Any excuse for me to go home to South Africa and as luck would have it, this year the Condé Nast International Luxury conference was held in Cape Town in a fabulous venue overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. What started out as a whim, in the end had a powerful effect on me as I learnt about the promise and value of the African market for the global luxury and fashion industry. The continent has a powerful role to play – feeding the rest of the world as a creative hub.
Gucci’s CEO Marco Bizarri opened the conference for Vogue’s Suzy Menkes and Condé Nast’s Jonathan Newhouse – it’s no wonder that Gucci is so successful at the moment with him at the helm. In a world where there are mostly followers and not much innovation taking place outside of tech, Marco is proud that creativity is at the heart of everything Gucci does. He told us: “It is all about emotion, not rationality, not the numbers and not strategy. My 17-year-old daughter said to me the other day, I feel so Gucci!” Marco asked her what she meant and she replied that feeling Gucci, means feeling good. Now that’s brand power. Gucci is becoming very connected to Africa and has set up a group called the Changemakers Council to help them better understand what is relevant for new generations in different parts of the world, and to build a culture of diversity and inclusion. Gucci has committed to funding African Design schools in Cape Town, Nairobi, Lagos and Accra. In addition, they’re bringing designers from these schools to work in their studio in Italy. “I really believe, especially in our industry, creativity is a consequence of diversity. And the more you are exposed to diversity, the more you are creative, because you see things from different angles,” Bizzarri explained.
Last week, I caught up with Uche Pézard, who too was a speaker at the conference. She runs a consultancy called Luxury Connect Africa. Uche has been a business strategist and consultant for 10 years working all over the world. She tells me that people talk about Africa as one single country – but, she explains, as a continent with 55 countries and 4,000 languages, each country has its own specificity and culture: its own tax laws, regulations and logistics etc. But Uche strongly believes that Africa is the new frontier for the luxury market. South Africa is leading the way in expenditure and monobrands are springing up in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Sandton City Mall has carved out a niche for luxury brands, called Diamond Walk and includes Gucci, Louis Vuitton Armani and Prada and watch brand, Patek Philippe. Johannesburg attracts many African tourists and many of their clients come from West African countries like Nigeria and Ghana. Interestingly, Nigeria is the leader of African luxury consumption, but the only monobrand in Lagos to date, is Zegna. Uche also told us that around 85% of Nigerians buy their luxury goods outside of the country in Europe, South Africa and the Middle East but concept department stores are now beginning to emerge in Lagos, like Temple Muse.
What I found most interesting in our conversation is how Uche believes that Africa is a source for incredible creativity and inspiration with craftsmanship in fashion, beauty and jewellery. This was borne out by the designers that I met during my week in Cape Town. Thebe Magugu is one of 8 finalists for the coveted 2019 LVMH Prize – out of 1,700 candidates from all over the world. Aged 25 and from a tiny mining town in South Africa, speaking to Thebe was like speaking to any plugged-in young person from New York or London. Having already won many stockists and accolades – including the International Fashion Showcase Award – Thebe is confident and based on his latest work, he should be!
Laduma Ngxokolo is a South African designer inspired by traditional Xhosa beadwork who is building a fabulous fashion business, Maxhosa by Laduma. He says that on the African continent, there are many traditions and based on some, he has created a print called The African Union: ‘The continent has been deemed as highly divided. I am trying to unite it through fashion.’ Bets on that Laduma is tapped for creative director at Missoni within the next few years.
As I finish my meeting with Uche, I ask her what her wish for Africa is. ‘I would like to transform the fortunes of Africa and Africans and bring clarity to the way the world views the continent.’ I leave feeling inspired and hopeful that through leaders like Marco and Uche, supported by Jonathan Newhouse at Conde Nast, the world could turn out to surprise us and ‘do the right thing’.