Glocal comes home. The WGSN in Africa experience.


WGSN, the global trend authority for the fashion and creative industries, held its first major press event in Cape Town in partnership with some of Africa’s leading creatives, designers and up-and-coming trailblazers. This wasn’t my first contact with WSGN mind you, having organised many a presentation while still working in the public relations team at Woolworths for the Marketing Leadership Team, but this presentation was different on so many levels that only a JMPR event can be. WGSN’s Chief Content Officer, Carla Buzasi, brought to life through a series of experiential installations, the #WGSNinAfrica event journey through the four key trends that will be at the forefront of African design in 2017 and 2018. This included creative contributions from photographers and creatives Trevor Stuurman, Ed Suter, Gabrielle Kannemeyer and Travys Owen and Prince of Prints, Chu Suwannapha, and ELLE darlings Nicholas Coutts and Cleo Droomer. ‘The African retail value chain has been significantly disrupted over the past few years and retailers and suppliers need to have a clear point of differentiation and confidence in their design execution,’ explained Hannari Slabbert, WGSN regional director for Africa over cocktails afterwards. ‘Added to that is a complex consumer mix who are increasingly influenced by international media and expect a contemporary offering in-store. In 2017, we are significantly expanding our trend content across Africa, focusing on the important social and style movements coming from this continent to help customers make profitable creative decisions to stay ahead of these challenges.’ Starting this spring, WGSN will feature reports on African trends in womenswear, colour, materials, accessories and beauty. Specifically, from South, East, and Western Africa, it will focus on consumer insights, influencers, lifestyle & interiors, and menswear trends.

With 7 out of the world’s 10 fastest growing economies being based in Africa (Economist Intelligence Unit), a fact that can be contested by a recent Chatham House conference I attended on the shift away from Africa rather than towards the continent, it was a logical step to for WGSN to invest and establish a team on the ground to support their loyal and growing customer base. After opening its new Cape Town office exactly a year ago, it has been building the new local team and establishing its African content strategy for 2017. Now it wouldn’t be an event if it wasn’t contentious in some way with many a local trend forecaster/analyst gnashing their teeth and banshee wailing that what this country needs more than ever are locals on the ground rather than some foreign corporate muscling in on their turf. However, as explained that WGSN’s contributing editor, Annegret Affolderbach, has over 10 years of experience working in sustainable fashion supply chains across Africa, and is currently traveling across the continent with #unscramblingafrica, a project to document urban African environments from an African viewpoint, brought to life by four Kenyan creatives and photographers kind of put my questions to rest. Or perhaps it was the four of five gin martini’s that silenced me. I forget.

Though around for over a year now, the wider WGSN team has recently been to South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Tanzania, Zanzibar, Ghana and Kenya and will continue to travel across the continent in 2017 reporting on the key trends as part of their spring report brief.

Trend forecasting is much like economics to my mind. You’re gonna be 50% right most of the time and the rest of the time it’s just common sense. But having been taking through WSGN’s methodology which is more dark science than art despite the pretty pictures I was quite intrigued given this is a future area of post-grad studies for me. So while the trends presented were more global than local, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out the postulating possible, probable, and preferable futures that underlie the local equivalent and make yourself seem just that much smarter during a polite cocktail or dinner conversation.

#1: Nocturne

Winter always brings with it a darker mood and sense of melancholy. WGSN calls the 2017 season one of “bittersweet beauty” with a blurring of the boundaries between night and day, a trend that will extend into autumn/winter 2018. To illustrate how this will play out in fashion, WGSN showed Cape Town label Droomer alongside H&M’s 2017 Conscious Exclusive collection. Recently returned home to the Mother City, Cleo’s loungewear suit and oversized gold sports-inspired garments give an unexpectedly understated cold-weather sense of luxury. H&M’s black organic silk suit recently lusted over at Jackie’s #Salon58Concious event teamed fitted trousers with flamenco-inspired frills on the legs with a fluid draped jacket, showing that fashion can be sustainable as well as sensual. Disruption and discomfort are central to this trend, which embraces the darkness that comes before light. The colours, therefore, are a palette of moody night tones and moonlit bright with inky blues, deep purple and berry tones at the fore. The stark beauty of Xandre Kriel’s Samosa Table and Night Chair/Nagstoel for the Southern Guild translated this blurring of night and day into décor. Slippery Spoon’s Dragon’s Breath cocktail (Guinness, MCC, cocoa-nib ice and oak smoke) allowed guests to “taste” Nocturne. A pity the cute waitrons who offered me my first scampered away otherwise I would have tasted a few more. An artwork by photographer Krisjan Rossouw provided an equally opulent backdrop as did a video loop of bright New York lights and the bustling streets of Cape Town set to Max Richter’s gentle music to bring home the juxtaposition.

#2: Earthed

Together with an ever-increasing tendency to turn to screens for everything, our instincts are kicking in and prompting an urge to reconnect with nature. This will play out in a variety of micro- and macroscopic designs and a preference for colours that can ground us. Most notably this trend encompasses the intense colours of the skies just before dawn or dusk as well as gold ochre, saffron, blue flame and dark berry. Linking to the sustainable aspect of Nocturne, Slippery Spoon served an incredible truffled cauliflower soup made from the stems with cauliflower leaf crisps to demonstrate Earthed’s focus on not wasting anything. Fermented porcini kimchi and aged parmesan powder further brought home the earthy palate with Ethiopian injera showing the trend’s African roots. “As the name ‘Earthed’ suggests, there is a strong link to the farm-to-table movement that now extends to fitting rooms too as fashion becomes increasingly ‘home-grown’ and incorporates more and more local materials,” explained Carla Buzasi to the A-list group within earshot. This mood was made tangible by an installation by Kraak that allowed guests to feel the soil beneath their feet in addition to the natural bacteria and yeast used in Slippery Spoon’s laboratory installation.

#3: Youth Tonic

Come summer and renewed youthful vigour always sets in; come summer 2018 and we will be reminded that youth is a state of mind. As the world population ages and Gen Z, Gen X and Boomers live longer than previous generations; we will see eras blending in new ways. Different generations will break the rules of what applies to them and remix styles and lifestyles. It’s about the random, about striking out and finding what fits you. Youth has become a state of mind and everyone wants to be forever young. We will learn to embrace the random and the unfinished, reaching out to untapped areas of influence and exploring beyond social media feeds as discovery becomes the new exclusivity in spring/summer 2018. With this in mind, guests were invited to pick up a paintbrush and participate in creating art with David Brits to the sound of a remix of ’90s club hits. Electric colours and neon pops are matched and clashed but beneath the surface zing, there are complementary tones such as blues that work in harmony with their poppy counterparts. The fierce ’90s feel was expressed in a liquid form with Slippery Spoon’s shooters, an eye-popping mix of Hope on Hopkins Esperanza (a tequila-like liquor made from agave), fresh lime juice and popping candy. An installation of fake flowers and kitsch furnishings brought the trend into the home by embracing the unfinished and random to emphasise that art is the new fashion.

#4: Kinship

Although this fourth big trend may appear to veer off in a different direction, the move to what WGSN calls Kinship overlaps with all three of the previous trends. It is characterised by an increased sense of community where art and design cross borders around the globe. Just like the disappearing generation gap, cultures and histories will meld as people continue to move around the world, whether physically or virtually. Kinship is about cultures and collectives that forge an increased sense of community. The curves of the East will increasingly enhance the lines of the West. Storytelling will play an ever more important role in connecting people around products and projects through vivid tales of places, histories and cultures. The works of photographers Trevor Stuurman, Ed Suter, Travys Owen and Gabrielle Kannemeyer brought this concept home by placing strongly traditional elements such as Basotho blankets and ochre-covered Himba in non-cultural settings. Three fashion designers who are known for spanning cultures showed how they interpret this trend, Chu Suwannapha of Chulaap who has been celebrating the prints and colours of Africa since the label’s inception, mille collines (recent darlings of AFI’s disastrous fashion week 2.0) who straddles Africa with contemporary, cosmopolitan fashions made in Africa for African women, and Nicholas Coutts, who combines fabrics such as South African mohair and acid denim to take menswear in a welcome new direction. “The end result is an upbeat palette that goes easy on the darks. Earthy reds ranging from Red Mulberry and Dark Orchid to more traditional summery hues like Baked Coral and Rose Madder are a defining feature. Dark Ginger and Golden Spice lend intensity to the palette, while Blue Sage, Washed Indigo and Horizon Blue offer a calming balance,” says Carla Buzasi. Women from Du Noon Weavers took this trend into décor by using traditional weaving methods and materials to create homeware that meets the pared down aesthetic of Habitat as well as more sculptural pieces in collaboration with Binky Newman from Design Afrika.

As Carla Buzasi said, “Craft is a key influence in décor but it isn’t about a folksy take on interiors. Instead, we will see a blending of textiles and design that shows an appreciation of global culture.”

Photographs provided: © 12 April 2017, Niquita Bento.