Thebe Magugu unveils first AZ Factory Amigo ideas
Few designers will be as much the focus of attention this year as Thebe Magugu, the brilliant young South African talent picked to be the first designer to create an Amigo collection for AZ Factory, post Alber Elbaz.
Magugu unveiled his first ideas in private Zooms with senior editors, riffing on many of the earliest concepts of AZ Factory displayed in its single show.
The collection comes one year after the tragic passing of the house’s founder Alber Elbaz, who died of Covid-19 in April 2021. In a brilliant career, the Israeli-born Elbaz elevated Lanvin to one of the half-dozen most influential fashion houses in the industry, after staging brilliantly inventive collections for Krizia, Guy Laroche and Yves Saint Laurent.
Elbaz was only able to stage one AZ Factory show, a mock variety TV show in the pandemic (held during Paris haute couture season in January 2021) for his fledgling brand, which is backed by Richemont. The giant Swiss-based luxury conglomerate is owner of the world’s most important stable of watch and jewelry brands. Richemont also owns three other fashion houses – Chloé, Azzedine Alaïa and Dunhill.
In a novel strategy, AZ Factory is selecting a series of “Amigos” to design collections for the house. The choice of Magugu, a former winner of the LVMH Prize with a tremendous sense of fashion’s imaginative power, as First Amigo has already generated plenty of excitement.
Born in Kimberly, Magugu moved to Johannesburg to study fashion design, fashion photography and fashion media at LISOF. He debuted his first signature collection in April 2017, immediately gaining acclaim with his gifted storytelling. His most recent display in Paris featured images of his extended family from multiple generations wearing his clothes. In March, just as guests were attending a novel exhibition of ideas inspired by Elbaz, AZ Factory unveiled the choice of Magugu in a punchy video.
That exhibition staged inside the Galliera museum and entitled Love Brings Love, was a retrospective of an October 2021 gala show in commemoration of Elbaz, that featured some 40 major designers creating one-piece homages to Elbaz’ style. One of them was Magugu, who referenced Alber’s time at Guy Laroche, and his A/W 1997-1998 collection, with a plissé ivory silk dress, satin blouse and giant plumed hat.
Thebe takes that look somewhere new in Amigo AZ Factory, dip-dyeing that idea, and finishing it with some tough chic pointy boots.
Magugu also plays with zebra prints in a superbly draped dress sculpted around a stretch top, again playing on Alber’s first ideas of chic athletic style. Using figure-hugging AnatoKnit technology and worn by Thebe’s muse model Ponahalo Mojapelo, the DJ and writer.
Thebe also deploys animal illustrations by Paris-based Algerian artist Chafik Cheriet, which were made for AZ Factory, but went unused. Rediscovering them, they appear in very cool silk dresses, skirts and blouses. And, in a neat touch, he plays on Alber’s penchant for bows – the Israel designer never appeared without a bow-tie – completing a petrol-blue nylon coat with a massive back bow.
Though only 28, Magugu admits to already feeling “in fashion years like a veteran.” So, we caught up with soft-spoken Thebe to discuss his plans.
FashionNetwork: What excited you take this position?
Thebe Magugu: It goes back such a long time ago to when I was watching FTV (fashion television) in South Africa and seeing all these creative people who inspired me. I recall my mother saving up the buy a satellite TV and one of the first shows I saw was Alber Elbaz. So, the idea of contributing to this universe is very exciting.
FNW: Alber always said he wanted a democratic brand, what does that mean to you?
TM: I think that is also important in my own work too. When I saw fashion through TV I didn’t see a lot of people like me represented in it. The early messaging has not always been kind to some of us outside. So it was very inspiring of Alber to want to connect to people otherized from fashion. And let them find a place. Inclusivity is critical.
FNW: What brief did you get?
TM: It was like an event in two parts. Last year I was approached by Alex Koo (Alber’s partner) who asked if I wanted to contribute to this incredible tribute event and I said of course. I never had the pleasure of meeting Alber but I knew his work. My huge respect only doubled when I began researching it. He had a sense of kindness to others and that is very rare, especially in people of his caliber. And I referenced one look, a beautiful white dress which featured in Guy Laroche.
FNW: When did you start work on the Amigo project?
TM: Late last year. They asked that I send a mood board and I sent 29 sketches. And we began developing samples beginning this year – back and forth, from Paris to South Africa. Working in this incredible building, the Cartier Foundation. Been here in Paris for the past two weeks and going crazy and running and running…
FNW: What elements in the AZ Factory DNA are important to you?
TM: I really wanted to come into the house in a very respectful way and not bash everything done before. I wanted to express the commonalities that I share and the fact that we are both from same continent. Alber was born in Morocco, me in South Africa and we both came to Paris to pursue our fashion dreams. I wondered, what if Africa was the birthplace of fashion and couture? Since a lot of what makes up European fashion is storytelling and craft and the time behind objects. The idea of something being passed on from one generation to another. Like in my tribe, which is known for storytelling and plastic weaving. Actually, I am from two – Sotho and Tswana. So, when I saw Alber’s TV show it felt so beautiful to a guy like me from a small mining town like Kimberly.
FNW: In Love Brings Love you referenced Alber’s Guy Laroche era, will you play on other periods in his career?
TM: What made Alber a brilliant designer is that he had an executional way to work with any brand. His time at Guy Laroche resonates with me a lot.
FNW: Can we expect new Sneaking Pumps like Alber?
TM: They were so beautiful – though we reference that pointy sneaker shape but in boots and in shoes with kitten heels.
FNW: When can people get their hands on the collection?
TM: It will be available for purchase in June. We are also planning quite a few activations – hand-in-hand for retail and culturally.
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