South African Fashion Designer
Stephen is a South African Fashion designer. Stephen grew up in Kathu, a small town situated in the heart of the Northern Cape, bordering the enigmatic Kalahari. His career objective from early childhood was to become a dentist, but as the years progressed fashion as a vocation resonated with him and this elicited a creative spark of realization that fashioning a woman in luxurious fabrics and effortlessly styling her in a manner reminiscent of a mythical deity would leave both designer and muse with a contented smile.
Stephen studied at Elizabeth Galloway Academy of Fashion Design in Stellenbosch. After graduating top of his class in 2007 and receiving several awards as a young design student, he was determined to leave his mark in the South African fashion industry.
Shortly after graduation, he was appointed as a designer, product developer and PR-liaison at the Cape Town-based accessory leathercraft company, Cape Cobra, which specializes in the design and manufacture of exquisite exotic leather goods for a local and international clientele. Within this well-established luxury company, a stable platform unveiled for this young designer. Stephen had the privilege of working with top international brands in the pursuit of developing their exotic leather accessory collections, whilst absorbing the creative energy and knowledge of these global icons. He kept his passion for bespoke couture alive after-hours, by creating gorgeous gowns for his private clients, most brides, and frequently participated as a young designer at fashion events and design competitions.
A chance meeting in 2010 with Teresa Joubert, a close friend, and fellow designer, culminated in a 2-year business partnership and the founding of the Gelieft Brand – mainly specializing in bridal wear. As a formidable design duo, they were dedicated to perfection and the achievement of the highest aesthetic ideal in their elegant creations.
At the beginning of 2012, Stephen relocated to the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town and joined the eminent house of couture and prêt-a-porter, Rosenwerth – one of the most acclaimed names in the South African fashion industry. Under the creative leadership of both Elzbieta and Gabi Rosenwerth, Stephen cultivated a profound understanding of the modern woman’s style and a discerning eye for luxury fashion.
In 2014 he took up the position of studio manager and assistant designer at Gavin Rajah – a fashion house that is synonymous with fine craftsmanship, luxurious finishes, and fine fabrication. This Cape Town-based atelier is famed for producing couture garments for their loyal clients around the world. The success of the brand has been built on a consistent standard of workmanship and creative excellence. While working under the guidance of Gavin Rajah, Stephen had the honor of traveling internationally and immersing himself in the fundamentals of managing a successful international brand – he counts this as one of the most rewarding experiences of his career.
When did you know that you wanted to be a fashion designer?
For as long as I can remember I have had a fascination with fashion and absolute love for beautiful Wedding gowns. While I was at school I remember that I was always busy illustrating fashion collections consisting of dramatic ball gowns. At the age of 16, I decided to pursue a career in fashion.
What’s it like being in the Fashion industry?
When most people think about the fashion industry, they have a picture in mind of a designer sketching a dress, or models walking down a runway to show off the latest season collections. However, the fashion industry is predominantly what happens behind the seams of every garment or accessory that the consumer buys. The fashion industry is seen as a multibillion-dollar global enterprise devoted to the business of making and selling clothes. It has evolved to be one of the most demanding industries in the world, where you as the designer have to be creative and different, but at the same time also keep costs at mind to sell the specific product that you are developing. It is all about balancing your creative intuition with good business practice. This I find extremely exciting as a new challenge arises daily and you are forced to make instinctive decisions and take chances.
What do you like about your work?
As a bespoke made-to-measure couture designer, the part that I enjoy most about my work is to see every client, that leaves my atelier, extremely happy, content and that she feels like a goddess! I can not explain the proud and rewarding feeling – it makes all the hard work and long hours worth it! It’s an enigmatic feeling that generates creative energy. To work within a creative environment within your own brand you are making your own track and not follow the well-trodden path. You are charting your own course and destiny.
What inspires you at the moment when you create a dress?
Every client that walks into my Atelier based in the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town is inspiring. Each and every one of them have a different story to tell and something to share about their personality and style. All these elements with my unique design aesthetic and ethos contribute to creating a truly unique wedding gowns.
How is the Fashion in Cape Town?
The fashion industry in Cape Town is still fairly small compared to the fashion capitals that basically run the global fashion industry. However, it is developing quite quickly due to the demand for generating proudly South African designer products that are suitable and up to standard with other international fashion brands.
Describe the perfect Wedding Dress?
The Perfect Wedding Dress, Oh my! For me as a designer I pride myself in quality craftsmanship -that is one of the most important parts of creating a perfect made-to-measure Wedding Gown. It should be made from good quality fabric that obviously suits the style of the dress and constructed during a well thought through the process from the pattern, cutting to sewing. All technical parts of the construction process must be meticulously executed and this will ensure a perfect fit that will complement the client’s body. A wedding gown should also be comfortable and practical keeping in mind where the wedding will take place. Last but not least – it should be absolutely exquisite and a slightly over-the-top resemblance of your client’s personal style and dress sense.
Tell us about your last collection?
I specialize in bespoke made-to-measure wedding gowns so the collections that I create are all small capsules that are mere to inspire future brides. It is a combination of my design aesthetic that is feminine, modern and glamorous with what is trendy for the coming wedding season. All these gowns are used for marketing and PR.
What was your inspiration? (This capsule collection is not the images that are attached to this email, this photoshoot will only take place later this month)
I believe there is nothing more creative and powerful than simply creating innately and instinctually from his heart and not by following definite bridal trends – and it is with this approach that he designs each bespoke bridal gown.
For this capsule I drew inspiration from the old-world opulence of both Western and Eastern cultures and as always, attention to detail was paramount when both these ensembles were conceptualized. I juxtaposed simplistic A-line silhouettes with intricate beadwork, one-of-kind embroidery, lace details, structured origami pleats in Silk Lame Taffeta. All these elements are synonymous with his design aesthetic.
The looks are figure-flattering and tailored to accentuate a woman’s body, slightly elongating the torso and narrowing the waist with belts.
Multiple layers of bridal and Italian tulle contribute to the lightness of the design and the way the fabric is cut creates authentic volume in these gowns that add to the natural effortlessness of each design.
Subtle tones of taupe, winter white, and pearl in combinations with the various finishes of the fabrics create interest, depth, balance and above all a luxurious feel.
This capsule gives an implicit understanding that you are witnessing something magical, entirely unique and above all dresses made for Happily Ever After!
Which is your favorite material to work with?
My favorite materials to work with are definitely beautiful French, Spanish Laces or delicate and delicate embroideries in combination with soft and fluid silk chiffons or Italian tulles.