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west was won

David West has learned to survive and thrive in South Africa’s notoriously fickle fashion industry. Designing for a commercial powerhouse by day and for his own eponymous label by night, he is firing at full cylinders with a double-barrelled career and a single-focused vision that’s right on the mark.

picture supplied by david west

“Have you seen the movie Coco Chanel and Igor Stravinsky? Well it’s not about that,” says David West by way of describing his winter 2011 collection. “But the start of the movie shows Nijinsky’s Rite of Spring set to music by Stravinsky for Diaghilev’s Ballet Ruses. In his time the work was so wild, so shocking and so radically new that it exploded all preconceptions of dance, incited a nearriot on opening night and precipitated the birth of modernism. That’s what it’s about,” he says. The idea that something so anachronistic could have been so revolutionary; the idea of a past filtered through the technological lens of the present – these are on-going themes in David’s work. For his winter 2011 collection this manifests in the loose shirts and narrow maxi skirts of Orientalism with the deep saturated ochre and burnt orange of Nijinksy’s Rite of Spring, all in silk prints spliced into nylon sports tracksuit. Sitting in the downstairs canteen of Woolworths Head Office – a structure so corporate that, despite the youthful air of its inmates, it gives the impression of an anthropomorphised bee hive – while discussing Diaghilev, Nijinsky and Stravinsky may seem a little surreal. But David has learned to finely tune the

tension between his role as senior designer for Woolworths where he works a nine-to-five day predicting and reinterpreting trends for the mass market, and the intuitive, ambivalent, no-holds-barred creativity of his own collections. In the early 1990s David was a brighteyed feathery fashion graduate who quickly won a cult following among the country’s cognoscenti and became a beacon for South Africa’s hope of an international fashion future. But it takes more than outsized talent to make a mark, and David battled financially, increasingly watering down his designs and eventually giving up and going underground while acquiescing to commerce and accepting a job at Truworths. After an eight-year hiatus, he returned in 2009 – more serious, more savvy, and with a game-plan. He relaunched his label with a collection called Holbol – a quirky take on conservative in his signature leftof-centre style, and a shop on Woodstock’s Albert Road called Weekend Special (it’s only open on Saturdays) co-created with his long-time friend and muse, art director Elmi Badenhorst. In August last year the right location opened up on Cape Town’s Long Street and David, in collaboration with

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husband-and-wife team,Adriaan Hugo and Katy Taplin, launched David West Dokter and Misses. He does the fashion, they do the furnishings and fixtures. It’s a perfect aesthetic pairing, so much so that one might call a David West dress the sartorial sibling of an Adriaan Hugo chair. With a flagship shop in Woodstock, a buzzing retail outlet on Long Street, a challenging job for a gargantuan chain store and talent to spare, David West is certainly sitting pretty. Award-winning fashion writer Tamara Rothbart has at one time or another worked for most of the mainstream women’s publications. She lives in Cape Town with her six-year-old son.

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