Cape Town-based fashion designer Onesimo Bam has full faith in the collaborative creative process. He also believes in allowing things to unfold organically. The OneIAm collective is testament to his sartorial philosophy and the ancient paint technique employed in its latest collection celebrates the one-of-a-kind power of fluidity.
It all begins with words… A surprising start for a fashion designer who has a background in surface design (essentially print making), which he studied at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology (CPUT). An avid reader, Onesimo (26), who was born in the Eastern Cape, loves to disappear into books for creative inspiration.
‘I go to the library as often as possible. I read a lot, especially about different cultures or specific periods of history. I look at what textures and colours they used, what sort of food they ate, what sort of art they surrounded themselves with, etc. I take that all in and then I go into the studio, never knowing what’s going to come out.
‘I try not to think about it and rather let my hand do the work when I create a pattern or something new. I just go in, I never really plan or let myself get too much in my head. I never sketch anything. I like to be fluid about it and to let my current emotions influence the creative process.’
This process is often operating on a deeper level; one that’s not instantly accessible to the designer. For a previous collection called Dichotomy, Onesimo says he was playing around with an unusual bulbous shape. ‘I had been feeling in some way unsafe. I only later realised that this shape was womblike,’ he says. ‘So sometimes things come out during the creative process that are taking place on a subconscious level. It often only clicks for me at the end.’
‘What I love about the kimono is that whoever wears the garment creates their own unique silhouette.’
The kimono is central to OneIAm collections and an expression of Onesimo’s enduring fascination with Japan. ‘I’ve never been to Japan but I look at designers like Yohji Yamamoto [who uses Japanese design aesthetics] and Rei Kawakubo [founder of Comme des Garçons] and what they do in terms of how forward-thinking they are. The techniques they use and their design processes are intriguing.’
The kimono’s ability to transform is another element that drew Onesimo’s attention to the garment. ‘What I love about the kimono is that whoever wears the garment creates their own unique silhouette. As the wearer, you create your own shape – for each and every person it’s different; it’s individual.’
While Onesimo didn’t get to finish his surface design course at CPUT due to financial constraints, he says that he knew he’d be involved in the fashion industry. ‘I’ve always been in love with fashion in a way. The garments that you wear are an interpretation of who you are. The more expressive they are, the better. Clothes are who we are. They express emotion; they express your mood on a specific day. I was always going to explore the world of fashion.’
And explore it he does. With a difference. Onesimo is drawn to a mélange of creativity, which he seeks out via collaborations. He sees similarities between the Japanese and African cultures, which he believes are linked by a shared sense of community. ‘My way of working involves a deeply collaborative process. I bring in a lot of people.’
The designer started out small with what was supposed to be a collaboration with different artists who also happened to be friends. ‘I gave them each a kimono and they all came up with ideas and I also did my own kimonos. In the end, we couldn’t go ahead with the exhibition, but we did a really cool shoot, which was conceptualised in collaboration with one of my mentors, Kassie Naidoo. Things began from there really. Kassie and I have been working with each other ever since. It’s an ongoing journey. We’re not sure where it will lead.’
‘There’s something so beautiful about the suminagashi process because you never know what the end result will be. It’s the beauty of it. You have no control over it. It is what it is.’
For this collection, OneIAm’s third, the collaborators were his mentor Kassie, who is a creative director, and Mbongiseni Dube, an architect. ‘I met Mbongiseni when I was doing my first show last year. He told me he was keen to collaborate. I don’t sketch so it’s difficult for some people to understand my thinking. But Mbongiseni and Kassie speak my language; they understand me easily.’
When Onesimo first met Kassie, he explained to her that while he’d studied surface design, he was more interested in making commentary about art through clothing and textiles. ‘I thought it was a fascinating approach,’ says Kassie. ‘Onesimo showed me one or two pieces and I thought they were incredible. While we initially had a very loose collaboration, my role has grown into one very much of mentorship. What’s nice about Onesimo and I is that he’s a young creative who’s passionate about making his mark and leaving some kind of an impression as an artist. And what I’m doing from my end is helping to conceive of the big idea, then fine-tuning the concept, and the detailed thinking around it. What I’d like to do next is to help Onesimo on the business side.
‘Unfortunately, this kind of collaboration between young creatives and seasoned creatives doesn’t always happen in this country and it really needs to happen more in order to shift and create more roles in creative fields, whether it’s fashion or art, or design. Collaboration creates fresh perspectives.’
Onesimo says that he usually gives his collaborators one word. For his most recent collection that word was furō – the Japanese word for ‘flow’. ‘I love all sorts of creative energies so I like them to go crazy in whatever direction they decide to go,’ says Onesimo. ‘It’s interesting because it usually comes out looking similar, like one body of work, even though it’s different interpretations; different brains; different eyes.’
They discovered an ancient Japanese technique called suminagashi, which means ‘floating ink’. Each collaborator was then assigned a plain kimono and they went into the studio to experiment with the technique.
‘There’s an element of it that is so meditative,’ says Onesimo. ‘You drop paint in the water and then you dip the fabric in the water. There’s something so beautiful about the suminagashi process because you never know what the end result will be. It’s the beauty of it. You have no control over it. It is what it is. It only comes out once and you can never reproduce it. It’s unique.’
The OneIAm collective unfolds organically as needed. ‘It’s never planned,’ says Onesimo, before directly contradicting himself. ‘Sometimes it’s planned… but that’s never a good thing [laughs]. I rather let things happen naturally. I never want to force things.’
PHOTOGRAPHER: NADIA VON SCOTTI
TEXT: FIONA DAVERN
FASHION DIRECTOR: CHRISNA DE BRUYN
ASSISTANT: GABRIEL MWORIA
MAKE-UP: ALET VILJOEN
MODELS: FIFI @ BOSS MODELS
TOBI @BOSS MODELS
BRIAN @ICE MODELS
LEBO @ICE GENETICS
DIRECTOR: DILLON BUIRSKI @DILLONBUIRSKI
DOP: NICOL DIPPENAAR @NICOLDIPPENAAR
1ST AC: DANIEL SNYDERS @DANIELSNYDERS
LIGHTING: CASPER ERASMUS @CASPERERASMUS
EDITOR: LUKA SCOTT @WEARE_CREATIVE
COLOUR: KYLE STROEBEL @REFINERY_CAPETOWN
SOUND DESIGN: ROSS MACDONALD @HEYPAPALEGEND
POET & VO ARTIST: IAIN THOMAS @REALIAINTHOMAS
PRODUCER: CALVIN SHUSHU @CALVI_SHU