He is the Creative Director of Afrocentric Gentlemvn, the media and tailoring platform; an inductee onto Best Dressed lists and a magnet to many a camera. A scholar of the cloth, an old soul and a finely turned out Gentleman, Mr Menzi Mcunu not short of descriptors. He is African Dandyism personified, and his devotion to its tenets rivals that of seasoned cloth gods the world over. Mr Siphiwe Mpye caught up with Mcunu on the eve of his participation in a noted.man panel on ‘The meaning of making’.
Describe the Afrocentric Gentlemvn tailoring process and your role in it as Creative Director?
As the creative director, I oversee the design and tailoring process. Because the process is made to measure, every garment is made to the specifications of each client. I am more of the image consultant in this process. I walk the client through the journey, I tell them what patterns and fabrics will compliment them, what lapels would look good on their body type and so on.
What is the most prized item in your wardrobe and why?
This is a hard one because I place value on all my items, they all play an integral role into how I look. But I must say it is my black and white two-tone Crocket and Jones brogues. When I’m wearing those I feel like I’m at my peak, the ultimate Afro dandy.
What have you read recently that has captivated you?
I’m reading this book titled “The Suit” and it is an in-depth historical analysis on how we developed the men’s suit, as we know it today. It’s crazy to read how men used to wear high heels and suits.
The Sanlam HmC has dedicated this year to ‘a return to making’. This idea of ‘making’ seems to be a more exciting proposition than ‘craft’. There is energy and purpose in ‘making’, would you not agree?
I think it’s because craft became so commercialised from African art work to liquor. Craft just started being used for everything and in that it lost it essence what craft truly focused on, on the niche, the one-on-one experience, the tailor-made aspect. Making on the other hand still offers the excitement of experimenting, making mistakes, creating something unique and bespoke. Making sounds a lot more authentic and personal.
With so much fast, disposal fashion around, where you can look ‘on trend’ for very little, why is turning out in well considered and well-made clothes important?
For me, two things stand out authenticity and sustainability. Fast fashion is like bubble gum music, it doesn’t last, the trends change every week, they aren’t unique and a quite confirmative, I like fashion to feel like an experience, to represent your individualism. For me this has always been a cornerstone of my brand and what I represent. All my garments are a one of one and that too me represents who I am in every garment, for every client it highlights their individuality.
“Fast fashion is like bubble gum music, it doesn’t last, the trends change every week, they aren’t unique and a quite confirmative, I like fashion to feel like an experience, to represent your individualism.”
Are there days when you wake up and don’t actually feel like dressing up?
I realised that looking good and dressing up was the way I dealt with the world, I know that when I’m wearing that suit, when I look good nothing can stop me. When I look good I feel good and I feel good I do good. The way I dress is the armor I wear to take on my day. So even when I don’t feel like dressing up that’s when I dress up because that changes the whole outlook of my day
What is the real ‘Dandyism in Africa’ narrative and what is the myth?
Afro dandyism goes back a long time into our history, Afrodandyism is the redefinition of black masculinity or can also be a response to western gazes of what black masculinity should be. Think about Sophiatown, the Kofifi movement, the Swenkas, the Sapeurs. Those are all forms of Afro dandyism in which black men who has often been so dehumanized attempted to express their humanity and masculinity through sartorial. That is the real Afrodand narrative. It goes much deeper than clothing. The Myth is that it is just about wearing suits it’s a lot deeper
Apart from clothing, where else do you get a good sense of a person’s taste or style? What is the tell-tale sign that someone is stylish, in this environment?
Attention to detail. If they notice what is often missed, that is a person of great taste.
Which sartorial rules do you enjoy breaking the most?
I subscribe to the Italian notion of Sprezzatura which translates to “studied nonchalance” in this I like to look like I’m not trying too hard, like not buckling my double monks, or tying my tie so that the back part is elongated. Or mixing prints that shouldn’t be mixed. I like to break most of the rules.
In your travels, which country has proven the most stylish and why?
Italy and particularly Florence without a doubt. Everyone takes such pride in dressing up from street cleaners in white Supergas and one piece uniforms, to waiters in bowties, everyone looks so elegant.
Pic: Mr John Baloyi
Menzi will be speaking at a noted.man panel on ‘The meaning of making’ this Thursday 11 October, in the Maison Bisquit cocktail bar, at Sanlam Handmade Contemporary Fair. Tickets at Webtickets.