Meet Sheila-Madge Bakker, South Africa's Award-Winning Designer

Oversized, unisex T-shirt with illustrated hands
Oversized, unisex T-shirt with illustrated hands | ©Charlotte Heyn

We chat to this year’s Lufthansa First Class Collections winner, Sheila-Madge Bakker, a Pretoria-based designer who is striving to merge the avant-garde with practical wearables.

The Lufthansa First Class Collections gives young, up-and-coming designers the opportunity to showcase their work at SA Fashion Week. Sheila-Madge Bakker, 2017’s first prize winner, walks away with a return flight to Germany where she’ll attend Berlin Fashion Week. We find out what inspires her designs, which clothing pieces she simply can’t do without, and more.

Tell us about SAFW. How did it feel being chosen as a finalist for Lufthansa’s First Class collections?

Connecting with other like-minded designers was the biggest highlight of the whole experience as it really opened up new possibilities in terms of collaboration and togetherness within the fashion industry. I learned new “tricks” and production methods, tips on where to find interesting, quality fabrics and made amazing new friends. I even got to talk to Edda Gimnes, which was very inspiring, and it was fascinating to learn that the global zeitgeist reached me within my smaller Pretoria studio. Our designs hung next to each other on the rail, and the colours and “look” of most of the garments were very similar.

In terms of winning the competition, all I can say is “wow!” It was a true “Miss World moment”, or so it felt. Going to Germany will open up a whole world of possibilities. Just being able to open my mind to new details and cultures that I would never otherwise have experienced is a great privilege.

Alligator Omen dress

Have you always been interested in fashion, or, rather, have you always wanted to be a fashion designer?

My biggest childhood dream was to be an explorer, to find different rocks and minerals and do excavations, or to become a detective, but to be the fashionable tomboy if that makes sense.

I have always been interested in the world of fashion, but more so the creative direction, artistic and fashion photography aspects. Being a designer never really had any appeal until I started studying and realised that all of those worlds can be combined within design.

Skirt and top from the Black Lips collection

Do you have that item of clothing in your wardrobe you can’t go more than a week without?

Yes, I think everybody does! I have a few, one to look at, one as a basic go-to and one as a quick-fix piece.

I bought one of my wedding dresses (I’ll wear three different dresses when I getting married one day) long ago at a vintage market. It is beautifully decorated with mother of pearl beading, 100% silk layers and was made in India. A day doesn’t pass that I don’t look at it.

My basic go-to outfit is my leggings; they’re a must for long studio hours.

My quick-fix item is a pair of huge tassel-beaded hanging earrings. I only pierced my ears a few months ago and can’t live without a statement earring.

Traiteur jacket close up

What inspires your designs and why did you decide to focus on bridal couture?

I love having my fingers in many pies. The fashion industry has so many layers and it’s wonderful to explore them all. Although I love ready-to-wear a lot, working with concept and more frivolous ideas gets me going. Bridal couture gives me the opportunity to explore way-out ideas within a financially safe environment. I am very lucky to have had brides that share my vision giving me the freedom to go wild with their “once in a lifetime” dress.

The Fait Accompli bodysuit

Do you have a favourite collection or piece from your own designs?

I love the Macaque jacket from the Black Lips range and the Tsodilo dress from my latest range. Textured leather layers, beading and colour-bombs.

The wedding dress I made for my friend Andel Olivier is really special to me as we are really close and it opened up doors to many other great ideas and a fantastic collaboration with her.

Macaque jacket from the Black Lips collection

Is there anyone you would love to collaborate with?

I am working on two collaborations at the moment, both with amazing artists and people that just generally blow my mind. The first is with Skaam Haai, a brand that creates structural vases and pots, and the other with Bianca Brand, one of my favourite illustrators.

Traiteur jacket, part of the Black Lips Collection, a collaboration with artist Andel Olivier

What can we expect to see more of in your career?

More beading, more texture, more layers, more collaborations, more visual, more concept, more-is-more!

Any advice you have for aspiring fashion designers?

Go for it! Work hard, live your dream, don’t give up, and be kind.

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