Fashion designer and creative artist Mpilonhle Gumede moves effortlessly between the worlds of art and fashion, writes Linda Mzamane.
Pictures: Dawn Rouse
The roots of our talents and innate abilities can be traced back to our youngest years. Whether it’s a mathematician’s fascination with numbers as a toddler, a world-renowned singer’s early dabble with childhood sing-a-longs or a gymnast’s love for splits and summersaults as a child. After all, we become who we are meant to be.
For Durban fashion designer, artist and creative extraordinaire Mpilonhle Gumede, the same is true. “My earliest fashion memory is around the age of six or seven. I remember being very picky with what I wore and liking bright colours, following trends and having an opinion on every outfit I saw around me!”
Years later, the same sharp eye for trends and fashion would lead to the establishment of a fashion label and accolades like his recent selection for the Durban Fashion Fair Class of 2022, showcasing his designs at 2019’s South Coast Bike Festival, and the South Coast Fashion Parade in 2018.
He’s the principal designer of Gog Geni Fashion House, which is available at retailers such as Victoria & Co at the new Oceans Mall in uMhlanga, The Pavilion Social Gallery, Decor Art Interiors, and at the KwaZulu-Natal Society of the Arts Gallery, among other locations. He is also an artist and curator at the Create Art Gallery inside the Mazisi Kunene Museum.
Born in Eshowe in a small village called Mtunzini, Mpilonhle grew up under the staunchly Christian values of his grandfather, a pastor. They lived a modest life, which was filled with love and care from neighbours in a community that genuinely lived the values of collectively raising a child.
His design trademark is mixing prints from different parts of Africa to create a garment that’s altogether unique and immediately stands out. “I am proudly African and appreciate African culture and heritage. We have so many similarities on the continent so I’m easily inspired by everything around me,” says Mpilonhle.
WHAT’S IN, WHAT’S OUT?
Trend forecasting is a big component to staying ahead of the game, and Mpilonhle keeps his finger on the pulse: “A lot of designers are currently focused on establishing new fabric choices. I believe that is the direction to take in fashion if you want to distinguish your brand. Architecturally inspired patterns are also coming through more frequently in designs,” he muses.
And what about the fashion choices we need to leave behind this year? “Definitely leave dark colours,” he vehemently says. “I believe they bring bad luck and are a fashion cop-out. If you want to clear your paths and stand out, add some colour to your fashion choices.”
SA’S FASHION FUTURE
Feeling optimistic about the future of fashion in the country, Mpilonhle believes there is still much to achieve. “We’ve done very well so far. A few local designers have put us on the map internationally. Our fashion speaks life, has rich historical roots and stands out from the rest.”
In Mpilonhle’s world, art and fashion are inextricably linked and he’s got plans for both disciplines in his future. “I want to open a fashion and arts gallery that will be recognised internationally. I see more retail stores selling our clothes around the world. In five years I’m aiming to showcase on platforms such as the Paris Fashion Week.”
ART IN MOTION
Mpilonhle’s next fashion showcase will be at an exhibition Umcebo Namagugu (Our Treasures and Values) running from April 1 until May 26, 2023, and will feature more than 30 local artists showcasing their arts, crafts and designs.