Making her triumphant return to Joburg Fashion Week after a 12-year hiatus, Bongiwe Walaza had initially committed to producing a collection that was not as dependent on prints. But as time went by and her collection developed, she found that the discipline of print was so intrinsically woven into her life, culture, and practice, that building a fashion week collection without them proved difficult.
This collection was reminiscent of her early showcases in the mid- to late 2000’s and early 2010’s. Walaza has stayed true to the wholesome, longstanding fixture that prints have represented, both in her life and in her career as a designer.
This time around, Walaza took influence from the cuts and ornate qualities of Indian traditional dress. Translating them into Shweshwe, she infuses them with elements of IsiXhosa cultural dress, including structured lines at the hem, and various doek formations.
Walaza’s chic, contemporary architecture of Shweshwe makes the most out of the fabric’s versatility and ability to communicate well with anything, reimagining traditional dress as timeless, ageless Ready-to-Wear; casual, but with a sense of occasion. Although they belong together, pieces can be worn separately.
The fusion of Shweshwe into high fashion is rich and multi-layered, considering the opposing functions of these two things. Walaza’s treatment of the fabric is consistently true to its original function as a work material. Layered skirts graze the ankles, creating ease-of-movement.
Squared off, functional bodices burst outwards into long, layered skirts in a balance of fun and regality, as if made for a young, headstrong Nguni princess. She infuses traditional dress with the sensibilities of an artist who remains tapped into the mid-2000’s philosophy of African fashion – functional, yet stylish and aspirational. This was visible in a brown strapless top, with a slit positioned right at the centre, over a layered skirt.
Walaza’s colour scheme remained true to the usual colours that we see shweshwe in, except for a short-sleeved, olive-green dress with a squared-off neckline. Its skirt was cut into three panels over a dark green underskirt with yellow rings at the hem, reminiscent of Xhosa traditional Umbhaco.
While Walaza’s intention was to deviate from prints, I, for one, am elated that for her runway resurgence, she did not manage to do so. Next time, though.