Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Balancing Act: Between Art & Fashion

When I find Clive Rundle in his Doornfontein workroom he is poring over a book on Steven Cohen, the France-based South African performance artist famed for wearing chandeliers and teetering half-naked on impossible stilettos in incongruent settings. Willing to take garments and accessories beyond their function, Cohen is the extreme fashion horse. Maybe an ideal one for some of Rundle's creations. The affinity between the two artists is real: Cohen has travelled the world with Rundle garments packed in his suitcase.

The image that Rundle is transfixed by is a close-up of Cohen from his Golgotha performance. Cohen's face is covered in make-up and moth and butterfly wings are fanned around it. He looks like an exotic creature from the domain of fantasy. I assume Rundle will be taking inspiration from the make-up for his upcoming SA Fashion Week (SAFW) collection but he later reveals that it is an area absent of adornment that holds his attention: the centre of Cohen's forehead covered in white paint - "it's as if part of his face, his skin has been erased", marvels the fifty-something fashion designer, studying the image through his oversized glasses. This act of erasure links up with the theme for his SAFW show: fragility. Or "Fr-agility" as he sometimes refers to it, placing emphasis on "agility."

Rundle had already settled on the theme a month earlier when I made my first visit to his studio. A number of adjectives and nouns - such as "fault lines" - alluding to the state of fragility were listed on a piece of paper stuck to a mood-board in the making. Rundle hasn't ever constructed one of these. He hasn't needed to keep track of the mood of his show with fabric swatches and an array of images summoning a particular theme. Until now he has held ideas in his head before delicately transferring them into the real world. "Sometimes a mood can be supplied in hindsight," he says.

Putting up a mood board is one of the many new processes the designer is embracing since Anne Chapelle, the Belgian fashion patron who steered Ann Demeulemeester towards financial success, spent a few weeks with him last year. She was here to share her fashion business-savvy with a view to guiding Rundle's business into a new era, which could see him exporting off-the-peg collections to Europe. Rundle is not exactly known for off-the-peg clothing in his native city of Joburg, though at the height of his retail, success - in the late eighties, early nineties - he did a booming trade from his Rosebank shop. His clothing, then, wasn't exactly off-the-peg stuff. With its white walls the shop was like an art gallery, the clothing, the art.