Much of the fashion landscape at the 2022 State of the Nation Address (Sona) appeared to be compressed into sobriety and restraint – ferried to City Hall, attendees got out of cars, waved , smiled and walked inside the building with little pomp or pageantry.
The attire expected of the politician in Sona is often bold, daring, flamboyant, a kind of statement. Previous red carpets have been paved with many frills and ruffles: in 2014, as the EFF emerged in chaos and hullabaloo in their now ubiquitous red jumpsuit with red helmets, there was Bridgette Radebe in a red and turquoise dress by his go- to the designer Marianne Fassler; that same year, then Energy Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson, had chosen a bespoke gold bronze and orange dress by South African designer Gavin Rajah, with rough, pointed shoulder pads and a tight waist that made her look like a ruthless Catherine de Medici; there was Lindiwe Mazibuko who always mixed and matched fabulous modern pieces from local designers; or Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe in outfits straight out of the IFA rails, not missing an opportunity to promote his fashion business; and who could forget in 2017, the impeccably tailored navy suit of the former Interior Minister Malusi Gigabanext to his then-wife, Norma Gigaba, in a corseted white mermaid gown created by couture designer Gert-Johan Coetzee.
Times change, Parliament burns, corruption gallops and muted tones and more conservative silhouettes tread the red carpet, enameled here with a small red fascinator – brilliantly worn by Ntombovuyo Silberose Nkopane – there by Bernice Swarts in a black and white ensemble, pencil skirt and ruffles; Also of note, Police Minister Bheki Cele wearing his usual panama hat, this evening white – a contrast to Finance Minister Enoch Godongwana’s black fedora hat (or was it a trilby?).
And so Sona 2022 looked like a fashion sigh, a chill of the off-the-shoulder dress. But then came President Cyril Ramaphosa.
Dressed in a black striped suit with notched lapels – made by local retailer Foschini – with a white shirt and black leather brogues – also made in Cape Town – he chose a textured candy apple red tie with cherry red designs to complete her outfit.
If the tailored dark suit paired with a white shirt is a constant in the official Ramaphosa wardrobe, the red tie is also a regular element: it comes in different shades of red: a burgundy to express a more relaxed attitude ( or discouraged?), like the one he wore a photo from 2013 by Pieter Hugo for The New York Times as newly elected vice-president of the ANC; woven with dark blue on its official portrait, as if to temper excitement; exulting and triumphant, a bright red South African flag, during a Bloomberg interview in 2020; a slightly orangey red, almost washed out when he announced to South Africans that we were going to self-quarantine for 21 days, on March 26, 2020, at midnight.
But on Thursday, it was sunny again. He looked decisive, influential, carefree – he wanted to silence the vermilion red overalls, stifle, if only for a moment, the mahogany-red despair of years of economic and social downfall, he lightened the burden of our bruised souls, a promise against the otherwise dark garb of our existence. Did it work? Probably not.
The color red is not innocent either: it isone of the most visible colors in the spectrum (just after yellow)” and is often used to express danger. But it is also a color symbolizing happiness and luck in many countries, such as China and India; Kate Carter wrote in The Guardianthat: “In Roman mythology, [red] was associated with blood, of course, and courage. It was the color of the god of war, Mars – and the color of the army… Emperor Charlemagne painted his palace red, wore red shoes and is even said to have red hair. Red was the color of blood – but blood was a symbol not only of death, but of life – of fertility and love. That’s a lot of posts in a single tie – if there were posts.
Beyond the color choice, Ramaphosa, as an ode to the power of dressing up and the impact our clothing choices can have, also made a point of mentioning “local is lekker”, asking South Africans to buy local.
“In the apparel industry, a number of retailers have announced ambitious localization sourcing plans. One such retailer, Foschini, kindly made the suit I’m wearing today at their new formal wear factory, Prestige Epping. Five years ago, more than 80% of all Foschini Group goods came from the East. Today, almost half of the merchandise is made locally.
“The genuine leather shoes I’m wearing were made by members of the National Union of Leather and Allied Products Workers at Bolton Footwear in Cape Town and Dick Whittington Shoes in Pietermaritzburg,” he said.
Long before him, former finance minister Trevor Manuel had also worn locally made ties, suits and shoes; Manuel’s late mother was a worker at Rex Trueform in Cape Town. And other politicians proudly wore locally made outfits (take that, Gucci) out of deference and admiration for the work of South African artisans and our talented artisans.
However, as young South African designers are building brands with an international reach, it is always refreshing to hear that efforts are and will be made to rebuild and strengthen the local manufacturing industry. Sober or not, red or not, Sona’s twirls next year should once again be proudly South African, even for one night. DM/ML