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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Q&A: Locally Bred, Internationally Recognised – Stiaan Louw

Photograph by Ulrich Knoblauch

In a world and industry where women dominate, not just by numbers but by preferential treatment, one is both amazed and grateful when a designer, male and designing for men, emerges from the smoke and into the sky. Stiaan Louw is one such designer. With a knack for threads that cater to both style and individualism, his designs transcend onto a level all on their own. Stiaan Louw captivates respects both locally and internationally. With numerous local showcases at fashion weeks and global appearances to reinforce his talents, such as a cover of the uber-creative design magazine, Wallpaper, and a spot at London Fashion Week 2011, you cannot help but keep both eyes on him and your credit card ready to take a swipe at him. Renaissance Men brings you a somewhat personal Q&A with the designer.

Stiaan, thanks for your time. Can you quickly give us a brief profile on who is Stiaan Louw?
SL:  Eponymous menswear brand based in Cape Town. 

Was fashion your initial goal or dream, or did it happen by chance?
SL: I was fortunate to know what I wanted to be, that I wanted to work in fashion, as far back as the age of 13.  I have been quite single-minded about it since leaving highschool.

What do you believe or know has motivated you and your success?
SL:  I've have always been naturally ambitious and very passionate.  I believe this is what has kept me moving forward.

Why become a menswear designer, as opposed to a womenswear designer?
SL:  I established a womenswear brand in 2004, merely because my peers were taking that direction and the independent design sphere seemed too new for a progressive menswear brand.  In 2008 I naturally shifted to menswear, detecting new opportunities to promote menswear that is directional.  Social media opened a new platform from which to promote the brand to an emerging local market as well as a more established international industry.  It has been a challenging shift.  But menswear is what I am naturally drawn to, for its subtle nuances but also because there is so much room for experimentation and for challenging traditional perceptions. 

Images courtesy of

Images courtesy of

Images courtesy of

Images courtesy of
Images courtesy of

Describe your experience of the menswear industry in South Africa?
SL:  I have seen numerous menswear brands emerge in the last year.  But without the necessary manufacturing support and nurturing, I believe many of these brands will disappear as quickly as they have been formed.  Contemporary menswear retail in South Africa is incredibly challenging with few outlets available to stock and most operate on a consignment basis.  I also believe it is important to establish a unique design signature if you are going to develop your label to a brand and take it beyond the challenges faced by menswear designers here.

You’re obviously one of the designers that have grown with the industry, and have subsequently played a major role in shaping how menswear is approached by both industry and consumers. Do you see the role you’ve played in this blossoming industry, and what is your take on it?
SL:  I believe my work has shown that it is possible for a local menswear designer to move beyond the perceived design limitations in South African menswear.  I can only hope that it is inspiring a new generation to step up and find its own unique voices.   I'm not sure whether my work has had any impact on the consumer at large, as it has always been quite niche, but I hope that the industry itself has noticed the commitment I have had towards shifting the perception of menswear in SA.

You might be a local but your name is international, talk us through the experience at London Fashion Week 2011 as part of the Ubuntu International Project.
SL:  I have had numerous offers to show on international platforms over the years, but the show with the Ubuntu Project made it accessible for the first time.  The experience is no different to shows here.  The shows produced by AFI set an exceptionally high standard and local designers are fortunate to have this platform and the support from a media and PR perspective.  The difference however is that if you manage to garner attention at the shows in London, buyers and potential backing is sure to follow.  But this in itself is incredibly difficult to achieve.  I approached the London show as a learning experience from the outset, and without any unrealistic expectations.  I also had the experience of showing in SA for 8 years prior, so I was able to enjoy the process and stay objective. 

Credits for the above images:
London Fashion Week
Ubuntu International Project
Photographer - Jacobus Snyman
Model - Eric Best, BOSS Models
Accessories - Missibaba
Jewellery -  Ida-Elsje

And what about the Wallpaper magazine cover. Kudos to you. It looked great. How did that come about and what was the response like locally after it was published?
SL:  Thank you.  I was one of two local designers optioned for the cover. I was contacted by the fashion director of Wallpaper a few weeks before the shoot.  He sent images from previous collections I had done to give an idea of what they envisioned for the cover.  I was at the start of the collection I showed at Joburg Fashion Week in 2011, so the timing was perfect.   I worked with local stylist Chrisna de Bruyn and was surprised to hear that I had not only landed the cover, but also the opener for the South African section.  It is still one of my favourite experiences, and Laurence Ellis, who photographed my 2008 Summer collection and the cover, is one of my favourite photographers.

Describe the kind of reception you’ve received thus far from the global markets?
SL:  I have been fortunate to get exposure from international blogs and numerous magazines.  Occasionally I am also surprised when clients contact me from places like Sweden for instance.  The digital world has made it possible to step outside of your geographical loacation and reach new followers globally.  It will always remain a challenge being based at the Southern tip of Africa on all levels, but it is not impossible to overcome this.

Having experienced both the international and local markets and industries, what would you say are the key differences the world can teach us and that we can teach the world?
SL:  My experience is still quite limited.  However, if we want to compete we have numerous challenges.  Internationally designers have access to technology we haven't begun to explore and they are fiercely competitive, constantly challenging the limitations in design and originality.  On the other hand we have a fresh perspective. I realised in London just how different my approach was, even though I thought it might be similar to designers there.  Our geography, social and economic landscape, plays into the development of a unique design approach.  And the designers who work to rise above the limitations here are developing an aesthetic that is refreshingly unique even if subtly so.

Internationally, who are your favourite menswear designers and why?
SL:  I enjoyed the last collection from Christopher Bailley for Burberry, Rick Owens, Raf Simons for his approach to minimal cut and innovative application of fabrics, and Hedi Slimane for the work he did at Dior.  Damir Doma, Kim Jones at Louis Vuitton for developing exceptionally crafted menswear products as well as Walter von Beirendonck and Bernhard Willhelm for their offbeat perspectives.  It changes each season.  Prada for reinventing the norm. 

Images courtesy of Simon Deiner (SDRPhoto)

Images courtesy of Simon Deiner (SDRPhoto)

Locally, who are the menswear players making a good stir in the industry, apart from yourself, and why?
SL: I feel too many local menswear designers follow trends.  We need to shift our perspective and start creating them.  I have a huge amount of respect for Craig Port for his business sensibility and for being the first 'independent menswear designer' in my mind.

What would you like to see happening in and with menswear in SA?
SL:  There is little support for menswear designers in South Africa.  I would love to see the chainstores creating collaborations with menswear designers in the same way they have with womenswear designers. 

Describe the kind of role or influence you see the Stiaan Louw brand playing in menswear in SA in coming years?
SL:  I can only hope that my brand grows from strength to strength inspiring new designers to push the boundaries and overcome perceived limitations.

Who would you love to collaborate with?
SL:  I have been fortunate to work with two of my favourite designers, Missibaba and Ida-Elsje, on numerous collections and continue to be inspired by them.   The list of creatives I would like to collaborate with is endless.  I would love to collaborate with Mr Price on a commercial retail collection.

Images by Sivan Miller

Images by Sivan Miller

What can we expect next from Stiaan Louw?
SL:  We are about to launch our new collection, the first since the '6' series via a series of campaigns in collaboration with art director Michael Cooper,  whom I have worked with for over two years, and photographer Neil Roberts.  I am excited about this new direction. 

Define the South African Renaissance man.
SL:  I think he could be defined by our '6' series in which we asked what it means to be 'African' and 'South African'.  He is an amalgamation of all cultures in South Africa, proudly South African, but globally conscious.

Your top 3 style tips for SA men?
SL: Find your own voice.  I see too many carbon style copies.  Don't be scared of celebrating your culture. Mix it into your wardrobe in a modern, unexpected way.  And lastly, every man needs a proper suit, make sure you own one that is perfect in every aspect.     

How or Where can one acquire a Stiaan Louw original?
SL: We currently have a bespoke tailoring service, email

Wallpeper* Magazine Cover - November 2010
And there you have it. It’s evident the possibilities are endless for this young designer and that he takes his experiences with a pinch of salt and as part of smaller steps going towards the bigger picture in his career. We can definitely expect to see more work from Stiaan and can be prepared to be left in awe time and time again. Luckily for us, Stiaan’s work is available online to view, so you can catch up on any collections you might have missed in his career. Check below for links to his online portfolio and his blog and keep clicking on to this space to see the new campaign.

Follow Stiaan:

Twitter: @stiaanlouw


  1. It's Christopher BaiLey and Walter vAn Beirendonck.

    From wiki:
    "The distinguishing points of bespoke tailoring are the buyer's total control over the fabric used, the features and fit, and the way the garment should be made." - No, I think he means made-to-measure.

    Otherwise, nice questions and answers.

  2. Stiaan Louw touched upon aspects of the fashion industry I was not certainly aware of. I am now aware of how fickle the SA fashion industry is. At the same token, it certainly does not take away the excitement we ( us so called fashionistas) have for the industry as well as for the future going ahead.

    I am looking forward with bated breath to the work he, art director Michael Cooper and photographer Neil Roberts are going to be sharing with us. The campaign showcased currently in this blog is awesome. The styling and art direction of the campaign makes it known that the brand is deeply rooted in Africa.

    It surely inspires a much needed African Renaissance...

  3. As far as I know he has a bespoke and made to measure service.

  4. Thanks people for reading and commenting.

    And yes, Stiaan does provide a fully bespoke service.

    You can email him on the address provided to experience the luxury first hand.