MBFWCT | Every cloud has a silver lining

Cyril Naicker sits down with Top international fashion business expert on the eve of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week, Cape Town.

It’s not everyday that you get the opportunity for a one on one interview with an international authority on design management, brand creation and development. It can certainly be slightly intimidating prepping questions for someone with over 45 years of experience in the luxury brands and fashion sectors of Canada, USA, Europe and Asia, who has lectured at top international design and brand management institutions, who owned numerous art galleries and formed his own network of design consultancies.

Professor Jan Staël von Holstein

Professor Jan Staël von Holstein

Professor Jan Staël von Holstein is a powerful man who is in Cape Town on the eve of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week to present the keynote speech at an exclusive gala dinner. I arrive on a crisp winter morning at the lobby of the One & Only Hotel eager to meet and chat with him. He is warm in his welcome, softly spoken, drinking water with lemon, wearing a pair of distinct spectacles designed exclusively for him that has become his trademark style. After a pleasant exchange in welcome greetings he tells me it’s his first visit to Cape Town and he has a play on the hotel name, the One & Only and finds it amusing that his first visit in our city is at the One and Only.

I’m fascinated with his network name, Silver Lining and as I settle into my seat, I ask him about how the name came to be? I quote the phrase by John Milton ‘silver lining’ in Comus: A Mask Presented at Ludlow Castle, 1634 but professor Holstein tells me the story behind the name.

He was in China with 30 company owners who wanted him to form this network. He asked them to place their business cards on a table and he drew a line in a silver pen across the cards and explained that in order for The Network with a Silver Lining to be a success, they must each keep their identity. I lean forward in my seat knowing that I’m about to embark on an adventure and learn some pearls of wisdom from here on out!

I glance at my iPad and I ask my first question.

What do you think about Victoria Beckham – from walking the red carpet to having dressed many who walk the red carpet? More specifically, what is your take on Victoria Beckham as a brand?

Victoria Beckham has merged her star status very cleverly using her short career in the music industry to build her brand. She has always been focussed on how she looked. It’s interesting to note that her name is the brand, she used her persona and not a product. She designs with her customer in mind, with her customer at the forefront. She has used her advantages to the best of her ability, David Beckham being one. Both she and her husband have incredible work ethics.

What value do you think Africa has on design?

Africa has a wonderful and strong culture. Sadly, most of the work in design in Africa is seen as craft related. The work by designers currently is not strong enough for outside Africa unless it’s curios. Designers need to explore merging craft work and design in order for the world to notice.

How do you define design?

Design is visual. It’s powerful because an individual can shape a culture or event. In the past designers were influenced by artists. Today artists are influenced by designers. Design is an individual expression as in fine art.

What in your opinion gives a brand it’s soul?

Creating the experience! Does the consumer have a relationship with the brand? It’s all about the experience, experience by a human.

Speaking of humans, Vogue magazine is the bible in fashion – how (in your opinion) has Anna Wintour maintained this? And to this day manages to be the voice of fashion?

That’s a good question. Vogue was an icon before Anna started, now Anna is the icon. She is incredibly talented and decisive. She is a smart businesswoman. Suzy Menkes was a smart appointment by Anna. She has the power to influence many. Like Kate Middleton – the influence of one person, a ‘commoner’ who became a fairytale princess.

We talk briefly of Kate Middleton and the power she has in her dressing and these items being sold out within hours. It’s the perfect scene created to ask my next question.

Creativity on the digital platform has taken the world by storm. From twitter, Instagram, Vine, Youtube etc. Where do you think we are heading from a digital space?

The Digital space is new territory. Hugely inspiring with great potential for commercial business. E-commerce – Tencent in China is only 4 years old. What they make in one day, eBay makes in one year! There are over 21 active social networks in China with 600 million users a day. What the digital world offers is mind boggling. The scale is massive. The digital space plays a huge influence on fashion and is a game changer, from China to Africa – the world is open online. Designers have a great opportunity if they have a website, are visible online, have money to back their online business and have the support structure. It not only takes talent but personality – Tom Ford made Gucci the house it is today, outside that he made his name a brand.

I’m all for supporting local design, with the collapse of Rana Plaza, in Bangladesh, what is your take on the future of ethical fashion?

We must ask questions! In terms of manufacturing of products – how is it made? We don’t wear fur anymore and we don’t encourage killing animals but we need to ask how is it made? Where is the fabric used? We can’t use slave labor nor can should we use people living in poor conditions. The internet plays a huge role in exposing abuse in any form. Ethical fashion will take a while to solve but it has begun. This is hopeful.

On a personal note, professor, having travelled the world, lived in different continents, what would you tell your younger self?

Be Curious. Explore the world. Learn many languages (Professor Jan Staël von Holstein is fluent in nine languages) this has been a doorway for me to understand their culture.

Final thoughts…

If he wrote a book, the title would be Incurably Curious
His greatness weakness is he can never say no
If there was a flight to the moon, he would be on it
His mission in life is to improve life for people by design

Anita Stanbury, CEO South African National Fashion Council (SANFC), Professor Jan Staël von Holstein, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Africa Fashion International (AFI) Executive Chairperson

Anita Stanbury, CEO South African National Fashion Council (SANFC), Professor Jan Staël von Holstein, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Africa Fashion International (AFI) Executive Chairperson

With that we end our interview but not without two friendly faces walking over toward us. Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe and Anita Stanbury. Right at this moment, three powerful influencers in the world of design, brand and fashion.

This has been a silver lining encounter!

Photo credit: Cyril Naicker

About the Author:
Cyril Naicker is a passionate South African. Driven by ethical fashion he started Cape Town InVogue and is currently producing a fashion TV show called MyVogue Africa. His aim is to market and promote Africa in the clothing and textile sector to be competitive on a global scale.
Follow MyVogueSA : @MyVogueSA @cyrilnaicker

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