Generation Africa: the joint venture between Lukhanyo Mdingi and Nicholas Coutts

Fashion / Performance By Stefano Guerrini

"GENERATION AFRICA" was one of the most interesting moments of the last edition of Pitti. Pitti Discovery Foundation, in collaboration with ITC ETHICAL FASHION INITIATIVE, has returned to put the spotlight on Africa with this project dedicated to promoting young and talented designers from the African continent, and the creative energy that comes from one of the most interesting and innovative scenarios in fashion today. Four different moments on the catwalk, which we begin to rediscover and tell you about in greater detail. We start with Lukhanyo Mdingi x Nicholas Coutts, a special duo, two creative people who have joined their forces especially for this presence in Italy. We interviewed them and here’s what they told us. What transpires is the story of a world we don’t know so well, but that we should learn more about, full of creative energies, inspirations and culture. 

Could you tell us when you began working in fashion and how fashion has become your work?
Lukhanyo Mdingi
: It feels as though I've always been working in fashion in one way or the other, as a child, fashion had always been the ultimate goal, so through the years I see that I've always paved a path for me to work towards it.
It was only in 2015 when I can say that I made a concrete career move towards fashion. Things are pretty much set into stone and I cannot wait to continue with this remarkable journey.
Nicholas Coutts:  I was involved in fashion long before I went to study fashion design, as I have always had an interest in handcrafts and hand-woven fabrics. I did a lot of internships working in different aspects of the fashion industry in South Africa and I really only started my brand in 2014. I have a strong curiosity about the technical aspects and construction of garments which continue to intrigue me during my design process.
Best or most important moment of your career so far and why?
Lukhanyo Mdingi
: I see all moments as important, from the successes to the failures. These have been the times that were necessary for me to become resilient and adaptable; traits that are vital to have.
Nicholas Coutts:  As my career develops and my brand, which is in its initial stages, grows, I am finding that every moment is important, as I am learning and growing as I travel this fascinating journey.  Showcasing at Pitti with Lukhanyo was a definitely a highlight of my career insofar as it exposed us to the international media which took notice of our work, and it also gave us an opportunity to network.
Can you describe the collection that you presented at Pitti?
: I see it as a wonderful story which two emerging South African artists embarked on together. The collection was inspired by reality and the senses. It was important for Nicholas and I to use this source as a means to explore textiles and craft techniques in creating a collection that embodied these qualities. Looking at our natural African landscape as a visual reference made it a natural process organic for us to filter those elements into wearable garments.
N.C.: The menswear ‘tactile collection’ with Lukhanyo started 6 months ago by infusing our very different aesthetics to create leisurewear that evolved over the months. We worked on the more sophisticated but still laid back pieces to create a luxury lifestyle collection. The Mdingi/Coutts tactile collection epitomises strength and empowerment infused with multi-coloured naturalism.
Can you tell us something more about your style? Which is the reference target? Where do inspirations come from? What are the icons that you have in mind when you design?
.: I see my design style as a traditionalist, I look at different cultures and elements that I am immediately attracted to and I aim to make a cross-cultural influence to it by adding the flair of an African aesthetic.
The aim has been and will always be to use Fashion as a means to empower my country’s creative landscape. I believe that it can be seen as a spring board that will inspire others to preserve and create their own stories.
My icons are the artists of today; my fellow artistic African peers. The ones that are bringing authenticity of Arts and Culture to our continents .
I believe that we must use our talents as a way to make our country what we envision it to be; for me that is a place where the Arts and Culture are highly celebrated and are highly supported.
N.C.: My approach to style is relaxed yet sophisticated and I like my garments to have character and speak for themselves.  My target market is a well groomed male or female who is adventurous with fashion and has a mature confidence in what they wear.
I am inspired to create by the environment around me. My icon is William Morris and the Arts & Crafts movement of the late 19th century. Morris derived his inspiration from the flora and fauna around him using well-proportioned simple forms and strong colours.  He was particularly interested in medieval designs, as he said ‘the craftsmen of those times took pleasure in their work’. When I am designing, I hope to create a balance between technically well-constructed garments combined with beautifully handcrafted detail.
Which part of your work do you consider as belonging firmly to your heritage and can be linked to Africa?
: When I think of the 'Lukhanyo Mdingi' label, I think of a communal home that has had the privilege of hosting many.
Having a collective of creative geniuses that believe in my beliefs has allowed us to create evocative collaborative stories that have a contemporary narrative of deeply rooted African heritage.
N.C.: My weaving is intrinsically linked to Africa. Weaving has cultural significance in Africa with many spiritual and mythical meanings. The combination of unusual textures and the juxtaposition of the colours I use are a celebration of my African heritage.  
The colours we used in our ‘tactile collection’ represented Africa’s new life and growth in the base colour of various shades of green with highlights of burnt orange symbolising courage, energy and heat.
What is the importance of Projects like Generation Africa, in your opinion, for your personal work and in general?
: It's all about using these platforms as a means to engage, interact and share your story. I believe that allowing the world to see your creative journey is vital for awareness. I also believe that these opportunities should lead to adding value to their countries’ economy - What I mean by this is creating employment and generating work to empower one's people.
N.C.:  Generation Africa is a great platform for African designers to be exposed to a global audience and it’s an amazing opportunity to meet with the international media and fashion buyers from around the globe. Generation Africa at Pitti is an example of showcasing the creativity of African designers who are able to create synergy between the traditional and the modern.
Can you tell us something about the precise creative moment that Africa is witnessing now, from your point of view?
: Action! Africa has always been a place where action and productivity have always existed. I feel that it’s only now that a scope is focused on our heritage and movement of it. The creativity has always been there, it’s only now that the international world is focusing on it. 
N.C.: The variety of creative talent that Africa has to offer is enormous. Artists in Africa are breaking the mould and geographical boundaries in the fields of visual arts, crafts, music, film and fashion, to make their mark globally. This is both exciting and inspiring for me.
An episode, a moment, a special memory that you have from this edition of Pitti, which you can share with us?
: Oh wow! To be honest, it was a simple, quiet moment of pride that I had to myself, proud of my fellow peers, proud of myself and proud of Africa. We are continuing to pave a way like so many others had done before us, paving the path of enriching your country.
N.C.: I feel privileged that Lukhanyo and I were invited to share in the experience of  the Generation Africa show at Pitti and that our show included  models that were asylum seekers. I think this added a poignant moment to the show, as asylum seekers are very much part of our everyday life in South Africa.  Apart from the influx of asylum seekers to Europe in recent months, we have asylum seekers from the countries around South Africa and we interact with them on a daily basis.
Plans and dreams for the future?
: To remain consistent and to continue to persevere. Love, Passion and Faith. A.T.I.F.Y, Africa This Is For You.

N.C.: To develop my brand, travel the world, meet with craftsmen, work at creating jobs and taking my brand to an international level.