Home Opinion and Features The meteoric rise of Kimberley-born designer Thebe Magugu

The meteoric rise of Kimberley-born designer Thebe Magugu


After Richemont’s AZ Factory picks him as their first guest designer, the fashion ascension of Thebe Magugu is the stuff of fairytales.

Multi-award winning designer, Thebe Magugu. Picture: Aart Verrips.

“I FIND it funny that many designers grow locally and then find international markets. I think, for me, things quickly became the opposite in a lot of ways, so I want to circle back to South Africa and do interesting events that tie the brand back into the country,” said Thebe Magugu.

This was during an interview with Independent Media in May last year. The quote is from a question I had asked about his plans of localising the Thebe Magugu brand.

But it seems the universe had other plans and while the Kimberley-born designer wants to make sure his brand is celebrated at home, the global fashion industry needs him more.

When Magugu was one of the designers chosen to pay tribute to Alber Elbaz at Paris Fashion Week’s “Love Brings Love” show in October 2021, it was a precursor of things to come. As he sat on the front row, alongside designers like Schiaparelli’s Daniel Roseberry, he looked like he belonged. In fact, he did.

His garment – a blouse and pleated skirt set. The blouse featured a fake pocket that looked like it was stained in blue ink. The pleated skirt featured a jagged and asymmetrical hem, and a loose silk ribbon used as a belt. The ostrich feather hat was designed by South African Milliner, Crystal Birch. The outfit paid tribute to Elbaz’s tenure at Guy Laroche. And yet it was still quintessentially a Thebe Magugu creation.

It is not a surprise that the Richemont Group has chosen him to be the first guest designer of the late Elbaz’s fashion label, AZ Factory.

Magugu was fond of Elbaz. He was one of the designers he looked up to and, when Elbaz passed away, Magugu was shattered. Elbaz was the creative director of Lanvin from 1996 to 2015, and worked with Saint Laurent as its ready-to-wear creative director. When he returned to fashion in 2021, his goal was to give young people a chance to shine.

“Our job as designers is not just to create fashion shows, but to work around needs and then to bring the dream, and somehow combine function and fashion. I’m not trying to transform anyone. I’m just trying to make everyone, as much as I can, a better version of themselves,” Elbaz told Vogue.

Magugu’s garment from the “Love Brings Love” show, is currently displayed for viewing at Palais Galliera.

Magugu is in the moment of being seen by other designers and is respected for his craft.

In its announcement of the news that Magugu will be the first “amigo”, AZ Factory explained that these “amigos” will collaborate with the brand “to design beautiful, playful, practical and solutions-driven fashion that works for everyone, keeping Elbaz’s original vision for the brand to be a collective laboratory and factory”.

It’s a huge sign of being in the inner circle of the fashion industry, to be entrusted by one of the biggest fashion conglomerates in the world. The Johann Rupert-owned company said in a statement: “At AZ Factory, we believe in smart fashion that cares. We believe in founder Alber Elbaz’s original vision: to reset the way fashion operates, and to do things differently. We are a collective laboratory and factory, a place that nurtures creativity, emotion and playful storytelling, around core values of love, trust and respect.”

The designs will be sold from June, on AZ Factory’s e-commerce site, as well as select wholesale partners, including Net-a-Porter and Farfetch.

Thebe Magugu receiving his award. Picture: Twitter

Magugu is undeniably one of the best designers to come out of South Africa. He was the first African designer to win the prestigious LVMH Prize in 2019, which saw him receive a €300,000 grant and a year-long mentorship from executives at the French luxury conglomerate.

A LISOF School of Fashion (now STADIO) in Johannesburg graduate, Magugu’s career was parachuted to the fashion scene after winning the 2015 Africa Fashion International (AFI) Fastrack programme. The designer became a regular feature on runways, such as SA Fashion Week (SAFW).

Magugu presents a different outlook on fashion. Heavily inspired by South Africa, his collections give the world a snapshot of what life is like in South Africa. The themes of his collections are always about what he knows, what he has lived through and what he relates to. He is not driven by trends. Magugu’s aesthetic is wearable and contemporary designs, that come in edgy cuts and silhouettes.

As much as he’s been doing interesting things in South Africa, like paying tribute to his family and shooting a short film in Soweto for his SS22 Genealogy collection, the world still wants a piece of him – and he’s giving it to them.

Thebe Magugu designs. Picture: Facebook.

Growing up, Magugu was drawn into fashion because of what he saw from Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton. David Tlale also planted a good seed in pushing him to pursue his dream.

“I didn’t have a big aha moment, it was a series of events that happened that shifted me to go into fashion. The most significant I can think about is us getting DStv for the first time and the first channel being FTV, where they broadcast the Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton show. When I saw Marc Jacobs and Louis Vuitton, I was like ‘what is this beautiful universe?’” he said.

Fast forward a few years later, he is now part of that beautiful universe, dressing the likes of Kylie Jenner, Naomi Campbell, Johnny Venus, Corinne Bailey Rae, and Zozibini Tunzi.

You may be wondering why the Thebe Magugu and AZ Factory collaboration is such a big deal because designers collaborate all the time. But it indeed is a major deal and, if he pulls it off, it could line him up to be a future creative director of another blue chip luxury fashion house.

This style of collaboration has done wonders for Glenn Martens, whose expertise is in denim and is currently the creative director at Y Project and Diesel. He recently impressed at the Paris Couture Week, when he was the guest designer at Jean Paul Gaultier, having one of the best collections during the shows. Even those who had not been paying attention to Martens, suddenly lowered their sunglasses and paid attention.

The same could happen with Magugu.

* Additional reporting by Buhle Mbonambi

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