Thebe Magugu & Orlando Pirates- The Fashionable Union of Homegrown Brands
Thebe Magugu Celebrates South African Sports History
By Ranji Mangcu
It's impossible to imagine the world of sports without fashion. From the earliest days of Olympic competition, athletes have relied on specially designed clothing to help them perform at their best.
And as sports have become more popular, fashion designers have found inspiration in the athleticism and grace of athletes. In recent years, the collaboration between sports and fashion has become even more pronounced.
The most recent fashion designer to collaborate with a sports brand, is Thebe Magugu.
In July 2023, it was announced that the Johannesburg-based luxury designer and AFI Fastrack 2015 alumnus, has collaborated with Adidas to produce a uniform for Orlando In true Thebe Magugu fashion, the label strengthened the kit with a heartfelt homage to the culture and community built around this storied, Soweto-grown soccer club.
The label curated a people-oriented story that emphasised the homegrown history of the Orlando Pirates, and the people who drive the team’s continued cultural relevance.
Following the label’s Instagram release of photographs of the kit, the campaign was initially met with opposition from fans of the team who adopted Twitter as their forum-of-choice to offer the world-renowned designer their vocal critique and fashion… (checks notes) expertise.
A few weeks later, a curious structure erected by the label in Sandton’s Nelson Mandela Square was revealed as an exhibition, forming something of a rationale behind Magugu’s interpretation of the Orlando Pirates kit. Upon entry, visitors are met with a timeline of the Orlando Pirates’ humble beginnings as a Soweto-based soccer club in the 1930’s, illustrating its contemporary relevance as a public unifier and core part of township culture from the 20th into 21st centuries.
This was followed by campaign photographs shot by Magugu’s frequent collaborator, stylist and art director, Chloe Andrea Welgemoed, leading into an intimate exhibition room – the final phase of the exhibition.
Mannequins placed around the circular room were dressed in iterations of the new uniform, styled as they were in the campaign photographs, including soccer shirts and tracksuits in the Orlando Pirates’ traditional black and white. The new uniform features a contoured interpretation of the team’s skull-and-crossbow symbol printed across the torso, as well as an all-new pistachio-green ensemble.
Each was curated to represent a character in the story of the Orlando pirates – from a player in the pistachio-green ensemble, to fan archetypes of all generations in pieces of the new Orlando Pirates uniform. Adornments ranged from spectacular fan headgear featuring the Orlando Pirates’ logo and exaggerated Black-and-white traditional beaded pieces.
One particularly poignant image by Welgemoed, which was translated into the exhibition, was that of an older woman, dressed in the new team shirt, an elegant church hat and an ankle-length skirt. She stands alongside a young boy dressed in team gear and a backpack. Additionally, Thebe Magugu’s signature Sunday Best Boots made an appearance in white.
The label’s decision to position an exhibition as his artist’s statement was the perfect demonstration of his own prowess as an artist, fashion designer and cultural curator. Above and beyond anything else, a crucial element of the campaign is that it articulates the breadth of the Orlando Pirates’ legacy, the depth of its history, and the people at the centre of it all.
Sports and Fashion: A Storied History
Sports and fashion have long shared a relationship. It is both symbiotic and necessary. And there have been many moments where the two industries collaborated in a way that helped change history.
In 1995, a historic moment of national unity took place when President Nelson Mandela, wearing a Springboks jersey, joined former captain Francois Pienaar to receive the Rugby World Cup trophy.
If we leap again to 2020, when Liberian-American designer Telfar Clemens, levelled his designer brand to produce uniforms for the Liberia’s Olympic team, it becomes clear that in the meeting of sports and nationhood, fashion stands right in the centre.
Over the years, the neat line that has separated fashion from sports has become increasingly blurred, disrupting broad perceptions of exclusivity and classism that have long clouded the fashion industry.
With the growth of streetwear as a luxury fashion export, luxury fashion has transformed over the years into an increasingly mainstream conversation, intertwined with popular culture and society’s love for a little spectacle. But while fashion’s current obsession with sports – soccer in particular – is somewhat new (and perhaps another fleeting trend), the connection itself is not.
High-end fashion brands have partnered with sports teams and leagues to create exclusive collections. And athletes have become style icons, setting trends with their fashion choices.
This collaboration between sports and fashion is not just about style. It is also about nationhood. Sports teams and athletes represent their countries on the world stage, and their fashion choices can be seen as a way of expressing national pride.
This is why it is a big deal that LVMH is the premium partner of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
With the Paris 2024 partnership, LVMH is looking to take its relationship with sports to the next level. The company will not only provide clothing and accessories for athletes- from it's major brands like Louis Vuitton, Dior and Berluti- but it will also create unique experiences that celebrate the intersection of fashion and sport.
The medals will be made by Chaumet, a luxury jewellery brand owned by LVMH. Chaumet is known for its exquisite craftsmanship.
The conglomerate will also support athletes through its "Artisan of All Victories" program. This program will provide financial and mentoring support to athletes who have overcome adversity to achieve success. Léon Marchand, a French swimmer who won three gold medals at the 2022 World Championships, will be the first athlete to be supported by the program.
In recent years, there has been a blurring of the lines between the two worlds. Athletes are increasingly seen as fashion icons, and fashion brands are increasingly looking to sports to reach a wider audience. It shows how fashion and sports can come together to create something truly special.