade. It is finally starting to sink in.
The book chooses to pull on these area’s the theoretical, academic and analytical approach to fashion. We are academics after all.
When can we expect to see the first issue?
The first issue will be launched at the LISOF Fashion show on December 4th 2011, will be sold in selected stores and sent across the globe to other Fashion institutions, as a form of intellectual exchange. From an experiential perspective this magazine is invaluable.
What expectations do you have for the publication after the first issue?
As an annual I do hope that this book is accepted and supported by the Fashion fraternity. Should the book be received as well as we have hoped, I expect that it grows. That we will have the ability and support to go more in depth to the academic and theoretical aspects of Fashion, with the combination of relevant Fashion shoots, that it becomes something of a resource to fellow students around the world and fellow fashion industry peers.