The brand Ricci JvR is well known in South African fashion circles. Now the fashion brand by Cape Town designer Ricci Janse van Rensburg has gone global, launching its “Neo Native” collection with New York-based fashion tech lab Nineteenth Amendment.
Created as an alternative to traditional industry business models, the Brooklynbased high-fashion platform connects emerging designers from around the world with consumers and retailers. The garments are sold online and are manufactured in the US on behalf of the
designers. Janse van Rensburg answers questions about herself, her brand and her “Neo Native” collection.
Why did you become a fashion designer? Since the age of 12, I have been dreaming up my own designs and walking around with a sketch pad drawing outfits for my friends and princess dresses for my Barbies. I guess to me it was never really a decision I had to make, it was made for me way before I even realised it. I simply stepped into something that has always been a big part of my life and I was lucky enough to make a career out of it. I have always been mesmerised by fashion – the way it can influence how you feel, how you carry yourself and simply how you can express yourself through clothing.
How did you develop your interest in fashion design? Curiosity, creativity, a need to express myself, passion and a fascination with people all played a large part in developing my interest in fashion.
Also, the fact that fashion has the ability to boost your confidence, change your mood and the way other people perceive you, what is socially acceptable. All these elements further fuelled my fascination and passion for this industry.
What was your first job? In retail at a clothing boutique in Tygervalley Centre. I only worked there over weekends and some afternoons. I worked there for almost three years. The job helped me to understand the retail side of the industry a lot better.
What were your inspirations for the designs you created for Nineteenth Amendment? The nomadic lifestyle has always been an underlying source of inspiration to me. I am mesmerised by the raw beauty of nomadic tribes/cultures and exploration of the unknown.
“To me, strong lines, textures and layering played an extremely important role in the design of this collection. I like to incorporate an unexpected element when styling to keep it more interesting.”
The nomadic influence can definitely be seen in my garments especially in the finishes and focus on detailing.
For this collection, I focused on comfortable clothing – layered and styled in an effortless way. The silhouettes are relaxed, soft and draped with roomy, romantic volume.
How did you select the materials and colours you used? It is all about combining textures. I looked for unusual fabrics and trims to complement the vision I have created for the collection. With this collection I tried to choose as many environmentally friendly fabrics as possible.
Describe the woman you envision wearing your clothes? I don’t design for a specific woman in mind, but I design various pieces and then combine and style it to create the final look. The design process and realisation of each piece is important. Therefore I focus on individual pieces at a time. I do, however, try to design diverse pieces, ensuring that no matter your taste – you would find something in the collection that would suit your style.
“It is important to make every client who wears my garments feel amazing and confident.”
Who are your most influential fashion designers and why? Locally, Joburg-based designer Suzaan Heyns. I just love her conceptual approach to fashion. Internationally, brands like Balmain and Viktor & Rolf inspire me for their exceptional concepts, intellectual approach to fashion and unconventional elements.
Of all the creations you’ve created, does one stand out as your favourite and why? I don’t have an all-time favourite piece. I guess this is purely because I always try to challenge myself to grow, to become better, to expand my comfort zone, to experiment and to give my best. Each piece represents a different stage of the design process and therefore I consider them all valuable as an ongoing design process.
Who’s your style icon, and why? Businesswoman and interior designer Iris Apfel. Her confidence, boldness, refreshing and fun approach to fashion is simply captivating. I figure that when it comes to getting imaginative, there’s no-one quite as inspiring as this 94-year-old.
What’s the best part of working in fashion? Always being able to be creative, being surrounded by creative and like-minded people and to have the freedom to express myself through every garment that I design. The entire process from researching trends, finding inspiration, designing and manufacturing to shooting campaigns and seeing clients wearing my designs.
What do you think of the talent of young South African designers currently in the industry and who are some of your favourites?
“There are more than a few incredibly talented designers in South Africa with very strong aesthetic signatures.”
Some of my favourite of the new generation of designers are Selfi, Lara Klawikowski, Adriaan Kuiters, Shana Morland and MaXhosa by Laduma.
What can be done to encourage people to buy local or support local designers? We have a lot of talent, enough to compete with international fashion designers; it is just less explored and exposed.
“The entire world looks at Africa for inspiration… why not use this to our advantage?”
It will largely benefit our country not only financially, but also mentally, if people start appreciating our diverse culture, authenticity and everything we have to offer. It’s about creating conscious consumers and understanding where your clothing comes from, and also believing in the designers behind it.
What are your plans for the Ricci JvR brand? My focus is on developing my brand into a more established and recognised label, both nationally and internationally, and maybe opening a boutique at a later stage and expanding on my current collection.
For now I will be working on new collections for Nineteenth Amendment and continue working with my clients here in South Africa.
What do you think of eco-fashion?
“The fashion industry leaves behind a huge environmental footprint, from the pesticides used in growing cotton and the leached chemicals from the toxic dyes, to the landfill impact of clothes that wear out and the energy required to produce each piece.”
Buying clothes labelled under the Fair Trade Act is sustainable on several levels: you can be sure it was produced under safe working conditions, it’s sweatshop- free, and the person who made it earned a fair wage. Therefore, eco-fashion is very important for various reasons.
This feature was first published in the Cape Argus on September 15 2015