Sun, sea, surf - Cape Town has them all in spades. But as the city holds its tenth year of fashion week, Jane Duru goes shopping in search of the burgeoning fashion scene that's turning the Cape into Africa's coolest sartorial capital.
FROM BOROUGH TO BISCUITS
There’s only one place to be in Cape Town on a Saturday morning. Hipsters and locals alike flock to the Old Biscuit Mill (http://theoldbiscuitmill.co.za) for the buzz of Neighbourgoods market and the surrounding boutiques. The once industrial area of Woodstock is home to a potent cocktail of artisans and creatives, as factories have been converted into artist studios, shops selling African handicrafts and designs, workshops and latterly, the Neighbourgoods market.
Set up in 2010, Neighbourgoods feels like the illegitimate lovechild of London’s Brick Lane and Borough markets, minus the myriad tourists and the self-conscious ‘hip’ parade. Colourful fruit and veg stalls are piled high with mouthwateringly fresh bounty whilst foodies find themselves in seventh heaven, surrounded on all sides by gourmet food producers. Grab some freshly baked artisanal breads and pastries, along with a freshly ground coffee from South African stalwart Origin, or be more adventurous and try some tuna biltong and smoked snoek (a type of fish) pate. Amongst the large trestle tables, young families sit side by side with groups of friends easing their hangovers with a bit of banter over brunch – buttermilk pancakes with maple syrup, and delicious-looking flammkuchen (tarte flambée) seem to be the weapons of choice.
The rest of the Old Biscuit Mill teems with a variety of fashionable boutiques and stalls. At Chapel, a South African bag stall, primary-coloured canvas and leather backpacks dangle from a metal rail, glistening in the sunlight like meat in a butchers. I’m almost tempted to buy one but in a rare moment of prudence I decide to hold off and explore what the rest of the shops have to offer.
Kat Van Duinen (www.katvanduinen.com) is another South African fashion brand based in the mill, with a luxury boutique that’s all white walls and expensive leather bags. Still, it’s the wonderful printed trews fashionistas flock here for – lining the walls is a rainbow of trousers and dresses made from luxurious silks and jerseys. Elsewhere, two-in-one interiors store Quirky.Me (www.quirkyme.com) and Abode (www.abode.co.za), sells interiors that are kooky and modern, with a selection of statement lamps, funky chairs, witty tea towels and cute canvas bags. Across the way at Heartworks (www.heartworks.co.za) handicrafts are the order of the day with beautifully embroidered cushions, hand blown glass vases, mugs and postcards.
It’s all a far cry from my last visit a decade ago, when the only major shopping area was the V&A Waterfront. Housing international brands and restaurants, first-timers might make a beeline for the huge mall here but the only kinds of locals you’ll spot are the vendors trying to sell overpriced tourist tat. Many of the city’s hotels are located here; indeed the pleasure in having a view of Table Mountain from my balcony at the wonderful Table Bay Hotel is matched only by the people-watching opportunities afforded by being right on the waterfront. With street performers and musicians striking up at any moment, the hotel’s in a great location for an immersive stroll, and has it’s own entrance into the mall, but if it’s independents you’re after, you’re better off getting the concierge to book you a 15 minute cab ride into the centre.
SHOPPING AND THE CITY
Back in town, I find myself in the area around Kloof Street and Long Street; these are home to the majority of the city’s galleries and boutiques. The Table Bay can organise personal shoppers and so I’m in the company of Natalia Keet (www.styleassist.co.za) who’s showing me the best that Cape Town has to offer. Having worked for Marie Claire and Glamour magazines, she certainly knows her stuff – in fact our first stop, Missibaba (www.missibaba.com) which has recently relocated from a studio in Woodstock studio to 229 Bree Street, instantly has me reaching for the credit card.
The store is a delightful riot of colourful bags in all shapes and sizes, the sort that induce the latent hippie in me. Designers Chloe and Hanna show their new collection – a selection of thick knitted wool totes and cushions which come in a variety of monochrome geometric patterns. It’s lust at first site but, at around R6,000, these bags don’t come cheap. The high price stems from the fact the leather is processed locally, each bag taking four weeks to make as they’re laboured over by a collective workforce of local women.
Around the corner, we check out furniture designer Liam Mooney (www.liammooney.co.za), whose tiny shop at 64 Wale Street houses an enviously beautiful collection of Scandi-style wooden chairs that would look right at home in my apartment. I spot phrenology busts by Michael Chandler and they immediately go on the wishlist. The raw chocolate bars from Honest (www.honestchocolate.co.za) next door bypass wishlist status and make it straight to ‘must buy’ – these yummy chocolates are made from raw rather than roasted cacao, and enveloped in the sort of illustrated packaging that puts most wrapping paper to shame.
SOUTH AFRICA’S GOT TALENT
"Look at these ostrich feathers – a lot of people get their influence from the environment," says Natalia, pointing out a chair with the feather painted on, as we pass through an interiors store that takes much of its inspiration from South Africa’s rich wildlife. It’s not the only one making the most out of Africa’s bounteous heritage.
Since opening in 2010, and after pop ups in Milan and London this year, African concept store Merchants on Long (www.merchantsonlong.com) is garnering an international reputation for promoting African designers, only selling items manufactured on the continent. With neon statement necklaces from Guidemore, solid perfumes from Frazer and cool knitwear from Laduma, it’s a treasure trove of pan-African talent. Capetonian creative director and former British Vogue stylist Tammy Tinker calls the process of getting designers in store ‘bean to bar’ – an allusion to the way quality coffee producers ensure they retain the highest quality. If your eyes glaze over at the thought of ‘do-gooder clothing’, think again – this is fashion that’s exciting and better yet, empowering.
"Merchants is like a moulding space. We’re like the mothership – we take great things and we turn them into extraordinary things…In terms of African fashion as a whole, we’re only on the brink of it," declares Tinker over a glass of iced rooibos. Her excitement about the future of African fashion is palpable, but it’s not just her who sees a changing landscape ahead. Cape Town Fashion Council CEO Bryan Ramkilawan agrees that African fashion is looking beyond its own borders, starting with a shift in aesthetic thinking. "I think if you want to go find a traditional look to the whole thing [African design] and say, lets put some beadwork and put a kaftan on that, it defeats the purpose of the business…it becomes a clichéd thing, that if you want Africa you’ve got to have this African aesthetic to what you’re trying to do. It doesn’t have to be."
It’s a bold statement of intent but this emergence of Cape Town as a hotbed of design talent is gaining recognition, as the city has just been crowned World Design Capital for 2014. The title is currently held by Helsinki, a place with a great deal of design heritage, but it seems Cape Town’s tenure will be about kickstarting its potential and cementing the creative foundations that have taken root, rather than touting its past. If my trip is any taste of what’s to come, it won’t be another decade before I return.
Eat: Cape Town is a foodie haven. For cafés, try Hemelhuijs, 71 Waterkrant Street – the food’s great but you really can’t leave without trying the profiteroles. For dinner, Society bistro on Orange Street serves comfort food done well. If you want a more fashionable vibe, The Grand on Granger Bay is the perfect setting for sundowners.
Buy: Tealovers should grab some rooibos (try the connoiseurs’ tea of choice TWG, available at the Table Bay Hotel). Find great souvenirs at African Image at 53 Burg Street – it sells textiles, trinkets and commissions artists from all over Africa.
Find cheap deals to the Table Bay Hotel with World Travel Guide.