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David Tlale: An Icon Living

David Tlale is one of the biggest designers to have come out of South Africa. Notable for showcasing his collections at Cape Town Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, and Paris Fashion Week and has also designed collections for major retailers like Edgars. Known for his extravagant fashion shows and clothes, opulence is his aesthetic. David has not only grown his fashion empire but has also branched out in various other ventures including an underwear collaboration with Jockey, a shoe range with Crockett & Jones, and most recently a collaboration with Avon. Tlale has always pushed boundaries, not only in his designs but also in how he moves in the business of fashion. After a 15-year international career, and a flagship store that closed, he has managed to rebuild his brand and open four stores nationwide - during a pandemic (iconic), the designers’ new approach to business is to offer Proudly South African affordable luxury to the masses, hence the need for more distribution channels through his stores.

Glamour caught up with the designer to talk about his Cape Town store opening, creativity and what trends we can look forward to in 2021.

GLAMOUR: Congratulations on the opening of your fourth store, what does this win mean to you?

David Tlale: WOW! This means more work has just begun. We have opened ourselves to a big can of worms saying some items need to be replenished, competitive price points and the most exciting part is that we are now getting into the business of fashion. It's an exciting and celebrating moment because we have seen the brand David Tlale growing and have become a force to be reckoned with. This is also a way to show a young South African that it's possible to do it, it is possible to dream big and also shows that they too can open stores nationwide and hopefully globally.

GLAMOUR: When did you know that you want to work in the design space and tell us a little bit about your early influences?

David Tlale: Subconsciously I didn’t even know that I am going to be a designer. I used to hang out with my uncle who was a landscape painter and the other one was a technician. My uncle who was a technician always looked good; you would find him in a three-piece suit around the township whilst fixing peoples radios and televisions’. I enjoyed how he dressed because he was the man about town whilst looking all fashionable. Fast forward to high school, I thought I was going to be a teacher and later on told myself that I am going to become an auditor. I studied auditing, I hated it and dropped and that’s when I went to study fashion at Vaal University and then lectured fashion for four and a half years. During my tenure as a lecturer, that was a time for me to adjust and also, I was getting prepared for my career especially when it comes to people management and different characters and opinions. I then realized that I was called for a greater purpose and when I quit lecturing, I jumped into the industry big time and won the South African Fashion Week (SAFW) new talent competition which launched the brand. Growing into the industry is when I realized this is it and this is definitely what I wanted for my career. I knew I was going to be a designer because when I was in my auditing lecture, I bumped into a friend who was studying fashion at that time and I went to his class, they were playing music and I love music, other students were making patterns whilst others were sketching and sewing. That is when it hit me that this is the kind of space, I wanted to be in. The following day I went to the auditing class for the last time, continued staying on campus but dropped out of school. I went home at the end of the year and told my mom that I have stopped attending classes and she freaked out. The following year, I went to Vaal University to study fashion and in 1994 I started my first year as a fashion student and that is when I knew this is home.

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GLAMOUR: Describe your new store in four words?

David Tlale: Luxury, Experience and Beauty without pretence.

GLAMOUR: What should consumers look forward to from brand David Tlale and all the stores you have across the country?

David Tlale: Experience. The boutiques are proudly made in South Africa with an international flair and affordable luxury. This store also allows you as a consumer to be part of the journey of being proudly made in South Africa. Beyond anything else is that we don’t sell clothes but sell experience and the kind of experience that you will have with our garments is the one that will determine whether you would come back or not. The store aesthetics is the same and we want to say to you as a consumer that when you enter the David Tlale Store, we want you to feel like you are proud to be a part of the journey and proud to be part of this movement.

GLAMOUR: What influences your designs and your design process?

David Tlale: It varies every season sometimes it’s how I feel, whether I am in love or out of love, whether I am grieving or whatever situation I am in at that time. You can never put a finger on the process, sometimes I start by sketching or finding fabrics, draping and even do pattern engineering. Through it all there is never a set process of designing. Currently, I miss travelling because travels for me have a lot of influence on my design process and if you ask me when it is the best time to design it’ll always be when I am flying for long hours and that’s when I write concepts and by the time the collection drops, it is concepts that have been developed for years and written down. Designing for me is an organic process, sometimes I am triggered by a song or my creativity is triggered by what I see or even the worst dressed and homeless people, they do inspire the journey.

GLAMOUR: The pandemic has introduced many changes into the way we live, work and interact with each other. Has this had an impact on your creativity and the way you approach design/ fashion in general?

David Tlale: Yes. We are kind of resisting the process of saying we are not going to do high-end clothing. Everybody is now designing loungewear and I am adamant about the fact that people who love beautiful and luxe items will buy during the pandemic. We are introducing slightly luxury items to our collections because as a brand we have to be cognizant of what is happening around us. The signature hasn’t changed at all but we have strengthened our choice of fabric that we use. You might be a hoodie or tracksuit but the fabric should be brocade which exudes luxury. There have been snippets of change that we as a brand had to adjust to due to the pandemic.

GLAMOUR: What are some fashion trends we can look out for in 2021?

David Tlale: We are going to experience what happened in the 40s during the World War, whereby design and everything will be restricted but with an impact of saying ‘yes we are going through a pandemic but I still want to look beautiful, fashionable and still love the finer things in life’ and those are the trends we are going to see. There’ll be quite a lot of military colours and see quite a lot of prints in the upcoming winter season. What I love about African fashion is that we don’t shy away from our prints and it’s a journey of embracing who we are as Africans. Emerging designers are also embracing prints in their collections and are redefining what African design is whilst producing the work locally. Without holding back, we are seeing quite a lot of patriotism in designer wear and designers are proudly making garments in South Africa and proudly doing so.

David Tlale will be hosting a sip, sing and shop at his Kloof Street Boutique in Cape Town on the 4th of March. For more information email [email protected].

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