For 20 years, Marianne Fassler has worked in the fashion industry. Her line, Leopard Frock, has been featured on runways from Frankfurt to Pretoria.
Based in Johannesburg, Fassler sees her fashion as a reflection of South Africa's culture: a fusion of Western and South African culture. As South African fashion continues to gain an audience abroad, Fassler thinks it's showing an alternative image of the continent.
"It is no longer just that poor place where you feed starving children."
Designer Marianne Fassler. (Brett Rubin/Courtesy)
We asked Fassler to answer three questions about her career and the fashion industry.
How did you get involved with fashion?
I’m really not interested in fashion. I did fine arts [in college] but eventually didn’t complete the practical side of it because I lost interest in that. But I did get my liberal arts degree with honors from the university. So for me, fashion is a lot more about identity, where you are, the power of communication, than what you wear. [It's about] the reasons why people wear clothes.
I suppose I got involved in fashion because I started making clothes. People asked me to make more clothes. I started realizing that that was actually something I enjoyed and that I really wanted to do. I got involved, learned more about it and started my label at an interesting time in South Africa, 1976.
What do you feel is your personal contribution to fashion in South Africa?
If you see the kind of social media [attention] I get I have a lot of followers from all over Africa. Young designers who are inspired by the kind of clothing that I project as being African. Because it’s very contemporary, it’s very international but it has a very strong African identity and that’s what I try [to create]. That’s my whole raison d'etre, that’s what I do. I’m inspired by my environment and I show that in the kind of identity that I project with my clothes. It's very distinctly not from anywhere else but Africa.
What does South African fashion mean to you?
For me I know that fashion is created on the street. I know that fashion is almost a reflection of current affairs, of big events. It’s like an action and reaction that happens constantly. What makes my clothes African I suppose is my use of color, my use of patterning, my use of silhouettes. I reengineer them. I don’t use them perhaps in a way the same way as a woman in Ghana or a woman in Nigeria.
Right now I’m doing a lot of bleaching on my fabrics almost to give that worn-out, sun effect that comes from that wonderful thing you find in Africa where people wear their clothes for many years that become slightly frayed, slightly worn. This is a sophisticated version. My crafting is what informs my work and what I’m known for. And it’s that je ne sais quoi, it’s something that you’re not quite sure what to put your finger on but it’s distinctly African without being a costume.
Editor's note: Portions of this interview were edited and condensed for clarity.