Marianne Fassler’s work has been respected by dignitaries from all over the world because of the authenticity in her heritage. One could place her name next to the likes of Vivienne Westwood, and appropriately so, as her designs convey her legacy, political commentary and passion for craftsmanship. After years of working her way to the top, Marianne Fassler has created a legacy built on a solid foundation.
I had to understand how a designer can believe in their country so whole-heartedly, making it the driving force behind her successful career. On growing up, Fassler says, “I learnt to appreciate a lot of things that most would take for granted nowadays, and for me that would be a sense of identity. A sense of identity that reflects where I come from by putting me in the context of my own personal history, where I live and how I see myself in a place. This gives me, as a designer, a sense of integrity. I grew up in a home which fed my creative intelligence with artists and politicians roaming the halls. My parents were very tolerant and, as a young Afrikaner, I didn’t just grow up in my own culture. They taught me to ‘think global’ from a young age and from there on, I was open to explore different political movements, cultures and religions as a young woman. I have seen this country going through rough times, and even through the bad times I have always felt like an African.
She speaks of identity with passion and wisdom, adding, “I think if fashion truly reflects who you are it will always reflect a sense of identity. We as South Africans need to be mature enough to own our identity as individuals who want to be seen and respected”.
“It’s strange how our young designers spend more time on the internet looking for inspiration when Africa is a perennial jungle of inspiration for Europeans and Americans and yet here we are looking abroad to discover that ‘print’ is in fashion”.
“Young people need to be more conscious of their country. We need to acknowledge how far this country has come and start to recognise talent for what it is. I believe as a fashion designer you should reflect where you come from”.
Changing to the topic of fashion, Marianne says everything starts on the streets. “Not only in the streets of Africa but on the streets of Paris. Yves Saint Laurent created a perfume called The Left Bank. He said, on that side of the river, there are far more interesting people. The people on the Right Bank never socialised with the others from across the way but then the music started happening on the Left Bank. People went because Yves St Laurent said that creativity could be found there. He then created his best works inspired by those people, inspired by the streets and it was fresh. He was inspired by the vibrancy of life found in a place which had been stripped of all the façade of modern society and diplomacy”.
“You have to learn the language in order to change perception. As designers; as trend analysts, you need to learn your context within the fashion industry in order to stay relevant and distinct in this industry, especially on a global aspect”.
“Educate yourselves with intelligent material such as writings by academic writers such as Vanessa Friedman because they will always contextualise fashion in a way for you to utilise it in your life”.
Marian Fassler may be an inspiring designer, but who does this pillar of fashion authority look up to?
“When looking at designers like Rei Kawakubo, these people know their work is collectable. They understand that their designs no longer belong to them. Instead they are a craft which they give to others in the form of a garment. I believe in this. I believe in the craft. I believe that as a designer you need to understand the basics before you can subvert from the rules. You can subvert but only after you know your context.”
“The beauty of fashion is that it allows you to explore and to grow, but you also (in the process) need to earn a living. You need to be able to verbalise what you want and who you are”. She explains that fashion is a form of empowerment and this fuels her teachings to young designers, “If you understand how you have given people tools to better articulate themselves in social interactions, they will come back for more and more garments. You need to be who you are from the start. If you give your clients a piece of yourself with a lot of respect, they will always buy into the integrity of the designer. It then becomes a relationship built on the fundamentals of brand loyalty”.
Although Fassler has had much success, she stays humble and can openly speak of the difficulties in this cut-throat industry,” The challenge is really to maintain face in the limelight. When people start buying into who you are as this young talent, you need to stay strong and maintain what your purpose was in the bigger scheme of your own goals. You need to be able to push through, but this isn’t possible if we also don’t have mentors for our designers. We need to mentor our students in order to ensure they are well groomed for the global stage. We can’t fill our designers with thick clouds of smoke when we haven’t fully armed them for the international design arena”.
“The beauty of fashion is that it allows you to explore and to grow, but you also (in the process) need to earn a living. You need to be able to verbalise what you want and who you are”.
“At this stage of my career, I don’t want to be a part of a big global brand. I am happy in what I have. I love the students I have had passing through my doors. I have had students from Finland, living under my roof, with all of their expenses paid for because their governments supported their endeavours and have carefully looked at the economic benefits of supporting the creative minds in their countries”.
Her ideals are selfless but she admits she cannot do it alone. “This is where the DTI needs to help our students and support our fashion industry. Mentorship programs are a real learning facilitator for any and all creatives, whether it is fashion, art or design. These young minds need to be continually challenged instead of constantly adored when the hard work has yet to be accomplished”.
As we come to an end to our chat, I again ask her how her upbringing defines her as a designer; “My upbringing was put together by my supportive parents and community. I can tell you with confidence that I am an Afrikaner woman because that is who I am. I do not believe in stereotyping. I believe in education. I was raised in a time when teachers were Gods and hard work was revered. My background taught me versatility. It taught me the power of a strong mind when armed with perseverance. My background has taught me to question and inform myself in order to equip myself better”.
Food for the soul.
By Siviwe James