Jenny Lai and Chris Saunder's 'NOT x Chris Saunders' SA fashion/photography collaboration will by showcasing at Wallplay Gallery in NYC.
Words by Toni Oluwatoni Y. Akindele & Alyssa Klein
In January of 2014, New York-based designer Jenny Lai traveled to Johannesburg to collaborate with South African photographer and filmmaker Chris Saunders, the same director behind some of this year's most striking music videos (including Nozinja's "Tsekeleke" and Okmalumkoolkat's recent "Allblackblackkat"). Lai is the founder of womenswear brand NOT, an experimental label that defines itself by its own definition of the word "not"– "the space around the solid and tangible, the hidden spaces within the folds of the clothing, and the open spaces where you reveal yourself surprisingly," they say. "It negates the solid and tangible in favor of space, imagination, and movement." Together Lai and Saunders set out to showcase "cultural reinvention" through a fashion/photography experiment entitled NOT x Chris Saunders. Moving across Joburg, Orange Farm, Soweto and Cape Town, the collaborators linked with four South African hyper-creatives to creatively interpret Lai's NOT garments. The group included accessories designer Dennis Chuene (who founded Vernac Bags), vintage clothier Dr. Pachanga, menswear designer Floyd Avenue (from the Smarteez in Soweto), and Pantsula dance costumer/puppeteer Macdonald Mfolo. "Each collaborator was chosen for the unique perspective they offered in the South African fashion scene," Lai explained on an Indiegogo page to raise funds to show their work in New York. She writes:
"In each collaboration, I immersed myself completely into the working style and process of my partners, whether it was working from a backyard shack or sourcing from the local upholstery stores. Together we created one-of-a-kind garments: a hat made by a local milliner, the joints of a puppet hand ingeniously created from overlapping recycled water bottles, a reengineered garment from 2nd hand clothing donated from the West."
NOT x Chris Saunders will be on display from September 10th to September 17th at NYC's "global art campaign space" Wallplay in the LES. The exhibition features a selection of re-interpreted NOT garments along with Saunders' images and final cuts documenting the collaboration. Lai and Saunders will be speaking at an artists' talk moderated by Wallplay, Monday, September 15th, at 7:30PM (To attend, RSVP to RSVP@wallplay.com). Visit Another Africa for their exceptional coverage of the project, including interviews with Lai and Saunders, Floyd Avenue, Macdonald Mafolo, Manthe Ribane, Dennis Chuene, and Dr. Pachanga.