For the past few years I have been working for myself as a fashion designer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I have had the opportunity to explore my own design style and share it locally through South African Fashion Week. My style looks at my exploration of beauty, creativity and the 21st Century culture. I strive for my work to speak for itself, to relay emotion, a sense of beauty. Similar to the romanticism I see in the work of the Pre-Raphaelites. While studying my degree in Fashion Design I wrote a dissertation on my investigation into the application of the Theory of Deconstruction in the fashion design process.
Article Written by Lucy Sarah O'Connell for GET IT Magazine February 2018
AN EYE FOR BEAUTY
With a rich and varied portfolio that covers everything from bespoke bridal designs to terrifying music video costumes, Joel Janse van Vuuren is a fashion designer who can take any idea and turn it into something truly incredible.
There’s something very special about Joel Janse van Vuuren. It’s hard to put your finger on how he seems to be simultaneously pulsing with electricity and also calming everything around him. Perhaps it’s this very contradiction that makes Joel so special – a light and dark, fast and slow, smooth and rough that’s reflected perfectly in the incredible pieces he creates in his Emmarentia studio. ‘Formally, I’d describe myself as a fashion or costume designer, but for this interview lets flirt for a bit with ‘creative’. I love the word creative - it’s so open and unanchored.’
Open and unanchored are also words that could easily be used to describe Joel’s own body of work. From creating breathtaking one-of- a-kind wedding dresses, to stage costumes for hip hop group Die Antwoord, his particular design talents can’t be tied down to just one area, which is something he’s very passionate about. ‘It’s the diversity of work I love and seeing the creativity in everything I do. It’s as if every project I take on has new challenges and opportunities from which to grow. Although the outcome of each project may be quite different, the process is the same – it’s about taking concepts, ideas and moods and working with my client to translate them into reality. My job is about finding the best fit for an outfit which exemplifies who you are.’
His position in South African’s fashion world was established through years of hard work ever since he decided to pursue a career in fashion design. ‘It was about a year after high school. Taking a gap year and travelling a bit, I worked in a high street fashion store in London. While working there I saw the potential for creative expression through fashion. That’s really what led me down this adventurous path. ‘ The beauty in Joel’s creations clearly also comes from the beauty he takes in from the world around him. ‘I’m not sure if you watch any art films, but do you ever stop and picture what you’re seeing in real life being on a screen? Not in a narcissistic way, but in the way of appreciating the beauty or ugliness of your surroundings, just as we do when we watch a film. I guess I like being a bit of an escapist into the world of storytelling, whether it’s movies, books or a TV series.’
With such a rich and varied pool of design, it’s no surprise that this talented escapist has a hard time choosing just one favourite piece from his collections. ‘I’ve definitely got a few. There’s a green ombré silk habotai dress that reminds me of a Greek goddess, a blanket monster I made for a Desmond and The Tutus music video, a golden yellow mollusc-inspired spiral dress, and a photograph taken in Delta Park by my cousin Robyn Davie of Bianca Smit wearing my white silk and sequin dress. It has to be one of my favourite photos of all time.’ When asked for his career highlights, Joel also has more than a few fantastic options to choose from. ‘Working with the Miss South Africa pageant in 2015 making incredible, flowing kaftans for the swimwear section of the final was a definite highlight. Also, going to Maputo and taking part in Mozambique fashion week in 2016. Ultimately, I guess something that’s always going to stick with me is the first time I was featured on a runway at South African Fashion Week in 2011.’
With several projects always on the go, Joel finds inspiration in the world around him. ‘This may sound a bit strange, but I’ve been finding inspiration through emotion – specifically passion. I’m inspired by seeing passion through people I meet, or how it’s portrayed in a physical form, in everything from a painting to a film, or even how the guy at Dunkeld Fruit and Flowers arranges the flowers I’ve chosen.’ And when he’s not designing completely unique outfits or buying flowers, you’ll find Joel taking time to explore the beauties of nature and the great outdoors. ‘I’m also currently working on turning my cottage into a forest, and I just hit my 100th Park Run.’
Joel’s talent has seen him dressing some of South Africa’s biggest names, but if he could dress anyone on earth, he’s looking a little further afield. ‘If I’m honest, this changes from time to time, but at the moment Natalie Portman is at the top of my list. One of my favourite films is Black Swan, and she was so dynamic in that. Then later this year she’s in a film called Annihilation which looks fantastically bizarre. And that’s just the stuff she does on screen!’ For Joburg women looking to lift their fashion game, Joel believes there’s really nothing as lekker as local. ‘There’s one place that jumps straight into my mind when you ask that. I’m a firm believer in supporting local and in this case local fashion, so I’d say Convoy in Melville. It’s a boutique packed with local clothing, jewellery and shoes, and if you haven’t shopped here yet, definitely put it on your list!’
When Joel swaps his quiet, plant-filled studio for time in his favourite city, he’s truly passionate about the City of Gold. ‘The vibrancy and energy that pulsates through this city is incredible! But my favourite thing about Joburg is that we’re surrounded by nature – Joburg is one of the world’s cities with the most tree-lined streets – in fact, it’s the site of the biggest man-made forest on earth! Then a couple of weeks ago a rain spider made the most beautiful web, suspended between branches in my garden!’ Chatting to Joel, it’s clear that the incredible beauty and artistry of his work is directly influenced by the beauty in the world around him – and with so much left for him to see, we can’t wait to discover what he creates next.