On February 9, 2014, during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, South African designer David Tlale presented a Fall 2014 collection designed for the woman who prefers a quiet palette and a graceful, timeless style. In a post-show interview with SJ Chronicle’s Semant Jain, Tlale explained that he favors clothing that is simple and classy rather than showy, its elegance derived from precise fitting and tailoring and luxury natural fabrics. With this collection, he told SJ Chronicle, he wanted to explore the concept of daily wear for the David Tlale woman, who is “not about being futuristic; she is about today and also being timeless and making sure that every time she steps out she steps out in style and grace. Every time she [steps] into a room, office, cocktail party or gala dinner she turns heads.”
The first looks down the runway spoke to that sense of minimalist elegance in daily wear. Carefully cut and draped blouses in soft taupe balanced pencil skirts and city shorts that skimmed the body with ladylike modesty.
Several knee-length fitted dresses in the same soft beiges and taupes could, like the shorts and skirts, move easily from office to evening cocktails. Tlale distinguished each dress with finely crafted details: a gentle swath of fabric that fell from the back of the neck to either side of the hem; ¾ length cape sleeves; large cap sleeves, their exaggerated shape restrained by careful tucking at the bodice; demure collars with lovely beadwork done by hand in South Africa. Tlale told SJ Chronicle that he’s particularly proud of his country’s skill with beadwork and other crafts and said it’s something he looks forward to sharing with the world: “We as a brand made in South Africa pride ourselves in our craftsmanship. The beadwork that you see in the collection is all made in our studio. I work with this group of women that is phenomenal; they bring the craftsmanship to an international stage where it can compete with any other designer globally.”
The David Tlale woman, with her “less is more” sense of elegance, was clearly in evidence with the next dresses, which left the light-colored workday look behind and glided into an elegant evening of cocktails and fine dining in chic black. One stunning look in this set featured a bodice sleeveless on one side and long-sleeved on the other.
In several looks suitable for late-night parties, Tlale introduced navy blue to the palette and used thoughtful design details to convey a sort of restrained gaiety: A graceful fern pattern worked in silver embroidery added richness to a sumptuous light navy fabric; rows of pastilles curved over the shoulders of a long coat paired with a sinuous dark navy jumpsuit; and patterned linings in lighter shades added a touch of whimsy to several of the long coats. When SJ Chronicle asked about his favorite piece, Tlale chose the “black navy silk ribbon lace dress with tulip skirt and sheer bodice. I think that dress epitomizes the David Tlale woman in its total form; you can wear this dress to the office, cocktails, or a gala dinner; you can wear it anywhere!”
Tlale then turned his attention from the party to the all-out elegance of the red carpet gala with dresses that ranged in length from short to three-quarter to floor length. He showed his love for couture through these elegant evening dresses. Here, ruffles lace, and sheer fabrics relaxed the almost austere quality of his day, evening, and party pieces while still maintaining a disciplined sense of proportion.
“When I first started designing,” Tlale explained to SJ Chronicle, “I was all about the drama, the volume, the feathers, the frills. I loved designing couture, but over time I evolved from just being a showcase designer to becoming like a businessman.” Tlale said he realized that his product had to satisfy him artistically but also had to make sense from a business perspective—that is, he knew that to sustain his brand, he would need to design clothing that women would want to buy and wear often. “My interpretation of a woman’s dress and wardrobe has grown over time,” he said. “I’ve realized that it isn’t only about me, it’s also about the client.”
Tlale expressed his visionary understanding of his clients with this show’s concept of “simple street chic.”In keeping with that concept, lead hairstylist René Furterer parted models’ hair, kept the front clean and neat, and left the back very soft and natural. The M.A.C. Cosmetics team kept makeup simple, giving models matte skin with a touch of metallic shadow around the eyes and nude lips. Paired with the simple but elegant clothing, these artists’ work created a gorgeously effortless and timeless look.
Even Tlale’s models reflected his visionary qualities. Because he sees all women as beautiful and wants all women to be comfortable wearing his clothes, he chose models ranging in size from 0 to 6, each representing a different country. Together, the models celebrated Tlale’s global woman, proud of and comfortable with herself.
Looking ahead, the designer said that fashion is simply the first step in growing the David Tlale label. “The first thing is to become more than just a fashion brand, to become a lifestyle brand, to go beyond just what we do as a fashion brand to expand to accessories, perfume, furniture, and everything else. I would say this David Tlale ‘movement’ is just beginning.”
Tlale’s roots and local hero Nelson Mandela inspire the designer’s ambitious outlook for the future. “I have respect and also admiration for our late president Nelson Mandela because he was born in [a small village] and became a global icon. For me, as a young South African, it is possible to follow in the footsteps of Nelson Mandela and become another icon [to represent South Africa] to the world. I believe our product, our brand, and our country have a great story to tell.” See more of Tlale’s designs.
Fashion designer: David Tlale (South Africa)
Makeup Artists: M.A.C. Cosmetics Team
Lead Hairstylist: René Furterer with Erik Pearson
Shoes Emy Mack
Public Relations: On-Point PR & Collective Communications
Ground Support & Backstage Logistics: United Colours of Fashion
Editor in Chief: Semant Jain, Ph.D.
Article Editor: Elizabeth Nash
Fashion Writer: Sophia El-Hayek
Interviewer: Semant Jain, Ph.D.