In Conversation With Lezanne Viviers About The State of SA Fashion Weeks

In light of a previous opinion-piece about the state of fashion weeks in South Africa, we decided to re-visit the topic with some additional insight from industry leaders.

Image Source: Walter Anderson

Lezanne Viviers is a fashion designer who has made strides so huge with her relatively young label VIVIERS (it just celebrated its 1st birthday a few days ago), that we recently even tipped her to be a possible LVMH Prize nominee in the future. But her career isn’t a young one – having previously held the reigns at Marianne Fassler as Creative Director, she is more than equipped with industry knowledge. We chat with the designer about her ideas of fashion weeks in South Africa.

Image Source: Andrea Bioni

How were your experiences of showcasing at South African fashion weeks while you were still creative director at Marianne Fassler?

In South Africa there are too many fashion weeks. This is the confusion to both designers, the industry and especially to anyone from Europe, Asia or even America.

I recently had an in-depth conversation with an Italian photographer who highlighted that fashion weeks on the continent is not part of the global fashion calendar and system, which makes them very difficult to attend by international buyers and press. The point of Fashion Week is business; clients, buyers, and press attend these events, hopefully, to write about your show, pre-order your collection and your clients to be treated as your guests of honor.

When I just moved to Johannesburg, before the time of social media influencers, perhaps the time of original bloggers, the fashion industry was really a community. I was new in JHB and stood in every stand-by queue, to ensure I saw the legendary shows of David West and Clive Rundle.

As I worked with Marianne, I experienced the industry from behind-the-scenes. Our shows were mostly produced by Jan Malan and Umzingeli Productions. These shows were run very professionally and very well organized. Fashion weeks’ in South Africa help designers to reduce costs, as the umbrella overheads for the production, model, hair and make-up, etc. are shared amongst all the designers, which is covered through the participation fee and sponsorships.

Image Source: Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week

The only drawback, in my opinion, is the lack of individuality for brands and an intimate creative experience for the audience.

Unfortunately I have found that there is lack of international interest in the South African shows with regards to buyers and press, which is not at all the case in Nigeria. I cannot remember seeing any local buyers at any South African shows, which defeats the sole purpose of fashion week; commerce.

Did these experiences influence why you’ve opted to not showcase your VIVIERS work on traditional fashion week platforms? If so, how?

VIVIERS is a conceptual brand focused on sustainable artistic practice, working with artisans to create unique items that are intended to last. Our business is not based on mass production and all items are Limited in its Editions and the artisans are celebrated.

VIVIERS’s clients and audience mostly from part of the art community. We focus on individuals and therefore choose to offer unique and personal experiences to our clients and press, as that is who we are.

Fashion Week for VIVIERS would only be an option in Europe, as your international press, buyers and agents could still experience a more personal showcase, as designers do off-site shows, but adhere to the official calendar. This set-up makes it much more enduring for the press and buyers, who fly from consecutive fashion week to fashion week around the global fashion calendar.

This too shall change now. COVID-19 is offering the world of fashion, and the industry of mass- consumerism, a blank start. The industry has a choice; either you change to imagine a sustainable industry, or you get left behind.

Image Source: Michael Oliver Love

How has it been doing showcases of your own? What challenges have you faced? 

I am grateful that VIVIERS is built on sustainable principles that we can maintain. Our community loves attending our intimate showcases as the experience is very personal, the refreshments made to conceptually add to the experience, the model bodies consist of our creative community. The overall focus is as much performance and the arts, as it is on the clothing. That is VIVIERS. Our showcases are always in collaboration with exciting artists and artisans, which allow for innovative new ideas and solutions that speaks to who we are. Our community is our currency and together we celebrate joy.

The challenge with showcasing independently always comes to budgets and time; we are responsible for the full production, as well as creating the actual new collection and all of that at Lotus House.

We are, however, incredibly grateful for our sponsors and the helping hands of our community.

What do you think the organizers of fashion weeks need to fix/change in order for them to be more credible?

I would create a local fashion conglomerate, where all the fashion weeks are merged for the better and survival of the industry. This new entity should join the global fashion calendar to ensure the attendance of international press, buyers and agents. Fashion Week must really result in business for designers, which means employment and multiple job opportunities for and within South Africa. This is the future. We cannot be dependent on anyone but ourselves.

Fashion Weeks could also play a further roll in a sustainable industry, by facilitating job creation with specific regards to training and upskilling individuals to endorse the quality and luxury local production.

The role of Fashion Week is to create and facilitate business, which could also mean local business/employment between designers and workshops of craftsmen and tailors. Once we have our local production up to scratch and jobs are created, there would also be a bigger local buying power, where we could cultivate an even bigger culture of supporting one another.

I am sure there would be more support for local designers, should the industry up its game with regards to fabric production and quality local manufacturing, because there is definitely no lack of creativity in South Africa. 

The New Fashion Entity,’ could imagine a more tailor-made experience for each designer, whilst offering a strong local South African flavor, like what one [experiences] in Nigeria. 

Image Source: Lezanne Viviers

If our future fashion industry aka ‘The New Fashion Entity,’ shifted its focus to work together as a community, rather than to work as each other’s competition, The South African Fashion Industry would thrive!

Covid-19 has called upon us to stand together, to combine our energy and strengths for the better of our country. 

No one in the industry should ever think of one another as competition; not stylists, not designers, not buyers, not photographers, not the different fashion weeks, as we are all unique. We should celebrate our strengths and we should know that there is a client to match each individual, the cake is big enough for everyone, to have even more than one slice.

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