South African designer David Tlale brought his signature dramatic designs to New York three times before landing a solo runway show at the coveted Lincoln Centre where Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week takes place. Along the way, the designer has picked up some hard-learned lessons about what it takes to make a ripple in the waters here – and truly begin to create a market in the US of A.
On Sunday, in amidst the simple wooden seating of the Pavillion, he presented his Autumn / Winter 2014 collection. “I feel like we have only just begun,” Tlale told me, shortly after Sunday’s show. “People say, ‘oh, you’re showcasing, that’s so great. You’ve done everything.’ No, now the real work starts.”
Tlale made his name back home based on his dramatic style – his love of leather, lace, striking prints, gorgeous fabrics. It’s what has helped him become one of South Africa’s most recognisable fashion names. Over the past couple of seasons in New York, he has given the US a taste of this. But this time around, with the theme, Elementary Metropolis, Tlale tailored his looks for an urban playground where women like to stand out, but not too much. “We’ve done the thrills, the feathers, the drama, can we now focus on the business of fashion?” he said. Clean silhouettes and muted colours dominated his range, but he hasn’t given up his flair entirely – as evident in the gold collars and caped sleeves. “In the American market, you have to play along, but without conforming. Coming from South Africa, it gives us pure joy to say, we are now starting to understand what makes the fashion world work.”
After last year’s mishap, where Tlale fell out with his publicist Kelly Cutrone, who boycotted his show at the last minute over payment issues, the designer says he’s not put off. “As South Africans, we are resilient, persistent and we can actually do it ourselves.”
Tlale is now channelling that persistence into getting his clothing onto racks of American stores.