South Africa is a country of firsts.
It was the first country in the continent to legalize same-sex marriage; the first in Africa to host the World Cup; and now the Rainbow Nation is the first in Africa to enjoy the biennial award of World Design Capital in Cape Town.
Awarded to capital cities around the world for using design for social, cultural and economic development, Cape Town’s World Design Capital accolade further strengthens South Africa’s position as an economic and cultural power to watch.
The award comes two decades after the country achieved democracy and is ‘a reflection of how the city has socially and physically reinvented itself,’ according to World Design Capital executives.
Over 460 design projects are aimed at transforming the city, from school remodels to the construction of Food Forest Routes, a network of underutilized private and public spaces transformed into visually attractive and ecologically sound spaces.
In a city three times the size of New York, the creative output in Cape Town is massive, and while the practice of crafts in Africa spans generations the design industry is young, budding and promising for the future.
Here are a few more reasons we think South Africa’s design industry is the one to watch.
South Africa Fashion Week
Easily one of the rising stars in the global business of fashion, Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in South Africa welcomes dozens of established and emerging designers from the continent to Johannesburg. Designers showcase modern wear for women and men, with a distinct homage to their native heritage in details, prints and cuts.
This year’s theme Our Heritage Reimagined epitomizes South Africa’s unique cultural profile, deeply rooted in history and blazing trails for the future.
As evidenced by the music video of Beyonce’s little sister Solange, also filmed in South Africa, the eye-catching style of many South African men has become a trend to watch.
While these men are fast becoming fixtures of fashion editorials around the world, contemporary African men’s fashion has seeped its way into today’s pop culture movements through a history of struggle and pride.
The specific style (smartly dressed, elegant clothes, vibrant colors) began to emerge in townships during tense periods of apartheid, when men would come together dressed in their high-end fashion pieces, and walk around their neighborhoods as a release from the struggles of the township.
From the Sapeurs of the Congo to the more contemporary Smarteez, the sub-culture has evolved into different cliques and can be seen populating fashion blogs around the world.
A mix of traditional African style combined with continental fashion and trends, this manner of dressing has inspired men of all races.
Ubiquitous street art
One man’s trash is another’s treasure, and the same can be said for street art.
From murals and commissioned pieces, to renegade tags from street gangs, South Africa is rife with signs of protest and counterculture in vibrant colors and locally-inspired aesthetics.
The website Graffiti South Africa is dedicated to promoting various shows and exhibitions around the street art that are both characteristically urban and uniquely South African.
A member of the Design Hotels collection, the Jo’burg Bompas is named after the number of suites it has on offer.
The boutique hotel tries to create a ‘home away from home’ in South Africa, with each individually-designed suite equipped with its own fireplace, guest bath and terrace or garden.
The minimalist white stucco structural exterior contrasts with the richer, more vibrant colors of the ten rooms, each individually styled according to themes, from ‘ethnic high tech to Edwardian redux’.
Winehouse, the hotel’s restaurant and neighboring massive above ground wine cellar, is named after late English musician Amy Winehouse, whose portrait was purchased from an artist in Paris and now hangs on the restaurant wall.