An Introduction to David Tlale, South Africa's Eclectic Designer

David Tlale Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Johannesburg 2016 © Simon Deiner Photography / SDR Ramp
David Tlale Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Johannesburg 2016 © Simon Deiner Photography / SDR Ramp
Photo of Lee-Shay Collison
17 January 2017

He has been called the King of Fashion, and South Africa’s Karl Lagerfeld. Renowned for his bold designs, showmanship and penchant for drama, David Tlale is a household name in South Africa. In little over 10 years, the talented couturier has gone from a young student — who admittedly didn’t know the first thing about sewing — to one of Africa’s greatest fashion designers. We lift the veil on South Africa’s most beloved fashion icon.

David Tlale was born and raised in Vosloorus, a large township located south of Boksburg in the province of Gauteng. Fashion was the furthest thing from Tlale’s mind when he enrolled at the Tshwane University of Technology in 1993 to study internal auditing. There he befriended a group of fashion design students, and fell in love with their coursework.

Unhappy with his chosen degree, Tlale dropped out halfway through the first semester, and enrolled in the fashion design program at Vaal University of Technology where he graduated four years later.

David Tlale/Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa 2014 | © Courtesy of Simon Deiner Photography / SDR Ramp

The rise to the top began in 2002 after Tlale wowed the local fashion elite at South African Fashion Week, and later was awarded the coveted Elle New Talent Award. The achievement paved the way to launch his own label in 2003. But his big break came in 2007, when he was selected as one of four South African designers to present their couture collections at Paris Fashion Week.

Tlale has always pushed the boundaries with his daring approach and focus on striking silhouettes — a far cry from the more cautious South African designers of previous generations. His expert craftsmanship and attention to detail, in an array of bold yet elegant designs, has captured the imagination of fashionistas and celebrities around the world.

David Tlale/Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Johannesburg 2016 | © Coutesy of Simon Deiner Photography / SDR Ramp
David Tlale Spring/Summer 2016 Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week | © Simon Deiner Photography / SDR Ramp

In 2010, Tlale debuted his Spring/Summer collection as part of an African collective at Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week. Fashion critics and buyers took note of Tlale’s striking creations and invited him to showcase a solo collection at the prestigious event in September 2012, making him the first South African designer in history to be granted the honor.

Tlale presented a daring yet feminine Ready-to-Wear Fall range, which featured lots of leather, sheer fabrics and gold embellishments. The collection earned Tlale positive reviews from critics and fans alike, affirming his position as a world-class designer. Since then, Tlale has showcased a further five successful collections at New York Fashion Week.

Tlale is dynamic in his interpretation of local and international trends. His inventive use of fabric, color and texture is a remarkable attribute of his designs. The fashion house designs both women’s and menswear, as well as couture and bridal wear.

Over the years, Tlale has proved he is a design force to be reckoned with, having won numerous accolades and nominations. November 2014 was particularly a good month for the designer when he was awarded Designer of the Year at the African Diaspora Awards held in New York City, and also the African Icon of Hope award in Nigeria. In the same month, he made the global list of 100 Most Inspiring Africans in London-based New African Magazine, and was also featured in TIME Magazine as one of the designers shaping Africa’s fashion landscape.

David Tlale Lagos Fashion Week 2016 | © Simon Deiner Photography / SDR Ramp
David Tlale Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Africa | © Simon Deiner Photography / SDR Ramp

In addition to his many accolades, Tlale has worked with several local and international brands, most recently with global underwear brand Jockey, for whom he designed a capsule collection.

In 2015, Tlale headlined the 2015 BET Awards Experience where he showcased a capsule collection in addition to presenting an award, and in 2016 he made the BET A-List as South Africa’s Style Icon.

Since his arrival on the fashion scene, Tlale has also been involved in philanthropic work. He was an ambassador for the Change-4-Ever Campaign, an initiative that aims to alleviate poverty in southern Africa, and has also lent his services to the United Colors of Fashion mentoring program for emerging young designers.

You can find David Tlale’s designs on sale at his flagship store in Fox Street, Johannesburg, and at the Bromwell Boutique Mall in Cape Town.

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