Fashion icon, successful business woman, mentor and creative visionary, Marianne Fassler needs little introduction. Over the course of her illustrious career, which spans more than three decades, Marianne has breathed her personal eclectic aesthetic into each superbly crafted Leopard Frock garment. Working from her studio in Saxonwald with a dedicated and established team, Marianne’s designs appeal to a wide spectrum of women who love individuality, identity, craftsmanship and diversity in their wardrobe.
Unaffected by trends and passing fads, Marianne says that her designs respond to the global zeitgeist and voice on the street. By immersing herself deeply in all expressions of art and culture, she imbues rich layers of reference into her designs, making them collectable, timeless, and as she likes to call them, “anti-fashion”.
What first drew you to fashion and what about it has held you captivated all these years?
I am fascinated by the power of dressing. Fashion as such is very fickle and transitory, but if you know how to dress, it is very empowering. I have stayed in this business because I have made it an interesting creative profession that goes way beyond fashion.
Fashion is a notoriously difficult industry to make it in, especially as an independent designer. Please can you share your journey with us, and some of the challenges and triumphs you’ve experienced getting to where you are today?
Some of the things I did right can only be evaluated in retrospect. I never take business for granted. My clients are at the top of my pyramid and everybody at Leopard Frock knows that the client is special and should be respected. We have had generations of clients and return business is the mainstay of our business. Every season we entice our clients to come in and try new things. We are never complacent or predictable. The market place is flooded with cheap unremarkable clothes. We excel at creative, crafted garments that fit. Our service is impeccable and our communication is selective.
What’s the story behind the name Leopard Frock, and how is this creative workspace important to the ethos of your label?
Leopard Frock is a fun derivative of that generic Leopard Rock place name. It situates the brand in Africa yet playfully uses a rather old fashioned fashion term to invite you in. Leopard is also inextricably linked to our brand…it happened organically and has become part of who we are.
How important is it for a designer to live their brand?
It is absolutely essential if you want to create a brand. I am the brand. I wear only my own clothes, but I also have an ethical stance, an intellectual opinion and an interesting (to others) lifestyle…you have to live your art and that adds layers to the brand you represent. Having said that, it’s not a constructed brand identity. I literally live my art. I am what you get.
What are your thoughts on the high turnaround of trends and seasons in fashion, and conversely, sustainability?
I don’t enter that fray at all. I am very aware of trends and know the origins of trends. I hope to identify them way in advance by being aware of current affairs, seminal events and life changing catastrophes (like 9/11). People respond to the zeitgeist and analysts only spot the change in behaviour once it has in fact become a trend on the street. That is why ‘trends’ as such are so boring…they are already mainstream by the time they reach the chain stores. One has to stay ahead of the curve. Sustainability is another subject all together. Fashion as we see it in magazines and in store, has a very limited shelf life. It is almost built in to be obsolete. It is not meant to be sustainable. You want people to constantly buy new stuff…..I have always maintained that I am anti-fashion. I encourage collectability and originality, which is both timeless yet always completely current (on trend)…because of my response to the voice on the streets.
What is your design philosophy and what criteria do you use to gauge your own creations?
I design for women. I want them to love the clothes and to wear them often. I want them to come back for more and for them to feel beautiful in them. My brand is about lifestyle. It is not exclusively about special occasions. I sell women real clothes for real, sometimes big lives. All my clients are independent, interesting women. I guess I gauge my own creations by the way people engage with or respond to them. It shows in my sales.
What role does experimentation and play have in your creative process and what do these elements facilitate?
I always experiment, push the envelope and re-invent classics. Creativity needs to be unpredictable and spontaneous.
In what ways do colour, print and texture inspire you and figure in your work?
I love working with colour print and texture. It gives a vibrancy and tactile quality to my work. I am not big on digital printing because it reduces everything to one dimension. Texture is also important. People need to feel cosy/sensuous/comfortable in their clothes, so I have a high number of stretch fabrics in every collection. I want you to wear my clothes even on your ‘fat’ days.
How has your generosity towards the people you work with and mentor rewarded and influenced your own creativity?
One cannot work creatively in a vacuum. I rely on feedback, on fresh eyes, on institutional memory and also on a stable, dependable work force. We all love working here because it is a nurturing, rewarding, exciting place to work…what a joy!
Can you tell us a little about your current creative muse?
We are working a lot with surface texture in the form of pleating and also with asymmetry and awkward shapes. We love the organic quality of curved lines and bulbous shapes. We have an on-going discourse with fabric, shape and fit, so our work constantly adapts to that. I don’t discard muses once I have used them!
How do other art forms and disciplines inspire you and influence your work?
It is inextricably linked to everything I do. I am very aware of historical and current music, art, architectural, cinema etc. in South Africa. My ear is very attuned to the street and the current debates.
Is fashion art?
No, it’s a powerful communication tool.
What does it mean to you to be South African today, and what about this excites you and inspires your work?
Africa, and specifically South Africa, is my primary source of inspiration. I am essentially an African as opposed to being French or American.
Who are the creative visionaries that have provided guidance to you along the way, and what impact have they had on your work?
There have been many and hopefully will be many more. As a creative person you never know when you need a new muse, but you recognise it when it appears on your horizon.
Photographs of Marianne by Tarryn Hatchet.