Ethical, stylish and luxurious, these three words summarise the design and feel of Vanessa Gounden couture. Vanessa has taken inspiration for her exceptional designs from her South African heritage based in the heart of Durban and fused it with the traditions of local artisans and the skill that comes from decades of celebrated specialists within the textiles industry to create masterpieces that have inspired hundreds of loyal clients to buy her collections.
Vanessa combines original artworks and photography to create highly individual and contemporary prints. Her work is easily distinguished by its meticulous attention to detail and luxurious fabrics. Also, signature to the brand and present in every collection is the Vanessa Trench, a coat dress cut with a strong classic feminine silhouette.
The Durban-born designer is also renowned for being one of South Africa’s most successful mining magnates – for her business savvy and for the role she played in South Africa’s political landscape. She began her career as part of former South African president, Nelson Mandela’s administration in 1994 and also worked with Mandela’s successor, Thabo Mbeki, as manager of the Human Resources for the National Intelligence Agency.
Her career evolved into a passion for fashion and by the time she launched in London under the label “Vanessa G”, Vanessa was already dressing international models such as Poppy Delevigne, Jade Jagger, Yasmin le Bon and Natalia Vodianova.
Speaking with BBQ about her background, Vanessa says, “My grandfather came into the country as a migrant labourer and worked his way up to eventually become the owner of a rose farm. I grew up earning extra pocket money by picking roses, which my mother would take to the markets to sell. I had an amazing early childhood – carefree and happy. We were surrounded by a large number of family and that support instilled an appreciation for the importance of family and encouraged a level of healthy competitiveness between us – we all pushed each other to do better. Family meals and large family functions were the norms. From an early age, I was pushed by my parents to strive for excellence. I started Grade 1 at the age of four (my mother smuggled me in). Unfortunately, at age 10, we were evicted from our home and relocated to the Shall Cross Township with the implementation of the Group Areas Act. This, of course, was a deeply traumatic experience. Regardless, my parents soldiered through and tried to make our lives as comfortable as possible notwithstanding the loss of our beautiful home and a much better lifestyle. Seeing the anguish of my parents and grandparents and the loss of what they had worked so hard to achieve sparked my political conscience. This was a huge awakening and a culture shock and made me want to break through the glass ceiling. Being the eldest child (with two younger brothers), I was always encouraged to give my best at all times. My mom, being very progressive, encouraged me to fend for myself. This led to my developing a personality of one who always pushes the boundaries, strives for excellence and believes nothing is impossible.”Since the start of her brand, her wearable-art garments have graced the runways and walkways of several London and New York and South Africa Fashion Weeks. International celebrities such as Princess Charlene of Monaco, Nomzamo Mbatha, Pearl Thusi, ‘Orange is the New Black’ actress Dascha Polanco and James Bond beauty Naomie Harris have also graced her designs.
In 2015, she opened her flagship store in the heart of London’s Mayfair district where she still operates today. Speaking with Entrepreneurmag Monique Verduyn on how she integrated a fashion label into the vast business holdings, Vanessa’s reply was,. “The launch of the label was a strategic move for me and has allowed me to express my love for fashion. It will take time to build, but I have every intention of creating a top-end global brand to compete with the likes of Prada and Louis Vuitton. Nobody has broken into that top echelon in the past 20 to 30 years, and although I am new to fashion, I want to be the one who does it. We launched Vanessa G London in the UK in 2011 to a star-studded London crowd as part of the lifestyle and leisure component of the holding group. It’s the only true international fashion label with South African roots. I’m inspired by what’s not been done before – bringing together fashion and original art. I call it ‘art‘outure’ or ‘wearable art’, and the idea is that every garment pushes the boundaries of fashion and art and becomes a talking point. My goal is to grow the label into an international, respected fashion house.”
Vanessa’s signature style combines bold prints and patterns with innovative tailoring techniques, such as 3D layering. Her work is handcrafted in the finest luxury fabrics and embellished with hand-painted buttons, beading and embroidery. Vanessa designs her work for intelligent, glamorous, spirited women where classic styles endure over trends. Each collection centres around a concept that is close to Vanessa’s heart, the narrative beautifully created on garments with such attention to detail, each piece retains its sense of bespoke individuality.
Vanessa’s Africa Rising collection is an “artistic dedication to the rise of African society from being previously oppressed during the colonial occupation to its prosperous rise in the global market.” With a strong sense of citizenship and responsibility, Vanessa is committed to uncovering and sponsoring new artists as well as training and employing craftsman, tailors and seamstresses in fine skills and pattern matching. Artistry and techniques already used in Vanessa Gounden’s creations have revived bygone textile skills and provided employment to local artisans not only in her South African based Atelier but in various parts of the world where unique talent is discovered and nurtured.
“Ours is not ordinary fashion, our garments are works of art. Seeing our work in Paris and at other fashion weeks like New York and London has given many of us a confidence boost. I feel good about myself knowing I made a contribution,” she said.