I was recently asked to be a judge at the London International School of Fashion (Lisof) 3rd Year final fashion show. Lisof has a Johannesburg and Pretoria campus that over the years, has churned out some successful designers and fashion industry stalwarts such as Tiaan Nagel, Danica Lepen and Anisa Mpungwe amongst many. So I was honored to be a judge for the show because ti's a sneak peek into the future of SA Design. The other judges were the amazing Anna Mari Mentjies (Visi Magazine), Lindie Grenfel who started the successful Marion and Lindie label in the 1900s (just kidding it was like 2001) and Tiaan Nagel who graduated from Lisof after winning the Elle New Talent Award, started his own label and is now the head designer at Marion and Lindie.
We arrived at 11 to get a first look at the clothes during the rehearsal, which we judged for about 4 hours straight. It wasn't easy having to look at the stuff from a "these are students" perspective since I'm used to critiquing established designer collections. The overall winner, Jessica Sutherland and 3 or four other students including Emmanueal Dihangwane, Samantha Constable and Amy Venter are some of the very few 3rd year students who, in my opinion, are ready to go out, look for apprenticeships and carve careers out of being designers in. The others' work was just not good enough and some people were saying I'm being too hard on them - they are young and that show is a big deal for them, they can't afford to make the ranges because the fabric is expensive etc etc etc etc etc etc.
These are valid reasons, however, - I think that that's one of the reasons South African standards (especially in fashion) tend to be lower when compared to the rest of the world - we like to sugar coat things not knowing that we are actually adding salt to wounded creatives by not telling them that their quality or ideas bite the dust. If you visit the Lisof Campus, you'll see good-looking students looking hip and happening, yet they don't translate their trendiness into the clothes they make. I found the styles really frumpy and fuddy-duddy and not contemporary clothing that they themselves would wear. What's up with that kids?
I've met a few students who roll their eyes at what they are taught at Lisof (not that UJ and other fashion institutions are all that much better), but I've also met some who say it's about how much each individual puts in. For the amount of money each student pays per year (approximately R40k) and because of the reputation Lisof has in this country, I expected the standard of the work to be much higher than it was. Yes Lisof has made a huge contribution to the fashion industry in this country, but for every 2 or 3 people that become famous after graduating there, there are 100 others that whither off into oblivion - this can't be the fate of people that attend what's been called the best fashion school in the country.
Luckily, not everybody wants to be a designer and I hear the Lisof Commercial and Theory courses (which involve history, marketing, merchandising, buying, trends and media) are pretty good - it's a pity that these subjects are not as popular for the kids because the industry needs more of these professionals than designers (I think so anyway). This is not an attack on Lisof by the way, the school just happens to be in the firing line because I was there last week and actually, this is a conversation that needs to be had by people who care about the future of fashion and education in South Africa.