Local designers in fashion feud

2013-03-18 09:41
Charl Blignaut
Cape Town - Ostrich feathers fly and plagiarism scandals abound in the fashion feud between designers Gavin Rajah and Paul van Zyl.

Beads are flying and appliqué coming unstuck in a fashion hissy fit brewing around Cape Town-based fashion designer Gavin Rajah.

Some in the fashion industry are questioning his claims that he co-developed a special technique from ostrich leather that led to the fabric for his award-winning "pebble dress".

Then perfectly plucked eyebrows were raised at his recent Joburg Fashion Week show because it was staged "in collaboration" with an arms manufacturer.

Most Beautiful Object in SA

Rajah is a Unicef Goodwill Ambassador representing children in war zones.

The mutterings began when the designer's now-famous metallic dress won the Most Beautiful Object in South Africa award at Design Indaba this year.

The website calling for votes read as follows: "This dress from Rajah's Spring/Summer 2013 couture collection was created out of leather pieces that were moulded into pebble shapes and then embroidered on to mesh by hand.

"The leather pebbles are placed to create a gradation of colour with rose gold blending into chocolate.

"Rajah's studio pioneered the technique to foil ostrich skins with the Klein Karoo Co-op last year.

After the technique attracted interest from international fashion brands, the studio decided to create their own textiles in foiled leathers."

But Klein Karoo International's ostrich leather division this week said that they never co-developed any fabric with Rajah.

"It was us who developed the metallic finish on ostrich leather, but many had done it on other leather before," said general manager Charl du Plessis.

"We were delighted when Mr Rajah expressed an interest in our products in 2005. We provided him with samples."

'Left with a lot of questions'

But Rajah says the artist's statement on the website had been misunderstood. Just back from Las Vegas, where his events company had scooped an international award, he said his trips to Oudtshoorn in 2006 were just a starting point that inspired the shiny pebble fabric.

The story grew wings when Die Burger reported that Cape Town designer and fabric shop owner Paul van Zyl stocked a product remarkably similar to Rajah's pebble fabric – and has done so since August 2012.

"I bought almost the identical fabric from one of my reputable suppliers in India," says Van Zyl. "Gavin definitely did not buy the fabric from me, nor do I think he saw it in my shop as he never shops with us. He also did not buy it from my supplier in India directly, as they confirmed this.

"I want to make it clear that it was no concern of mine whether Gavin developed the fabric himself or not, but it really left other designers and the public with a lot of questions as to the originality of his fabric."

Says Rajah: "Appliqué is not unique; it's in the public domain. And they (Van Zyl) have yet to disclose where they purchased their fabric.

"We began working on ours in March 2012 and showed it in July. The dress and fabric have been featured widely in fashion magazines and nothing was said. Plus the colouration of our fabric is different."

Then a new outrage began to ripple in elegant tones along the front row. Guests at Rajah’s Future Perfect show at Joburg Fashion Week received a goodie bag from Paramount Group, which specialises in armed vehicles and is described as "Africa’s largest privately owned defence and aerospace company".

Questions about the ethics

Included was a copy of Forbes magazine with executive chairperson Ivor Ichikowitz on the cover. Ichikowitz has been in the news for loaning his private jet to ANC leaders and for being suspected of playing a part in dodging arms-control laws.

The bag also offered a flashstick with images of military machines and a model draped on a tank with a large, bird-like headpiece. Socially conscious socialites are raising questions about the ethics of Rajah's sponsorship decision.

His press release described the union as follows: "This season Rajah dreams of a world devoid of violence, suffering and anguish. A future that is perfect. The collection is inspired by armoured vehicles, urban warriors and mythical defenders of humankind."

Rajah says, "Paramount Group were not sponsors. They paid for the pre-hospitality and exhibition outside. Money was paid directly to vendors and not to us.

"My shows are sometimes used as a platform to raise issues around violence against women and children.

"Force is necessary sometimes to bring about stability and security to regions.

"We could all ignore this, but that is the reality of the situation,” he said.

"The world is full of contradictions."