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Thebe Magugu and Valentino transform each other’s work in new creative collaboration

Thebe Magugu is South Africa’s fashion visionary while Pierpaolo Piccoli is the Italian King of Couture.

For the second installation of Vogue’s dress-swap initiative, the two designers brought their creative prowess together to re-imagine a garment from each other’s collections. The project aims to foster collaboration within the fashion community and challenge designers to expand their horizons.

For Valentino’s Piccioli, the project has special resonance. “I love the idea of reinterpreting,” he explains, “but I love even more the idea of creating a moment between two identities, two cultures—this conversation creates a new energy,’ he says.

The garments sent to each designer remained a surprise, and upon unboxing - Magugu in his Johannesburg studio and Pierpaolo in Rome - they were pleasantly surprised with the challenge that lay before them.

Magugu was gifted with Valentino’s iconic full-bloom fuchsia-pink ball gown, characterised by underskirts of filmy net and stiff crin, erupting in puff-ball ruffles at the bodice and elaborately pinch-pleated into a tiny waist.

When seeing the dress up-close for the first time, Magugu says he was arrested by its beauty. “the level of work and craftsmanship that has gone into this—it really is a work of art,” he says.

He also relates to the values that Pierpaolo instils in his designs. “There are a few lessons that I can take from Pierpaolo’s career and work: his dedication to women, and celebrating them; and the idea of family—that’s the same thing with me. I always feel revitalized and reinvigorated when I get to go back home to Kimberley and interact with my mom, my uncles, my aunts, because it powers my work in a lot of ways,” says Thebe.

For the project, Thebe wanted to reimagine the dress into something a lot of people can wear and see themselves in. This would involve, as Magugu notes, “essentially deconstructing the dress and restitching it, almost Frankenstein-like, into a very elevated trench coat from my universe.”

Image: @voguetaiwan
Image: @voguetaiwan

Meanwhile, in Rome, Piccioli unpacked Magugu’s almond green pants-suit that’s inspired by the patterned blankets worn as capes for important ceremonies and rites of passage in his Sotho culture.

For Piccioli, this was an impactful feature. “I thought, Thebe has something to say,” says Piccioli. “He’s trying to get his heritage into the world of today.”

For the collaboration, Piccioli wanted to layer Magugu’s ensemble with his own Roman world. He transformed the suit into a floor-length coat - a symbol of the Italian Madonna and Renaissance culture. In honour of the material’s sentimental blanket motif, Piccioli highlighted this by tasking twelve craftspeople from his atelier to rework it into a form form of intarsia embroidery set into cashmere.

Image: @voguetaiwan
Image: @voguetaiwan

Magugu also went the extra mile by scouting a colour specialist in the heart of Soweto to dye excess pieces of while tulle from the dress into the signature shade of Valentino pink, allowing him to play with it in his design.

At the final unveiling, Magugu said that Piccioli’s cape captured the regal nature of his Sotho heritage - something he always tries to incorporate into his designs, while Piccioli believes that the project was a demonstration that fashion can connect the world.

“Thebe’s talking about his culture, I’m talking of my own—but actually, we share the same values, the same idea of fashion as self-expression,” he concludes.

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