Thebe Magugu LVMH Prize Winner. ‘I want to make a business in Africa’

PARIS, France — Thebe Magugu is the winner of this year’s LVMH Prize, marking the first time a designer from Africa has picked up the award.

The 26-year-old designer, originally from Kimberley, South Africa, is known for his contemporary style and use of local suppliers. He launched his womenswear label in 2016 after studying fashion design, photography and media at the LISOF School of Fashion in Johannesburg. He has operated out of his home and had never been to Paris before this year.

Magugu will receive a €300,000 grant and a year-long mentorship from executives at the French luxury conglomerate. He said he plans to put the money toward a studio space and to employ more artisans in South Africa.

“Winning the prize means the world to me. €300,000 [goes] a very long way,” said Magugu. “The unemployment rate is 30 percent of the youth in South Africa. That is massive. I want to do my part.”

Earlier this year, Magugu won the overall award for curation and fashion content at the International Fashion Showcase, supported by the British Fashion Council and others before receiving the LVMH Prize from Louis Vuitton‘s brand ambassador Alicia Vikander on Wednesday at the Louis Vuitton Foundation.

The winner was selected from a shortlist of eight brands, which included a second African brand, Kenneth Ize from Nigerian designer Kenneth Izedonmwen. The six other finalists were Kunihiko Morinaga (Anrealage), Bethany Williams, Emily Adams Bode (Bode), Hed Mayner, Spencer Phipps (Phipps) and Stefan Cooke and Jake Burt (Stefan Cooke).

PARIS, FRANCE – SEPTEMBER 04: LVMH Prize 2019, Thebe Magugu attends the LVMH Prize 2019 Edition at Louis Vuitton Foundation on September 04, 2019 in Paris, France. (Photo by Bertrand Rindoff Petroff/Getty Images)

The decision was made by a jury of industry figures, comprising designers Kris Van AsscheMaria Grazia ChiuriJonathan AndersonNicolas GhesquièreMarc Jacobs and Clare Waight Keller alongside Delphine Arnault, the force behind the initiative, Jean-Paul Claverie and Sidney Toledano of LVMH.

Magugu describes his work as “eclectic”.

“South Africa is a place where there are so many dualities. It is both very beautiful and violent. It informed my work,” he said. He wants to stay in South Africa.

“That’s my mission as a designer. I want to show the world that from South Africa you can get the entire cycle of production,” he said. “There are challenges I am not going to lie, in terms of infrastructure and system but the promise is there. There’s so much talent in the country.”

One of the biggest hurdles he said he faces is logistics. He said he told the jury that he hoped to tap into LVMH’s global network of stores.

“The one thing I really struggle with is distribution, particularly shipping. It’s so easy to import in South Africa but getting out is what’s very tricky,” he said. “[LVMH] really understands how to get a product where it needs to be.”

That impressed at least one of the judges.

“It’s the first time that I listen to someone who has more interest in the infrastructure support that we can bring than the money itself,” said Chiuri. “He has the idea – so young – to develop a global brand.”

He impressed the jury with his feminine, contemporary collection for Spring/Summer 2020 that included a pleated white and red dress, using a specific African mud instead of a print, adding a few agents in the mix so that it doesn’t fade when you wash it.

“It’s about trying to build silhouettes with what you have and how do you make that system work. I think that that money will make that start from the very beginning on the right track,” Anderson said.

“I feel that Africa has some of the best craft,” Anderson added. “For the panel, having someone say ‘I want to make a business in Africa’ was really compelling. I think we are in this moment where it is about giving opportunity, about transformation.” Magugu incorporates a microchip in every garment, using an app called Verisium. The technology can be used to display a description of the fabrication, a picture of everyone who worked on the garment and the general story behind the collection.

via Business of Fashion