Joburg-based fashion designer Suzaan Heyns‘ creative vision centres around artistry, uniqueness, and the bizarre. Her avant-garde aesthetic is imbued with architectural structure and vintage classical femininity. Unafraid to push beyond the boundaries of her craft, Suzaan’s designs present new frontiers for fashion, drawing myriad inspiration including myth, pop-culture, consciousness, human nature and the elements.
As a child, did any of your interests hint at what you do now?
I used to sit with my grandmother after school and watch her sew. She used to show me how to make Barbie clothes out of her off cuts and often I would go with her to the Oriental Plaza to buy fabrics. I think the fascination came when I realised that if I can think of a certain type of garment it can be made. I was a very inquisitive artistic child and my interest in art and design came from an early age.
What daily influences and inspirations feed your creativity?
For me creativity is always influenced by everything around me. Art, travel, music, literature are all inspirations. However, I find that mundane everyday things in life can unfold into fascinating narratives for inspiration. Everything around one can be inspiring. I am a firm believer in absorbing the world in all its facets.
How does a new collection start? With a single idea, from hours of research, an experience? Please let us in on your creative process?
Each collection is unique in how the process presents itself. I believe that fashion can never inspire fashion. A collection starts with a definitive feeling – or emotion that I want to portray for the project and then it fleshes itself out from there. Quite often I like to experiment with unusual materials and mediums and different techniques to achieve pieces that are innovative. When a more concrete idea forms I put up inspirational images in the studio to communicate the idea better as sometimes it can be quite vague. These are visual feelings to illustrate the emotion of the collection.
Your design has a strong architectural quality to it. What underpins this interest and influence?
I see fashion as a form of architecture for a three dimensional moveable form. I am very interested in the space around the human form and how we react and move around it.
The Suzaan Heyns label is a perfect balance of avant-garde and vintage. How do these disparate and paradoxical elements reveal the brand story?
The signature of the brand lies in innovative construction which then influences the more ready-to-wear garments that are produced. From showpieces that are more adventurous, wearable art pieces inspiration will then be drawn for the commercial side of the label.
What are some of the ideas and themes that you are currently exploring in your work?
At the moment I am working on the summer range, which is inspired by weightlessness, vapour and smoke. The garments are communicating a feeling of swirling mist around the body. Sheer layers give an almost voyeuristic glimpse of the human form underneath.
You have collaborated with a number of different creatives on various projects. What do you enjoy about creating collaboratively? Do you have any others lined up?
I think it is very important to collaborate with other creatives in different design principles. I have collaborated and consulted with fine artists, sculptors, furniture designers, industrial designers, musicians and also big corporates. Each project is unique and having a strong skill-set to complement the collection or project can only be a win-win situation. Working with other creatives has always been a rewarding experience for me.
Is fashion art?
For me fashion is definitively an art form.
If your design was personified by a woman, what would she be like?
Fearless, curious, outspoken, mysterious, adventurous, strong, artistic.
What are some of the good things and some of the challenges about working in the fashion industry in South Africa right now?
I feel that there is a growing community support between designers. This is extremely important for the industry to grow. Lucilla Booysen from SA Fashion Week has been enormously supportive in all aspects of the brand and I feel that this is so beneficial for small businesses to grow.
What four words sum up the creative ‘scene’ in SA?
Dynamic, unique, evolving, collaborative.
Which female creative inspires you and why?
I have always been a big admirer of Jane Alexander’s sculptures.
What’s next for yourself and the label?
We are busy working on a new collaborative partnership to launch early next year….
A selection of Suzaan’s previous collections:
Photos of Suzaan and her studio by Thato Sehlabela.