Exclusive Interview with Jan Malan: “Africa, Your Time is Now!”
Fashion pieces are born from the minds and hands of incredible talents who aren’t afraid to turn their wildest garment ideas into reality. These individuals can see the shape, the flow and the colour of a dress or a blouse in their minds eye, long before they begin to experiment with different fabrics, accessories and textures that will ultimately turn their idea into wearable art. They are always one step ahead of the rest of the fashion-conscious community in that, they know what the next season will bring in terms of style and colour, and they know how to set themselves apart with their designs and creations. Their work speaks to the senses – their collections entice potential wearers with exciting colour palettes and surprising textures, and evoke certain feelings and attitudes, much like a wearable mood-board.
The actual creation and showcasing of fashion garments are only one part of the journey towards (inter)national recognition. What really puts these garments in the spotlight, are expertly curated shows and fashion productions that, not only tell a story, but establish a mesmerizing atmosphere that draw audiences into the spell of beautifully crafted garments. It is in this fashion niche that Jan Malan, who specializes in the production and direction of these special events, first found his calling in the early eighties.
Born in Keetmanshoop, Namibia, Jan moved to Johannesburg in his teens, where he began to explore the world of fashion through modelling. Jan saw more to his career in fashion, however, and soon developed a strong vision for the type of backdrop and stage design that truly inform the collections that are strutted down the runways. “My career in fashion show production came by chance, I did not study for it. I have a diploma in Public Relations which taught me to understand my clients and the media. I stumbled into this industry niche in the early eighties. My love for all kinds of music and the pop culture of the time helped frame the collections of fashion designers. I enjoyed helping designers realize their vision on the runway. I developed a knack for creating inspiring moments on the runway making use of sound, lighting and manipulating audience emotion,” Jan tells Fashionomics Africa.
The first major events Jan worked on were the Miss South Africa Pageants in the early nineties. His outstanding work eventually led him to spearhead the Face of Africa Model Search in 1996 – a M-Net production that was broadcast in more than 44 African countries as well as the United States. “When I started scouting for models and designers in 1996, the fashion and beauty industry in Africa was not considered serious. Apart from legends such as Alphadi there were no designers but rather dress makers. The idea of modelling was frowned upon. The M-Net Face of Africa Model Search shone a light on many countries in Africa which ignited the industry we see today. My job was to seek out young women who had the potential to become international models. It also led me to discover fashion designers which we showcased in the Face of Africa productions, which was packaged and broadcasted on M-Net Africa as well as the United States. I was also the producer/director of the Face of Africa shows. The shows were staged in 11 countries such as Egypt, Nigeria, Kenya and Zimbabwe amongst others. The scouting led me to 36 countries in Africa,” Jan explains.
The Face of Africa ran until 2010, and it was during this time that Jan recognized the importance of creating a platform that would allow him to put African fashion on the international map. In collaboration with his established network, the idea for Africa-to-Wear was born. “The first re-incarnation of Africa-to-Wear was born in the year 2000. M-Net and AngloGold helped me bring designers from Africa to the New York Fashion Week under the name “Africa Designs” - M-Net & AngloGold for future fashion. This was the first time that designers from Africa were on the official New York Fashion Week Schedule. Subsequently we have been consistently taking designers to New York every year. Our goal has always been to create a truly Pan-African initiative to give designers and creatives the opportunity to feature their work in New York but also in other countries in Africa.”
Africa-to-Wear is an initiative that will see selected African designers across almost all 54 African countries nominated by industry experts. The requirements to join part of this initiative are simple: “Their talent, readiness and ability to deliver quality and their capacity to take on international markets will be deciding factors,” Jan explains. “The winners will receive a sought-after opportunity to show their collection at NYFW SS 20/21, as well as inclusion in a curated AFRICA-TO-WEAR store in the Financial District in Manhattan.” Through this initiative, Jan is determined to establish bespoke and curated regional platforms across the continent, allowing creatives to sell their product and network.
“The initiative is currently in development and the creatives of 2020 will be the first to showcase their work in the Manhattan-based Africa-to-Wear store. We are looking to create a strong network for creatives in Africa – one that doesn’t allow anyone to fall through the cracks. If you have what it takes, this initiative will offer the right support to help build a successful business. We are striving for a strong cross-continental network that allows designers from Tunis, Dakar, Dar-es-Salaam and Gaborone to visit other countries and international capitals to sell their goods. Africa, your time is now! CARPE DIEM!”