David Tlale is one of the premiere designers from South Africa — and one of three black designers to show at this season’s New York Fashion Week. For Fall 2013, he eschewed the typical runway presentation, opting instead to perch his models on low white risers, each swathed in an opulent look.
This means of display was just one of many elements that separated Tlale from other designers this season. In addition to his country of origin, the background of this style star further distinguishes him. It reads like a Cinderella tale — for talented boys. However it may be described, Tlale’s is the story of a quiet man raised in the townships who has found his way onto fashion’s main stages.
First showing at New York Fashion Week in 2009 as part of the Arise group show featuring African designers, Tlale has since built a solid reputation for shimmering, ladylike garments that are beautifully constructed, layered with details, but never overwrought. These photos do not do the collection justice.
The exhibition space was packed with awed viewers ambling between models striking elegant poses as Tlale, somewhat off to the side, observed from the sidelines in repose.
The gorgeously beaded dresses, jackets with rounded shoulders, and gowns with frothy hemlines evoked contented coos as people had to restrain themselves from touching them.
“It’s just regal,” Phaedra Parks, one of Bravo’s Real Housewives of Atlanta, told theGrio. She was one of many fashion connoisseurs drawn by Tlale’s looks.
“This is very beautiful. Everything is very feminine, but very old world,” Parks said, commenting on his extensive use of brocades and other luscious textures. “It’s just giving me glamour, richness. I can see myself in most of this. I love the gold. I love the beautiful fabrics. I love these hemlines. Very feminine, very curvaceous. You know I love to show off my donkey booty.”
Referring to her Amazon bestselling fitness video, Phine Body: Donkey Booty, Parks elaborated on her workout regime that promises women toned curves perfect for filling out the hourglass silhouettes presented this recent Sunday night. “My husband and I really love fitness and this is our passion outside our other professions. As you see, I’m very pregnant and I’m getting ready to do a pre-natal video for expecting mothers so it’s very exciting,” the pretty star chimed on.
Yet, Parks was equally thrilled about the clothes, and the type of woman Tlale’s collection would dress, noting his African ancestry.
“Africa as a continent is very rich in history,” Parks observed. “I love it because we are seeing women of a lot of different colors, very diverse,” she added, musing on Tlale’s background as an influence.
“I think that’s gorgeous, because I’m seeing all the beautiful colors of the rainbow here. And I’m seeing ladies looking like ladies. It’s very impressive.”
I would call it overwhelming, just like the skin-warming flush sparked by a bit too much champagne. Each model looked like a pretty princess with a closet of perfect pieces plucked from countless eras — Persia in the middle ages, or late period Egypt — but modernized for the 21st century.
The afterglow left you with a tasteful sense of aristocratic sensuality.
“Elegance, sophistication, and glamour were the main themes of David Tlale’s latest collection,” is how LA Fashion magazine’s online arm captured it. “Strong shoulders added to the strength of the entire collection and tulle and unique necklines created a very individual aesthetic.”
Tlale also seemed overwhelmed — by all the attention. Certainly a man apart in sunglasses, softly curled hair, and a long, dark jacket, the designer remained with his back pressed to the wall. Show attendants, high on his fabulous fashions, mobbed him to offer congratulations. He patiently addressed each pressing member of the crowd.
But I chose to let him be, feeling compassion rise in reaction to his demure concessions to so many demands. Pictures, introductions. Hugs, handshakes. He had given enough to me that evening.
The great pleasure of experiencing his designs left me satiated. David Tlale’s clothing said everything he needed to say.
Follow Alexis Garrett Stodghill on Twitter at @lexisb.