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Luxury fashion designer Stephen van Eeden chats to Glamour

Glamour: Who is Stephen van Eeden?

Stephen Van Eeden: He shares his heart and soul with the South African fashion industry. Picture an artist with a flair for painting glamorous fantasies, but instead of a canvas and paint, he uses luxurious fabrics. That's Stephen for you! In the business for over 15 years now, he's been transforming his vision into reality through his enchanting label, Stephen Van Eeden Atelier, since 2016.

Image: Supplied

Glamour: When did you realise you wanted to be a fashion designer?

Stephen: Growing up in a small town called Kathu, in the heart of the Northern Cape, I was the boy who shone academically but was always consumed by creativity. I spent my childhood mesmerised by the world of Barbie and the bold fashion statements of the late 80s and early 90s. Strangely enough, when asked about my future, I used to say I wanted to be a dentist! But by grade 9, the path to the runway was too bright to ignore, and I knew I was destined to bring glamour to the world, one gown at a time.

Glamour: Why design for women?

Stephen: As a designer, my inspiration overflows when I design for women. Perhaps, it's the delicate beauty, the diversity, or the sheer grace of femininity that fuels my imagination. From dreamy bridal gowns to show stopping evening gowns and luxurious resort wear, my vision blossoms into designs that don't just clothe women, they empower them. We're not just creating dresses, we're manifesting dreams!

Glamour: To date, what has been your greatest achievements ?

Stephen: Well, for me, the greatest achievement is the blooming of my humble dream into a thriving business, especially in these challenging economic times. Not only have I been able to successfully run my brand, but I've also had the honour to provide full-time employment to six talented individuals and two freelancers. That, to me, is success.

Glamour:How have you dealt with self-doubt and criticism?

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Stephen: Doubt and criticism are like seasoning - too much can ruin the dish, but just the right amount can enhance the flavour. I take pride in my unique design perspective and rely on my supportive network to provide me with encouragement and constructive feedback. Instead of seeing criticism as a hurdle, I choose to see it as a steppingstone towards growth and improvement. And whenever I need a spark of motivation, I indulge in podcasts, art exhibitions, or just a lovely meal at a new restaurant.

Glamour: Do you have a fashion designer local and international whose work you absolutely love?

Stephen: Absolutely! Locally, I admire the authenticity and creativity in the works of Thebe Magugu and Gert Van Der Merwe. On the global stage, my inspirations include Maria Grazia for Dior, Giambattista Valli, Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino, Dries Von Noten & Zimmermann. Each of these designers brings their unique touch to the world of fashion, and that's what I love and respect about them.

Glamour: What are your thoughts on the state of our fashion industry in South Africa?

Stephen: Our fashion industry is like a blooming Protea – full of promise and potential, but still facing significant hurdles. While we are gaining traction through rich cultural diversity, emerging designers, and platforms like various fashion weeks, challenges like inefficient funding, limited high-end production facilities, and the influx of inexpensive imports from the east continue to hamper the growth of local talents like myself.

Glamour: Can you share some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome with manufacturing in our country since you’ve been designing?

Stephen: Oh, where do I start? From scarcity of quality craftsmanship to limited fabric resources, the challenges have been plenty. At times, we've found ourselves sharing the same prints with other designers, thanks to limited fabric availability. But as they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and these challenges have only fuelled our creative spirit.

Glamour: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

Stephen: Ten years down the line, I envision SVE as an eminent fashion house recognised not just in South Africa, but also on the international stage. We will continue to be a powerhouse of Bridal Couture, Red Carpet Glamour and luxurious resort wear, but with a twist – alongside our made-to-order services, we'll also be unveiling ready-to-wear lines and novelty products.

Glamour: What is next for your brand?

Stephen: After moving into our dream studio in the vibrant heart of Woodstock, we are now amid rebranding the Stephen Van Eeden Atelier and revamping our website. It's like breathing fresh air into the brand, and we are loving every bit of it!

Glamour: Who and what inspires you?

Stephen: Well, inspiration has a funny way of appearing when you least expect it. For me, it's the personal connections I make with every person who steps into my studio. It's in their dreams, their stories, and their excitement that I find the fuel to create something beautiful.

Glamour: Favourite shows to binge watch?

Stephen: Oh, I love immersing myself in the world of fashion dramas and thrillers. My all-time favourites include Sex and the City, The Crown, Halston, Emily in Paris, Queen Charlotte/Bridgerton, Making the Cut, Next in Fashion, and yes, Black Mirror – because who doesn't love a little unexpected twist?

Image: Supplied

Glamour: Which international celebrity would you love to design a dress for and see her wear on the red carpet?

Stephen: If there's a dream that's close to my heart, it's dressing one of our homegrown, internationally acclaimed stars like Nomzamo Mbatha, Charlize Theron, Zozibini Tunzi, Candice Swanepoel, or the late Charlbi Kriek.

Glamour: Any advice for aspiring designers?

Stephen: To all the dreamers out there, remember, your dreams are as valid as the sun rising every day. Get involved in internships, understand the industry, and keep a keen eye on marketing, public relations, and business management – because, at the end of the day, fashion is a business, and you've got to sell your art to make a living!

Glamour: Can you share any exciting upcoming projects?

Stephen: Absolutely! I'm thrilled to announce the third instalment of THE ART OF COLLABORATION (Previously we shot in NYC & Paris) with some of the most talented African creatives – Christine Le Roux, Mariken Janse Van Vuuren, and Paulita Zapata. We are coming together to present an international photoshoot that proudly showcases authentically designed and created African products. This collaboration signifies unity and shared vision – like piecing together a beautiful puzzle, each bringing our unique strengths to create something grander than any one of us could achieve alone.

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