Interview: Meet Thebe Magugu

Bre Graham
In a hillside magazine fashion shoot, a male model wears a red print jacket with feather trim and Stetson by Thebe Magugu.

Since winning the LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize in 2019, Thebe Magugu has been representing the creative vibrancy of South African fashion on a global stage. We spoke with South African designer about creativity and his career.

Growing up in Kimberley, South Africa, was a career in something creative always your dream?

Looking back now, I realise just how many things were in my head, you almost had to create your own reality in that sense. It was a small mining town and there weren’t a lot of opportunities to cultivate my creativity. I remember it quite fondly and I wouldn't change it for the world — I found creative outputs because there wasn't much else to do. When my Mum bought a satellite for our television and I watched MTV and FashionTV for the first time I was like: whatever this is, I want to be a part of it.

How do you want people to feel when they wear a Thebe Magugu design?

I think our industry is incredible in how it creates both characters and armour for people. I want my clothes to feel practical but also, I want them to be a way into a subject matter. Although some of my references can be very niche to South Africans or African people, I want everyone who wears my clothes to be curious about them and read through exactly what went into the thinking behind each garment, from the references to the motifs.

What do you think defines South African design and makes it so evocative?

It’s all about the juxtaposition. It doesn’t matter if it’s art, design, or photography — I feel like there’s always a tension. I think this is a result of our past and taking that history on, but it’s also a projection of what we want for the future.

Looking back on winning the LVMH prize in 2019, what does that mean to you now?

It was an incredible validation, especially because truthfully speaking, I felt quite out of place. Historically, design talent has been scouted predominantly from Europe — it's seldom from emerging markets, let alone the African continent. The way it gave me visibility made it possible for me to have a luxury brand in a place where the industry is in its infancy in many ways. You can be incredibly talented and create the most amazing dresses, but if no one knows about you… the award flies in the face of all that, so I’m very grateful.

What’s your favourite way to spend time in Cape Town?

I love the water, so I’m always drawn to the beach when I’m in Cape Town. I think the nightlife here is really important too. I look at what our music is doing all over the world, I can be in Paris, New York or London and our music is playing in the clubs.

You’ve been a guest at Mount Nelson many times, why is it so special to you?

Based on just the aesthetic alone, I'm a sucker for things that feel just a bit camp. The precision of all the details makes it feel like it was taken from another time and beautifully preserved. I think there are so many synergies between myself and Mount Nelson, actually. Dedication to an aesthetic and wanting quality no matter what is important to me. When I was last there, I was lucky to have a few days off work. I’m always thinking about something or doing something, so to get to be able to lie by the pool, relax in my room and sketch is very special.

This November you’ll be back at Mount Nelson to host the Confections X Collections launch event. What are you looking forward to most?

I’m so excited to host this year's launch event for Confections X Collections at Mount Nelson. The five designers are ones that I really admire, and I think supporting them is so important. I believe that once you’ve reached a certain place in your career you need to send the elevator back down to help other people in your industry. Confections X Collections is putting good design in the spotlight and each of the designers is so different from one another — they lift up the idea of what South African fashion is. It’s so much bigger than just the event itself and will have a domino effect on the wider industry.

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