If you had told me a red dress by a Zambian designer would be worn by a Zambian actress at Cannes on the red carpet, I would not have believed you. But when Tendai Lwenje got a last minute call she did not pass on it. 48 hours later, she delivered and the rest is history. Both I Am Not A Witch and Damyna, the first African musical to be produced in Zambia, join the Eighteam as the only Zambian films to have made appearances at the prestigious annual international film festival held on the French Riviera. Facts being facts, we now have the first ever Zambian designer to debut a garment at an occasion where fashion greats like Balmain, Balenciaga, Mugler, Gaultier have been adorned by women and men of the artistic vocation.
Life is cunning in how it decides what stories will be etched in the annals of time, one such as this. It is seldom people know their purpose or calling in life, but by the 12th grade Tendai already knew what her vocation was and would be and what path would take her there. Gratitude goes to her parents for supporting her dream, which came full circle after 3 years at FEDISA in Capetown. Some of the garments that appear in the footage are actual pieces from her 2015 graduation portfolio, a collection aptly named British luxury, distinct in the Burberry print pocket square and bow’s. “The two muses behind her collection were David and Victoria (popularly known to the British public as Posh and Becks).
Inspirations are drawn from Bond and the opulence of the Savile Row suites, the timelessness and celebration of British luxe.” It begun as a “since childhood” and ended up becoming an occupation, a career that continues to shows promise.
Like many in the creative arts field there is more to Tendai than meets the eye. There is the her that everyone thinks she is and the her that she actually is. A paradox if ever there was one. An incredibly open person who is still such an enigma.
She describes her mode as modern experimental, pushing the boundaries but not avant garde. She draws inspiration from modern architecture, nature and minimalism, and sights burgundy, dusty rose and navy blue as her favourite hues. “Winter is here! I’m a huge Game of Thrones (GOT Fan)”.
Like many other fashion designers of her generation, the 23 year old Lwenje is operating with more than just a love for fashion. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Fashion Design. This mirrors a growing trend among the younger designers to pursue fashion design on an academic as well as career level.
Her choice of music is reflective of her eclectic disposition, which she attributes to the time she spent away from home, in what can be described as a cultural melting pot. “I wasn’t sure what to expect, alone in a city all by myself.” Her Capetown years without a doubt have given her insight into what it entails to thrive in the competitive world of fashion. The exposure to the rather more developed world of the South African fashion scene gave her many new perspectives on what it takes. She has used the best of her knowledge from her time in South Africa and applied it to the local scene.
As being mortal is our fate, Tendai too has hopes, dreams and fears. “My biggest fear is failure, not meeting the high standards I have for myself”. It is evident from her distinct choice of fabric and distinguished designs that she is not of the traditional and conventional Zambian design format, which is chitenge heavy. Rather she is on a mission to take the Zambian fashion industry and its audience on an odyssey of strong compositions that have a different contrast to the regular, and familiar. It is this distinction that gives her designs appeal across cultural lines. Her designs would not look out of place on any catwalk worldwide.
Lwenje has a very clear and specific vision, one that is based on quality and longevity. A vision that has us, five years from now, at one of the country’s many malls walking into and shopping at a Lwenje flagship store. Such grand thoughts require a team, and part of the game plan is to train a tailor who will be vested with the brand and the DNA of what Lwenje is and represents.
My endeavour as a writer and mandate is to see the light before anyone else does, discovering that Midas touch. Intrigued by her eccentric demeanour, I knew from that first encounter in a fabric store in Kamwala that she was no mere designer, but a maven at her craft. After her red carpet triumph, she continues to be humble and hungry to excel, qualities such as these are the reason I did not pass on lunch and an opportunity to learn and understand this brilliant individual’s process and brand and also gain some perspective on her love for pizza and pasta (among other forms of Italian food). Like wine and art, the brand shall have an appreciation among conosieurs of high quality. I fully expect to see Tendai’s work on foreign runways and racks globally as time goes by. Remember her as a designer for her excellence, the name is Tendai, the brand is Lwenje.
For more on LWENJE visit: https://www.lwenjefashion.com
Appreciation to Hussar Grill for allowing as to conduct the shoot at their premises.