WORDS Phendu Kuta PHOTOS Jacob Claassens, Zander Opperman
Johannesburg-based fashion designer Luke Radloff recently created a second label, Public Forum, in addition to his acclaimed Uní Form brand. We visited his studio to find out more.
Luke Radloff’s stylish home studio is located in Oxford Road – which also happens to be a key element in the Joburg-inspired debut campaign for his recently launched experimental label Public Forum. “The noise and the energy definitely influenced some of the collection,” he says. Public Forum was conceived during lockdown, and its aesthetic is a clear contrast to Luke’s luxury brand Uní Form. “With Uní Form, my methods and the way I work
are more strict in terms of the styling, the processes and the design,” he explains. “Public Forum was my opportunity to see what would happen if I let my guard down with the ways I work. So Public Forum is an experiment – it grew organically out of the pandemic. I was really worried at one point about the future of the world, the future of my business, the future of clothing, the future of fashion, the future of luxury, the future of handwork. And I thought, let me see what would happen if I tried to create things with a budget in mind, so that certain markets can access these clothes and afford them.”
Luke grew up in East London, and his choice of fashion as a career was influenced by his older high-school friend, the now- renowned artist Athi-Patra Ruga. Luke says his decision to study fashion came as an epiphany when Ruga returned to their hometown after the first year of his own fashion studies in Joburg. Luke went on to study at LISOF (now Stadio), and was scouted by Black Coffee designer Jacques van der Watt after presenting his award-winning graduate collection. Luke spent 18 months at Black Coffee; then, after a short stint as an independent designer, he moved to London to work for Italian luxury brand Marni. His experience there taught him a great deal about luxury design – and, five years later, he returned home with the knowledge and experience he needed to start his own label.
Fast-forward to 2021, three years post-inception, and Luke has just released his latest collection for Uní Form. Project 4 was also influenced by the pandemic, he says; the intention was to create special pieces, fabrics and textures. “I think there will be a surge of people who, if they are able to spend, will spend on special things that they’ve been coveting throughout lockdown – things they’ve been dreaming of.” The collection is made even more special by its unique collaborations, such as the ongoing partnership with Barrydale Hand Weavers that’s resulted in a beautiful hand-woven textile in three styles.
And then there is Public Forum, for which the colourful debut campaign images seen here were generated in collaboration with Chloe Andrea. The stylist and creative director got a peek at the collection during its formative phases, and expressed an interest in co-creating the campaign.
Luke says his lifelong design journey has been alternately a means of escape, a survival mechanism, and a way to draw inspiration from his surroundings and create a feeling of belonging – something that, as a queer person in the conservative Eastern Cape, he did not always experience growing up. His designs echo all of his life experiences in a unique, empowered way – and the quiet confidence and aesthetic breadth of his current work suggest he is one of the designers set to shape the future of South African fashion.
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