NOT IN SOUTH AFRICA- Floyd Avenue
One of the first things I saw that made me want to come to Johannesburg were Chris Saunders’ photos of the Smarteez in 2011. The Smarteez DIY fashion collective from Soweto is made up of four young men who, as part of the first post-apartheid generations, were creating what looked like the first distinctly South African street fashion. There was a rawness to their style, a careless appropriation of anything and everything, that struck me as totally fresh and exciting. Simply put, it was nothing like anything I was seeing in New York. This week I’m working with one of the Smarteez designers- Floyd Manotana. The last few years, Floyd has been pushing his hat brand called ‘Follow the Rabbi Hat’ and is also working on his clothing brand Floyd Avenue. His hats, which range between reed safari hats and wide brimmed wool felt bowler hats, are the finishing touch to a hip South African menswear style that is equal parts funk, grunge, and dandy.
Floyd works out of his home in Soweto, a large urban area of Johannesburg and abbreviation of “South Western Townships”. Chris and I visited his studio, which was literally under a pile of clothing, from which he pulled out meters of animal print fabric, his own designs, and his everyday clothes. Lion print jackets, dyed leather from a hippo’s face, and dungarees with zippers and buttons missing. Why all the missing parts? I asked. Turns out no garment ever reaches the Alter of The Untouchable. When he’s making something new and needs just the right button or zipper, he’ll just take it out of the existing garments. I laughed to think of these garments that are constantly done and undone, at the mercy of the more current garments at hand. Despite the dusty pile that his designs were being pulled out of, the attention to detail within each piece was more than evident. His choice of fabrics, stitching details, unique closures, pockets, and seams were thoughtful, deliberate, and showed his amazing intuition for street wear.
Throughout the week, I tried to figure out what it was about these young mens’ styles that was so addictive for me. I recalled Jim Naughten’s photographic series of the Herero tribe of Namibia. The line up of young boys dressed like paper doll soldiers are a direct result of its early 20th century German colonization. Missionaries set about converting and clothing the tribes after European fashion. In the 1904 war, when one of the Herero warriors killed a German, they would remove the uniform and adopt it to their own dress. Throughout time, the Herero culture integrated the clothing into it’s own heritage and those western garments began evolving alongside their own. This story of the transfer and appropriation of culture is a common one throughout colonial history. When I see these young men wearing safari hats on top of tailored suits on top of striped socks and colorful shoes, I see the influence of European colonialism mixed with the color and vibrancy of their African textile language. Attire that used to signify Authority of Power was now the Authority of Cool.
One of Floyd’s favorite articles of clothing is the dungaree. In the U.S., I was used to associating overalls with children’s clothing, my middle school days (when we used to wear them hanging half off at the waist), or worker’s wear. Needless to say, the popularity of the dungaree here in men’s streetwear really surprised me! What I do love about it, along with jumpsuits and capes, is it’s unisex nature. In this collaboration, we take NOT’s A/W13 Circle Cape and combine it with a dungaree style. As we worked together, I discovered we have very different working styles. Running a business the last three years, albeit small, I have learned how to consolidate techniques, delegate work, and manage efficient workflow. On the other hand, Floyd makes each garment one by one, step by step, as the stitching, pocket styles, and closures are never exactly the same. He never makes samples, and instead goes right to the final product. Mistakes don’t exist, as he always flips them around to become purposeful actions. He seems to do more with his mind than with his hands sometimes. In some ways, I feel that we can both take a little from each other.
For the hat, we are working with a local milliner, a lady named Folake, who makes fanciful creations out of colored gauze for church ladies and other special occasions. Taking an adventurous step away from Floyd’s usual hat styles, we took inspiration from the Chinese Wusha hat, as seen in Jet Li’s “Hero”, combined with V for Vendetta’s slice of black. With the hat, cape, and dungaree all together, we are looking at a futuristic warrior of the streets.
1 - 2. Chris Saunders photos of the Smarteez. Check out his video on them here, and another one I like from Stocktown x Smarteez.
3-4. Images from Floyd Avenue’s Follow the Rabbi’s Hat blog.
5. Jim Naughten’s Herero Series
6. A page from my sketchbook
7-8. Working in Floyd’s back yard studio.
9. A page from my sketchbook on hat inspirations
10. At the local milliner’s