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Marianne Fassler and Leopard Frock

Marianne Fassler and Leopard Frock studio are synonymous with innovation, sustainability, incredible use of texture and colour, and a hint of the obscure.

Marianne Fassler’s journey into fashion and into her own studio, Leopard Frock, went via a Fine Art degree at the University of Witwatersrand. ‘My mother is a painter but I found it frustrating to work on a canvas,’ says Fassler. ‘After completing my degree, I became interested in fashion design but there were no schools that taught fashion. But, my mother found me a Hungarian woman who was running classical couture workshops. That’s where I started and I can really see my career and its trajectory in retrospect. When you look at it now, the kind of aesthetic and the kind of ethic that we work by is very traceable from the very start.’

Having started Leopard Frock in 1976, she says, ‘we still have clients that we’ve had from then… We’re busy now with a granddaughter who is getting married, but we also made the granny’s dress for her son’s Barmitzva when he was 14 and he is now the father of the child. So we can tell these kinds of stories but, of course, we wouldn’t be in business if we didn’t have lots of new clients as well.’

Marianne Fassler and Leopard Frock
Marianne Fassler collection at 2016 Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Joburg. Photograph by Simon Deiner / SDR Photo.

‘What is interesting for me [about our role in fashion], is finding ways to work in different mediums creatively. We engineer the fabrics and we never throw any of our scraps away; we do all sorts of things. It’s not making art, but it’s not just making a dress either, it’s not just clothes. People find them collectible: they’re certainly not cheap, they are labour intensive and are made by skilled artisans. We reuse our fabrics, we’ll make a jacket out of all the leftovers – that’s very much in our handwriting. We even repurpose the scraps of cotton that lie on the floor at the end of every day.’

‘It’s almost like sculpting, I guess, and that’s what people like. I’m not particularly interested in fashion… I don’t need to own it, I don’t need to look at Fashion TV, it’s more like, “what can I say with what I make.” ‘So, in 1990 I moved out of Hyde Park Corner where I was for a long time and came here [to Saxonwold, where Leopard Frock is currently situated] because the workshop was always here. People love coming to Leopard Frock, to see the studio and to see the clothes. With the move, we changed our name. There are lots of examples of places named “Leopard Rock”, there are game parks and restaurants all over Africa. So I thought, “let’s make it Leopard Frock,” it’s humorous.’

Leopard Frock Collections

Speaking about her current line, Fassler says, ‘This year, we could feel a return to the 1980s. And this has proved to be right, because right now there’s a great sense of “hippie” coming back. Colour is very important for us because our clients love colour. This range is a little bit more toned down than usual and we used a lot of ink blues, Berber blues and things like that. I’ve received some very nice reviews. My daughter, in particular, said to me, “You know what? It’s so interesting because the collection contained just about everything you had done in your life but just different.” There was a familiarity and yet it was fresh.

Marianne Fassler and Leopard Frock
Marianne Fassler collection at 2016 Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Joburg. Photograph by Simon Deiner / SDR Photo.

‘For me, creating a collection is very collaborative in that everybody here has a say in what we’re going to show. I’m like the ultimate art director but I don’t design the whole collection in one go. We’ll have a concept there and then a concept here and perhaps one there,’ Fassler maps out the creative team’s thinking process on a piece of paper, showing how concepts merge and develop to create a line, or are left behind to be explored further in the next collection. ‘There are remnants of a previous collection coming through and then fresh ideas, reinterpreting some new things. It’s very much a collaboration: we have meetings, my whole team (including my machinists) sits down and we talk about it, “what do you think?” and that’s how it happens. Sometimes we start with just a piece of material.’

Fassler’s love of art plays an important role both in her personal life and in her work. ‘We’ve got great art between my husband and I, we’re collectors. We buy video works, performance pieces, and photography. But its more also, because I’m very involved in the art world. I know many artists, I go to openings, I see art – when I travel, that’s what I go and do. I’m lucky enough to have been able, over many years, to collect as well. And I also instil that kind of culture in my studio, if you come here for mentorship. So it’s very important that people understand that really good fashion doesn’t come from the internet or a magazine. It comes through things happening around you that you respond to and even subcultures.’

And of course, the next line is already in the works and being conceptualised, with special attention paid to the authenticity of the brand and of course, constantly innovating: ‘the one thing that you cannot do in fashion is stagnate or do the same thing, it becomes very boring for me and for my client.’

For more information on Marianne Fassler and Leopard Frock, please visit their website.

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