Standing ovation for fashion designer Tlale

Amanda Ngudle

Amanda Ngudle

All devout fashionistas sing the David Tlale gospel.

Some have gone as far as saying he has rewritten the rules of the trade. When I saw his spring collection last year I was at first convinced he had gone and lost it.

But having learnt a few things about fashion lately, I have given Tlale a quiet standing ovation. He tells me his assistant needs a right-hand person himself.

"He does my diary, runs my errands, does my book-keeping, everything," he confides. "I even call him on weekends for jobrelated issues."

It's clear Tlale's rag trade life is lived in the fast lane and it doesn't help that he is the man of the moment.

Fresh from the Audi Fashion Week, Tlale has already showcased in Cape Town for the opening of the Jazz Festival.

I arrived in the madness of Tlale's studio in Rosebank and wondered what I'd let myself in for. His phone rang nonstop, the door bell wouldn't stop, with people collecting or delivering from who knows who and where?

With such a fast pace in his step, who can ask a stupid question? Imagine me asking: "Who was that guy and what's in the black bag?"

The gospel sounds in the backdrop make for a rather intimate atmosphere, fluxed as this place might be.

"You can pace yourself the way you want to," he says. "There's time for everything and when it's time for me to work I work hard,"

Startled by another call coming through, I remain mute.

"Speak, Amanda, I'm sure I'll be able to hear you," he says with the phone at his ear. "You know nothing moves me to become anything that I'm not.

"Whether its turbulence, drama or delirious times, I remain this way because when those times go away they might take me with them if I allow them to define me.

"My biggest challenge at this point is fusing this calm waters mentality with the 'challenging, clichéd and expected' slogan in my designs."

Tlale's couture always carries something of a rebellion. I ask if there's a black sheep within.

"We try not to look as if we are reinventing the wheel but we certainly try to make a significant statement with our garments," he says.

"I cannot really put a finger on it but our couture carries a special signature that challenges stereotypes."

It must have been in this spirit then that he showcased skirts for men. Isn't he scared of driving prospective customers away?

"The fashion industry is about taking risks, setting trends and making bold statements," he insists. "What's the point of sticking to the tried and tested?"

Because Tlale is known to go wild with decorative elements in his designs, some people are unable to find the perfect occasion for his designs and he is not apologetic about it.

"Look at this dress," he says pointing at a phenomenal dress on a mannequin. "You can wear it at the J&B Met. Remove these feathers and you have a dress to wear at a wedding."

Tlale's designs are not for the coy. They are for people who are serious about dressing up.

With a waiting period of up to three months it is clear why Tlale believes what he believes about his label.

"I've long made peace with the fact that you either love the DT label or you don't."