Friend: hey, so what brands were you into growing up?
Me: *awkward silence*Turns out there was no simple answer and we were about to go down a rabbit hole.
I grew up in Durban in the 90’s…. We had all the surf brands… Instinct, Lizzard, Rip Curl, Billabong etc… Shoe brands – in my mind I remember Doc Martins, Airwalks…
First you need to understand something. In terms of shopping centres: there was Musgrave Centre, there was La Lucia Mall. There was the long strip of surf brand factory shops in Stamford Hill.
Pavilion (The Pav) only opened in the early 90’s if I recall. And Gateway only opened in the 00’s.
These few shopping centres at the time didn’t really have a lot of choice in youth fashion. Mr Price was still new and was a factory shop format. It hadn’t repositioned as the youth fashion retailer it is today.
We knew we were a bit left behind in sleepy Durban. Joburg had Sandton City. They had access. They were like the kids who got Mnet first. They used to arrive in school holidays and inappropriately wear too many clothes to the beach. They wore black a lot, and over the top jeans. They had big shoes. Buffalos.
In some kind of twisted way, the CNA always made sure we had access to fashion magazines. All of them. The local ones and the fancy imported ones. We could see what was cool. We could follow our movie star icons fashion moments. We could look but we just couldn’t find all this fashion.
Some important side notes:
1. We moved in packs and dressed in uniform. All for one and one for all. We did nothing alone.
2. We planned our lives in advance, using a telephone attached to a cable.
3. Life was deep. Every decision felt weighty and involved discussions with the pack.
4. Outfits were big decisions with dramatic consequences.
A regular after school pit stop was Musgrave Centre. First milkshakes at the Welcome Chair, followed by outfit planning for the weekend disco (house party in some kids parents garage). The outfits would make or break us. We’d browse the whole of Musgrave but always ended up at Coco Bay or Idols. We tried on everything in the store. We deliberated. We wouldn’t necessarily all find something to buy, or had pocket money constraints. But it was ok, we shared clothes. The uniforms of the time ranged from long stripe knit dresses, to floral babydoll dresses… or hotpants and strappy camisole tops.
For shoes the look was Doc Martins, Airwalks or Jellies. Our shoe stores were limited. We had ABC shoes or the factory shop Kingsmead Shoes.
As we got older, we started to experiment a little. Break away from the pack uniform. It was risky but we’d built our credibility over time, hopefully it would stick.
Enter DDE – Durban Designer Emporium – a new fashion mecca that debuted sometime in the late 90’s. For the first time, South African designer names who I only read and heard about, were at my fingertips. Colleen Eitzen, Amanda Laird Cherry, Gideon… to name a few. I couldn’t afford anything, but I could look, touch, imagine. It was also here that I learnt it was going to be essential that I earn money. I had my priorities all figured out.
Our matric dance was the finale, the moment when we all knew we needed to stand alone. Choosing fabric from Minty’s and then taking our sketch or magazine picture to the dress maker. My inspiration images were a montage. Hair - Gwyneth Paltrow’s short hair from Sliding Doors; Fabric – a silver-pewter raw silk from a picture in US Vogue November 1998 (I still have this issue); Silhouette - long strapless column – basically any 90’s celebrity it-girl; Shoes – a subject of major anxiety, the shoes I wanted did not exist in Durban. I still haven’t got over it.
Little did I know back then that I’d make a career out of fashion. I’ve spent close on two decades imagining looks for her. Shopping and creating product for this muse in my mind who changed depending on which brand I was buying for.
Fashion Llama brings me full circle. We don’t imagine looks for just one her. We curate looks for the brave and the bold. People who don’t want to follow the pack. We bring together local brands and designers under one roof and we deliver countrywide.
The amazing and heartwarming thing, is that we’ve had customers from remote towns around the country, where they don’t have access to a mall nearby. But they love fashion, and they’ve found their unique style expression and personality. They’re not following trends and shopping at commercial chain stores. They’re searching for something which reflects them. They’ve found the llama.