by Stephen Garner

South African fashion designer Thebe Magugu presented his spring/summer 2022 menswear collection at Pitti Uomo on Thursday. This collection marks the designer’s first full menswear offering.

The collection, dubbed “Doublethink,” is one that explores corruption in Africa and the whistleblowers who have had enough. “In many ways, the societal ills the continent wrestles with stem from the insidious actions of its leaders,” said Magugu. “In South Africa, we have regularized the daily tales of missing millions and economy-controlling families. These stories become dinner-time anecdotes, which minimizes the devastating ramifications that corruption holds – from increased gaps in education and equality to the mismanagement of public goods and services, which often always morphs into violence. Corruption is a global issue, which defeats the ends of justice and deters a country’s sense of safety and trust. However, some strong individuals have said ‘enough!’ – the brave women and men who have come forward as whistleblowers, who have exposed the level of rot from companies and institutions both private and state.”

Author Mandy Wiener’s book The Whistleblowers forms part of the collection’s conceptual framework. “Whistleblowers are not celebrated or cast as heroic characters. Instead, they are largely treated as insubordinate, pariahs or troublemakers, wearing the scarlet letter ‘W’ and unable to find employment. I have chosen to shine a light on the plight of whistleblowers in South Africa, in the hope to advocate for a change in legislation, organizational support, and a change in social attitude.”

This started the collection’s strong western influence, which explores the idea of black hat bandits and white hat heroes. Silhouettes in the collection explore an evolved masculinity, which merge the classics of men’s tailoring with the elaborate detailing of the Great Basin buckaroo, which has obvious roots in the Spanish vaquero. Colorways include high-veld yellows, bushy greens, and baby blues, which all burn into sour orange and blood red. The colors were pulled from both the previous and the current national flag of South Africa.

For the collection, the political cartoonist Jonathan Zapiro contributed his archival works to be used as headlining prints. Zapiro’s artworks “SA Body Politic” and “Zuma Must Fall,” have been used across linen, denim, and cotton. They describe the country’s decimated democratic landscape through Zapiro’s classic use of hyenas to illustrate political crooks, who have mastered the art of manipulating. This references the collection’s title “Doublethink,” a term coined in George Orwell’s seminal novel 1984 which is defined as the act of simultaneously accepting two mutually contradictory beliefs. Corrupt politicians are conscious of the truth, while telling carefully constructed lies – the art of knowing and not knowing.

The Thebe Magugu “Soft’Tsotsi” Boots – the first menswear shoe produced by the brand – are black knee-length equestrian-style boots that feature on their toe the newly-developed ‘TM’ brand insignia and on their calf, an inflamed red cut-out of its Sisterhood Emblem. Humor tinges the boot through a custom stainless steel spur that features a rotating cut-out of the brand’s logo.

The collection has an associating newspaper, created under the brand’s publishing arm Faculty Press, and done in collaboration with leading South African newspaper The Daily Maverick. The 32-page newspaper features articles exploring the true cost of corruption on the country and continent from leading journalistic voices like Ferial Haffajee, Branco Brkic, and Sibusiso Ngalwa, with a paper by fashion theorist Erica De Greef.