With the inaugural Arise Africa Fashion Week taking place in a week or so, I sat down for a cup of tea and a chat to one of the youngest and most pan-African of the designers showing at this showcase of African fashion.
Lalesso is a label that has been around for about four years, and in that time has found itself with a desirable flagship store on Cape Town's trendy Kloof Street and a role as the new darlings of the most fashion-forward of the young international celebrities like Rihanna and Sienna Miller.
Co-creators Olivia Kennaway and Alice Heusser launched Lalesso in Cape Town in 2005.
The inspiration behind the brand came from a holiday to Olivia's home country Kenya, where the pair travelled to the island of Lamu.
The traditional garb of the local women is the patterned 'khanga' or 'lesso'; its print and vibrant colours grabbed their attention and soon they managed to combine fashion college deadlines with the birth of the Lalesso brand. After graduating they decided to launch in the UK and Europe in the beginning of 2007.
A contract with high street retail giant Topshop and invitations to show at Pret-a-Porter in Paris, Magic in Las Vegas and Cape Town Fashion Week in South Africa followed.
Pretty good going
Now stocked in boutiques and stores worldwide, the label has been seen on style icon Kate Moss and singer Estelle, as well as Rihanna and Sienna. This is pretty good going for two young girls from Africa.
I asked Alice why she thought that these young celebrities have taken to the Lalesso look so easily.
"Well it is pretty unique and these people are the more edgy of the young 'it' names. They are always looking to set the trends, rather than follow them, and they need something really different to do this with," Alice explained.
"I also think that our garments are very easy to dress up or down ? you can make them work with your own identity, so when you have a very clear idea of your own style, our pieces work really well for you."
"Also Africa is in fashion right now and there is not much available in Europe and the US that is authentically African. We combine the best of Kenyan aesthetics with South African production and distribution to provide a really high-quality and innovative African product," Alice concluded.
So if we want to dress like Kate, we no longer have to take a trip to London, we just have to pop up the street.
A totally different collection
But what have the Lalesso ladies got in store for us in the new collection and will it live up to the standards set in their last summer collection?
"It is going to be totally different from our last collection," Alice confidently tells me.
"The last collection was very boho and dreamy. It was all about summers on the beach in some trendy, hippy travelling place. This collection is far more sophisticated and structured. It is cute and girlie but has more maturity in design and construction than our last summer collection."
I wondered if it was going to lose the unique Lalesso look and identity with all these changes, but I was assured that, while there were four new prints, the same identity would prevail, just with a different narrative.
Taking the lessons to heart
The girls have learned a lot since their last foray down the ramp. The lessons have been hard, even brutal at times, but the maturity with which they now speak is a testament to the strength they found to push through the difficulties, really taking the lessons to heart to ensure a bigger and brighter future.
I prodded hard for some exclusive insight into the new collection for Arise Africa Fashion Week and was told that it was all top secret.
After much wheedling on my part I did find out, much to my surprise, that it was to be very sexy and that the '40s were a big reference point for them when they were designing the collection. Mixing the prints and using construction, combined with this new point of departure has intrigued me and I can't wait to see it.
With model/creative producer of the label, Leoni, in the hot seat again this season, we can be confident that the show will be edgy and relevant. Making sure that every element of the styling, music and pace is factored into the overall production is key to this team and they are working hard to get everything absolutely perfect for this big occasion.
The pressure is on
"We know that the participants in Arise Africa Fashion Week were extremely carefully selected, so we are so flattered and pleased to have been invited to participate," say both designers.
"Of course the pressure is on because we don't want to let anyone down, least of all ourselves. We know that we can get every single detail right for us, but we are putting ourselves out there as newcomers in the midst of such established designers. It really is very intimidating."
Seeing Arise Africa Fashion Week as an unparalleled marketing opportunity for their brand, the designers are determined to do well.
"This is in incredible opportunity for us, and all the other designers, to present our fashion point of view to the international media and buyers who may not think that all the disparate fashion weeks that take place are worth their time. Now that there is one consolidated view, this is definitely the one to be seen at," say Lalesso.
The Lalesso team see this first combined fashion week as a historic occasion. Rather than having their heads turned by the success they have achieved so far, they are looking to the future and working as hard as they can to grow and develop and mature as a design label.
Still in their mid-twenties, the Lalesso ladies are fantastic fashion role models for young designers and I look forward to seeing the new summer collection on Tuesday 16th June at the Sandton International Convention Centre. Tickets are available from Computicket.
For more information on Robyn and stories of Lalesso and other designers, go to: http://styleguidecapetown.blogspot.com