Interviewing SA Fashion Designer Sheila-Madge Bakker
Over a black Americano I talk to Sheila-Madge Bakker, one of the rising South African Fashion Designers and explore her views on fashion, the fashion world, Cape Town World Design Capital 2014 and get a look into her warm heart and creative mind.
Q: You’ve recently decided to start your own label, tell us about this?
I’m aiming to launch my first range in February 2015.
It’s going to be my first range for my label, which is quite intimidating because it’s going to show exactly who I am. The style will incorporate clothing designs that are well thought-through, easy-to-wear but with different and unique patterns and shapes.
Q: How will you describe your style?
Elaborate and more is more. I like focussing on clever details like dress-zips in the front instead of the back and special little hidden pockets.
Sheila-Madge. It is the name I received from my grandmother.
I believe the name to be majestic.
Why waste a good name? I’m proud of my name. Fashion is not just something that I do, I rather see it as a lifestyle with everyday things that inspire me to design.
Q: Tell us about the Foschini Award that you won in 2013?
I entered through FEDISA, which is the school where I studied fashion design.
I learned a lot of the fashion industry with Foschini;
from elaborate filtered into something commercial.
Working within a company’s boundaries taught me lot of discipline as well as gave me insight to that area of the fashion world.
Q: Tell us about studying at FEDISA?
It’s a great fashion design school. They give you enough freedom to discover your own style, but they also give you guidance to make the best of that style.
So they help you to explore your own style and end with a product that is right, well-perfected, neat and professional. The subjects are very broad, you do work a lot and the workload is immense but this is good, because it really prepares you for the industry.
Q: Would you every consider working as a stylist?
I have done styling for commercials and fashion shoots in the past, but I don’t think that I will pursue it as a career.
Q: Which designers inspire you?
In South Africa I would say that Suzanne Heyns is my biggest inspiration. I love her personality and really look up to the way she approaches fashion.
Brands such as Herpen, Hubert Barrere, Ellie Saab, Phillipe Oliviera Babtista, Alexander McQueen, Chloé, Miu Miu, Marc Jacobs inspire me and then of course Chanel and Dior for their classic style.
Q: Word is that you have a small Vogue obsession, tell us more about this?
I do! I’ve been collecting Vogues since 2000 when I started my own cupcake company in order to buy and afford Vogue Magazines.
So I have a really large collection and I love seeing how photographers and stylists grow together in the world of fashion and publishing.
Cherry on the cake was that I met world famous photographer
Annie Leibovitz! Such an icon!
Q: Where do you draw your inspiration?
I believe that the creative industry is a lifestyle, you can find inspiration at the smallest little crack in the wall and anywhere in the great elements of nature. I love the ocean, so I draw a lot of inspiration from the sea.
Q: Can you remember the first thing that you designed?
A Barbie dress.[We laugh.]
I did however start making clothing for myself in high school because I couldn’t find what I wanted in the shops. I didn’t have a clue about sewing, but I just went for it!
Q: What is your favourite design so far?
I think it was an alternative black dress that I made for Inge Beckmann with monkey skulls on the shoulders, but I also really love some beaded leotards that I made for my final range in my final year at FEDISA.
Texture is one of my favourite things in design. If you can touch and feel clothing instead of just looking at it, it evokes more emotion as we’re made to wear and feel the clothing.
5 or 6 and with every range I try and explore a different aspect of design.
Some of them are very structural opposed to others that are very organic. Some ranges are very simple and others have more detail.
So with every new range I try and push myself in all directions to discover what I am best at.
I think that it is a great opportunity and fantastic way to show what Cape Town is capable of.
Cape Town has a lot of talented people that are yet to be discovered.
My only criticism is that I feel there could have been more visual aspects in the streets regarding design. For instance collaborations with schools, more focus on street art and architecture that was built for this initiative could have been bigger.
Nevertheless, I think it is a wonderful opportunity for this city.
Q: The WDC 2014 is a city promotion project that celebrates the merits of design. Do you see your designs as tools to improve the social, cultural or economic life of the city?
Definitely. What I would like to do with my label is to make people more aware that it is okay to look a little bit different rather than just wearing sweatshirts.
It is good to create unique styles that doesn’t necessarily involve African print and doesn’t necessarily have its origin in Europe.
Q: Where were you born and where did you grow up?
I was born in Nelspruit where I lived for 2 years. My father is a forester so we moved a lot; I mostly grew up in Pretoria. Waverly was my hometown- very suburban with old people and mowed lawns- that was awesome. I finally moved to Cape Town in 2010.
Q: Other than your design icons, who has also had a very big influence on your life?
- My grandmother, ouma Sheila-Madge. She is an amazing lady and in her younger life she wore hats and beautifully tailored clothing, which was very special.
- My mother. Her style was much bolder; aerobics leotards and colourful jackets during the 80’s and 90’s.
- Evita Peron. My best friend and I always used to watch the movie that starred Madonna.
Definitely Barbie. Strong woman who wants a career and goes for it.
- Penny Heyns the swimmer and Olympic Gold Medallist. She was a big icon for me whilst growing up and she really taught me a lot about perseverance.
- My Dad. He taught me one of the most important things in life, and that is the concept of integrity.
- Jesus and the Bible. I’ve learned that my faith is not about a religion but rather about a living relationship with my Saviour.
Q: What is your favourite childhood memory?
When I was little, Bernette [my best friend] and I would get dressed in my mother and grandmother’s wedding dresses and climb into trees, waving at everyone passing by our house.
We would also get dressed in the same pink dresses that matched the blossoms in the orchards at the back of my house and climb trees and play for hours on end.
Q: Describe yourself in 5 words.
Q: What’s your favourite clothing item in your cupboard?
My grannie’s wedding dress and one of my grandmother’s coats that used to be her grandmother’s coat. It is a beautiful 1940’s military style tailored coat. I also love my mother’s green coat that makes me feel like an elegant Christmas tree.
Q: What quote or motto do you live by?
There are a few. One of my favourites were written by Oscar Wilde |
“Behind everything in life that is exquisite, there is something tragic.”
Then my dad’s version of Nike’s motto, which he changed from “Just Do It” to “Go It”. He reckons why just do it when you can put everything and as much of yourself into something. Not just do it but go it.
Q: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
- Realistically probably with a good label, building to expand into Africa and internationally.
- Fantasy-wise I see myself displaying new ranges at London, New York or Paris Fashion Week.
Q: What is your long-term goal?
Create a foundation that teaches women in Africa how to sew.
I would love to help re-establish our textile industry, which used to be very strong but because of labour laws have been closing down.
By doing that, you give South African designers the opportunity to choose between more fabrics and finishings for their designs that are really expensive to order from abroad, and you’re creating jobs and teaching skills.
I know that there are some foundations that are already doing this, but I know that it can really explode if more people put time and effort into it.
Q: What would your advice be to aspiring young fashion designers?
Work hard. Work hard. Work hard. That’s it. Make it your lifestyle and Go It. You can have talent, but if you don’t work hard you won’t be able to push through.
Interview Conducted | Ed Beukes