'What if Africa were the birth place of couture?', Asks Thebe Magugu and AZ Factory
When the designer Alber Elbaz launched his new brand AZ Factory in 2020, he set out with the intention to create accessibly priced clothes for the modern woman, which would make her feel fabulous. Luxury conglomerate Richemont were, unsurprisingly, keen to back the Paris-based venture as fashion's most beloved, and notoriously kindest, designer returned to the limelight after his shock exit from the couture house of Lanvin in 2015. After 14 years as creative director of Lanvin, Elbaz had established himself as a designer beloved by women who felt uplifted by his clothes, including Tilda Swinton, Natalia Vodianova and Beyoncé. Continuing to celebrate and empower the wearer through bold colours and clever fits, AZ Factory promised to function as a 'dream factory', taking on the same innovative, experimental vein as haute couture. Dresses incorporated knitwear technology to sculpt and support the body, and leggings and trainers were launched in the see-now-buy-now format on Net-a-Porter and Farfetch, starting at around the £100 mark. Then, in April last year, Elbaz suddenly passed away, with 45 fashion designers honouring the designer in a runway show in September paying tribute to some of his most iconic designs. Looking to the brand's future, AZ Factory have chosen to invite guest designers to create their forthcoming collections, just as Jean Paul Gaultier has successfully done. First up, is the LVMH prize-winning designer Thebe Magugu.
Established as a community, rather than as a one man Alber Elbaz show (hence the 'AZ Factory' brand name), it makes perfect sense for the label to evolve itself using a range of design voices from outside of the existing team. First announced last month, the Amigo project will see friends of the house work as part of the factory Elbaz established. Craftsmanship is at the core of Magugu's work, with his supply chain based in South Africa. Collections typically serve an educational purpose, such as narrating tales of espionage and African spirituality, and telling stories through craft is at the crux of Magugu's collection for AZ Factory, Intersection, released today. 'When I create clothes, that’s where I can be my most vulnerable and personal. The collections are very personal and in a way, a deep dive into who I am, where I’m from', Magugu said in a statement.
Haute couture has traditionally been tied to Paris, since 1858 when the English couturier Charles Frederick Worth established his design house in the city. However this fact reflects the Western-centric approach of luxury brands and conglomerates, who have largely excluded countries in the African continent. Challenging this narrative, Intersection combines what the designer terms as 'nu-Africa' aesthetics with the high dressmaking approach of couture. Working in tandem with the AZ Factory studio team, Magugu settled on deconstruction as a common thread, first sketching designs before draping on mannequins. 'I think right now the conversation should be that couture can be for more than one type of person and I’d like to think we’ve achieved that with this collection. Bringing other people on board', the designer explains.
Magugu staples such as the mid-length, pleated midi skirt, belted shirt dress, and sculptural sleeves echo the laidback sophistication of the brand. The pieces incorporate Elbaz's athletic couture approach, using AnatoKnit techology fabric which was used in the first AZ Factory collection for S/S 21 and water-repellent cotton for a trench coat. Playful trims, such as removable bows and ruffle hems in recycled polyester, bring in Elbaz's good humour, with a delicious palette made up of so-called 'banana yellow', red and cobalt blue. The colours nod to the first AZ Factory collection and Magugu's home country. Illustrations of cheetahs and meerkats by Franco Algerian artist Chafik Cherie were pulled from the archives, used as prints for fabrics and as the backdrop for the lookbook. The meerkat is a symbol of elegance and intelligence, which, incidentally, is everything that this collection represents.
Intersection will launch in two parts on 1 June 2022, and the second in September.