In Conversation with Floyd Manotana, a Soweto-based Fashion Designer

NOT x Chris Saunders | A Fashion & Photography collaboration from New York to South Africa featuring Floyd Manotana

Fashion designer Floyd Avenue at his home and studio in Dobsonville, February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

Fashion designer Floyd Manotana wearing one of his design at his home and studio in Dobsonville, February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

 

Behind the veneer of fashion, well the business of it, we sometimes see the creative impetus. After all in a world saturated by clothes, what makes a designer pick up their sketch book?

For many a creator, an anthropological introspection is part of their habit and routine, though they’d hardly refer to is as such. They are likely to describe it as observing or seeing; it could be a small gesture, or a certain attitude they’ll say. However big or small, these details that often go unnoticed, are the very things that become the inspiration to create. And so fashioning fashion sometimes becomes a catalyst for the making of a new rhythm and self-imagining.

 

 

It’s not expected, from Sowetans, to think out of the box. This IS the box. Black culture is a very conservative culture. Now with the new age kids, we’ve been breaking that restriction. – Floyd Manotana

 

 

If you are familiar with fashion and South African street trends, you may already recognise Floyd Manotana or the name he typically goes by Floyd Avenue. The later also happens to be the namesake of his fashion brand. He belongs to the fashion collective, the Smarteez that were part of the Stocktown documentary we featured on South African creativity and sub-cultures back in 2011. Him and the other three members have also been extensively photographed and filmed by Chris Saunders.

 

Floyd sitting in his converted studio in Dobsonville, February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

Floyd sitting in his converted studio in Dobsonville, February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

 

In fact it was through Saunder’s images, that New York based designer Jenny Lai first discovered Manotana’s work. Travel, research and exchange are some of the elements within the repertoire of this experimental womenswear label designer. As part of her fashion and photography collaboration with Saunders, they’d decide to open up their collaboration, extending it include several locally based creators. The point being to combine different ways of doing, being inspired and creating, to hopefully stretch and grow through the process and arrive at something new.

Manotana is a stealthy improviser from what Lai describes of his working process. He pays much attention to detailing whether it be in the garments of his collections or the hats that make up his independent small label, Follow The Rabbi Hat. The nature of their operations, his a home grown outfit and hers a small business more formal in structure, becomes one of the points where they both seem to gain takeaway points on different ways of doing.  “He never makes samples, and instead goes right to the final product. Mistakes don’t exist, as he always flips them around to become purposeful actions” mentions Lai.

 

Floyd and Jenny discussing design ideas for the collaboration, February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

Floyd and Jenny discussing design ideas for the collaboration, February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

 

For this collaboration, they have decided to remake the NOT A|W13 Circle Cape and pair it with dungaree overalls, one of Manotana’s favourite clothing items. The piece that will complete the look, is not surprisingly a hat. The silhouette however is quite the departure from his typical sensibilities towards bowler and Amish inspired hats. This time they will go farther a flung, closer to Lai’s heritage to the Chinese wusha hat. The project takes on another layer, when they commission the skills of a local milliner.  Ms. Folake is known about town, her fancy gauze creations being worn by many a lady to church and other special functions.

 

At Ms. Folake’s millinery shop trying out the wusha meets V for Vendetta inspired silhouette , February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

At Ms. Folake’s millinery shop trying out the wusha meets V for Vendetta inspired silhouette , February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

 

The full ensemble is a coming together of many worlds, numerous hands and ideas. As an eclectic assemblage, it would seem that the young performance artist Manthe Ribane who dons the outfit for the final shoot understood the spirit and idea – to be an urban futuristic renegade and warrior. In Saunders final image,  she stands tall amongst the rubble and urban setting of Johannesburg.

Their collective collaborative journey, documented by Saunders is the latest edition in our current  NOT x Chris Saunders interview series. So far we’ve introduced Jenny Lai and Chris Saunders, the instigators and catalysts for the project. Followed by umswenko, Johannesburg-based vintage clothier Dr Pachanga, and Dennis Chuene, the man behind Vernac – a fashion and accessory label operating out of Cape Town. This week we return to Johannesburg, or more aptly to Dobsonville, a part of Soweto which Manotana calls home.

 

Missla Libsekal | What is your earliest fashion memory?

Floyd Manotana | My flashiest first fashion item was a Valentino shirt that my mother bought me. My mother said “This is a Valentino, you need to appreciate it.” I didn’t know the brand, but I knew this must be cool.

 

So can you tell me, what is it about fashion that excites you?

The unknown. You don’t know what the biggest trend from now will be.

 

It seems like there a quite a few creative leaders such as yourself coming from Soweto. 

It’s not expected, from Sowetans, to think out of the box. This IS the box. Black culture is a very conservative culture.  Now with the new age kids, we’ve been breaking that restriction. Our parents would be surprised, you have white friends? But it’s been happening. Also, when you’re from Soweto, you’re ALWAYS on the streets. So you get your inspiration from a lot of stuff. It’s a mix of a whole lot of cultures, cross-pollination.

 

You seem to be very casual but always put together, how would you describe your style?

I’ve become more organic with my style; I don’t look like I’m dressing up. The first thing I think about is – what’s ironed? Then, what’s clean? I always think practically first.

 

 

I like fashion when it’s very organic and true to the soul of the very person wearing it. – Floyd Manotana

 

 

 

Hanging out at home in Dobsonville, February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

Hanging out at home in Dobsonville, February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

 

Where do you look for inspiration?

I’m quite in love with history and cultures, so most of my inspiration comes from people and how people behave and what people do. But with the hats, it was a different story, the Amish were the primary inspiration for the hats. I’ve always been in love with the sort of colors they wear – the neutrals. When I started, I just wanted to make the hat a trend, to see people wearing it, not to make a profit.

 

Designers have often looked to street style to inspire their work. According to i-D, the internet is the new street and “today trends break on the internet.” What’s your take and how does this play out in Joburg?

A lot of people get inspired by what the stars are wearing, what the latest trend in the latest magazine is… I don’t really care much about tabloids, I don’t even buy fashion magazines. I like fashion when it’s very organic and true to the soul of the very person wearing it. Through media, you just get someone else’s perspective on what is cool. But like Zulu guys, or Pantsula guys, they just wear what they feel good wearing, they don’t get influenced by the media at all.

 

How do your ideas become part of a collection, i.e. your process, materials, team/collaborators?

I think of the look first – what type of hat would complete a particular look? You can’t make a hat that won’t go with anything. Then I sketch, get some references, and go to the hat-making factory. They show me a couple of molds, then we go from there. I’ve never tried finding customers. If you are the source of that very product, people are going to find you. So it’s just getting the imagery out there. The coolest people are our friends. So you put together a photo shoot with your friends.

 

Jenny & Floyd, February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

Jenny & Floyd, February 2014. Photo | Chris Saunders.

 

People often say I don’t have the right shape of head for a hat. What’s the trick to pulling off a hat?

I’ve yet to meet someone who is not suited to hats. There is such a wide array of hats. It’s like saying, I don’t have the right feet for shoes. The question is – what kind of hat suits you?

 

 

NOT x Chris Saunders | Floyd Avenue Collaboration

 

NOT x  Floyd Avenue circle cape, dungarees and hat as modeled by Manthe Ribane. Photo | Chris Saunders.

NOT x  Floyd Avenue circle cape, dungarees and hat as modeled by Manthe Ribane. Photo | Chris Saunders.

 

EXHIBITION


Wallplay presents NOT x Chris Saunders
 * Sep. 10 – 17, 2014

The NOT x Chris Saunders exhibition showcases a cross-cultural fashion and photography collaboration spearheaded by Jenny Lai, a New York based fashion designer, along with Johannesburg based photographer and film maker Chris Saunders.

The exhibition will feature a selection of NOT garments as re-interpreted through Lai’s collaboration with four South African based creators : Dr Pachanga, Dennis Chuene, Floyd Avenue, Macdee. Images shot by Saunders documenting the collaboration with final cuts featuring performance artist and model Manthe Ribane will also be exhibited. It opens on September 10th and will also include a talk with Lai and Saunders on Monday, September 15th at 19:30.

Wallplay | 118 Orchard Street, New York

 

About

Floyd Manotana who also goes by the name, Floyd Avenue, is the guy fashionably walking past illusions, adorned with the heart of Jozi street culture. A fashion designer by profession and creative of epic talent by birth. followtherabbihat.tumblr.com 

Jenny Lai is a designer of experimental womenswear brand NOT, based in New York city. She also designs custom performance-wear for musicians and dancers pushing the boundaries of interdisciplinary performance. notaligne.com

Chris Saunders is a South African born photographer and filmmaker based in Johannesburg. His work includes documentary projects mainly focused on original subcultures of South Africa such as Pantsula, Izikhotani, and Shangaan Electro as well as commercial endeavours. whatwasparadise.com

 

Dobsonville, South Africa | Doing our part to combat immappancy

 

Interview by Missla Libsekal in collaboration with Jenny Lai.

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