From the runways of fashion shows, to the clothes that we keep tucked away in our closets and use to represent ourselves, fashion plays an undeniably significant role in our everyday lives. Wielding this power are the designers behind the clothes, who work tirelessly to ensure that their ideas become tangible garments. What goes beyond thread and fabric is an art form that has the power to alter perceptions of the world around us, and even blur the lines between fiction and reality.
A few weeks ago I had the chance to talk to Thomas Terblanche, a 3rd year fashion design student at Nelson Mandela University, and designer who recently introduced an edgy new festival-wear line, Ecstasy Rave, to the PE scene. Photos from the Instagram page exude an ethereal feel, proving that the outfits enable the wearer to take on a whole new persona.
Read on to find out about how Thomas first got into fashion, who inspires him, what his view on the influence of social media is, how Port Elizabeth has shaped who he is as a person today, and more…
How did you first get into fashion? How old were you when you first developed an interest in fashion?
From a young age, it’s something I always knew that I wanted to do. I was always drawing sketches and designing outfits. My gran is the one who would always sit and draw with me. So I think that’s how I got into it. I had all these Barbie dolls and would always love dressing them up and changing their clothes. I always knew that I wanted to go into something that had to do with art. By grade 9, 10, I already knew that I wanted to go into fashion design.
Had you always known that you’d study fashion in university?
I always knew that I wanted to go into fashion. Lots of people always told me, ‘No, you shouldn’t go into fashion, you’ll never make it’, or ‘You should study something like law’, but my parents were always for me studying fashion. When I was going to apply for another degree, in grade 11 thinking, ‘What am I gonna do’, my parents just ended up saying ‘No, I think you should study fashion, because you’re gonna be so unhappy in everything else and it’s something you’re passionate about.’ So I always knew that I was going to study fashion at varsity.
What prompted you to start Ecstasy Rave, and what was the inspiration behind it?
It was actually an idea I got at the end of last year (2018), during the long holiday. One day I thought, how cool would it be to just start something, out of the blue? Something unique and different. I saw that there was a market for festival wear and something different, because you have all these girls that go to festivals but there’s nowhere in the shops that they can go buy something different, like things with sequins, or cute high-waisted shorts and things like that.
The whole big thing was to create a fantasy behind it. You’ll often see when we use models, that they’re always in the same coloured clothing. So one girl is always in pink, one girl is always in blue while another girl is always in neutrals like black or white. It’s almost like creating a character, so you take on that role. Whenever you’re going to an event, its like you’re choosing the persona that you want to take on.
I don’t use the models’ real names often. Instead I’ll give them a name like ‘Bubblegum’ or ‘Angel’ or something along those lines because for that night, or while you’re in that outfit, you take on that persona. Its like you become a different person. It was all about creating a fantasy, even in the way that we take photos. It looks like you’re in some virtual reality or video-game. You’ll often see comments on our posts, or when the models repost the photos, or if ever I show people photos, saying that they don’t look real. So it’s all about creating this fantasy or illusion basically.
What are some things you’ve learnt since starting your own business?
Even though I’ve only just started my business and it’s not big yet, I’ve learned that it takes lots and lots of work, hours and planning. It takes a lot of time and effort, and a lot of sweat, and tears. I feel like you become more disciplined and you learn to work better with your time. You quickly learn what works and what doesn’t work. You learn to be more disciplined and hard-working, and how to prioritise.
Which designers do you look up to and why?
My top favourite designers are Thierry Mugler and Alexander McQueen, but mostly Thierry Mugler. All his work is very out there and quite avant-garde. I first found out about him through his perfume and colognes. I’d watch all these trailers and ads of his, and it created this whole fantasy, and when I looked at the clothes that he designed, it created this fantasy as well, with these women with small hips; bird-like creatures, and a futuristic feel. That’s what inspires me a lot.
You also do makeup as well, how did you first get into it?
My Mom wears a lot of makeup – bright and bold colours – and is quite creative in that sense. I would always watch her do her makeup, or play around with her makeup and swatch all the bold colours. But for the past few years, I’ve been watching a lot of makeup tutorials on Youtube, and then it just started off with playing around with doing my friends’ makeup on nights out or for events that we went to. Now I do makeup for shoots as well. I do it because it’s something I’m passionate about, and it’s something fun to do as well..
Where do you draw your inspiration from? What inspires you to create?
I draw inspiration from the books that I read; I like to read fantasy. I also draw inspiration from the type of music that I listen to. Lady Gaga inspires me a lot with her outfits and her way of thinking.
But I also come up with my own ideas when I just sit and start drawing and doing random sketches. That’s how my ideas come to me. I like to merge reality and fantasy together. They coexist, you can’t have one without the other.
How do you deal with creative blocks?
I know everyone gets creative blocks. People often say that you should push through it, but if I’m really having a bad day or I’m not creative at all and nothing’s going my way, I literally just put all my work down and just tell myself that I’ll get to it tomorrow. I know its a bad mindset because you put yourself behind, but that’s how I deal with it. I just go watch a movie, read something or just relax and put all my work aside for the day.
How big of a role do you think social media plays in influencing trends/style/fashion?
I think it plays a massive role, but everything that we see on social media is all an illusion. I feel like we see all these influencers dressed a certain way and then everyone just wants to emulate that, everyone wants the newest thing. Everyone is just going after the newest trends, and fast fashion, and wants to look like this or that influencer, to have that lifestyle. But I think it’s quite toxic, because nothing that we see on social media is real.
How would you describe your personal style?
I don’t think I have a specific style. If I had to describe it, it would be ‘ever-changing’. I’m constantly changing my look. At least every few weeks I have a different hairstyle, and I style it differently everyday. One day I’ll feel more masculine, more boyish, so I’ll dress like that, whle on another day I’ll wear my boots, skinny jeans and coats and dress in a more androgynous way. So it all just depends on the mood I’m in that day, and what I’m feeling.
What was your fashion week experience like?
Aside from our night (day 2 of Nelson Mandela Bay Fashion Week), some of us helped out backstage during the previous night as well. I thought it was quite cool seeing how everything works, seeing everyone walk the runway, and the models come backstage. You get this thrill and this rush, because the models have to run for the next outfit and you have to help them get undressed, and then you see how all the hair and makeup works as well, and how everything backstage works.
It was cool to see how many people actually came to support on our night. It’s an event that brings people from different ages and races and backgrounds together. It’s exciting.
What are the pros and cons of being based in Port Elizabeth as a creative?
I think one of the positives is, since it’s such a small community, one can grow quickly because people can find out about you faster, which gives you the opportunity to grow. But when it comes to the negatives, because PE is so small, not a lot of people from outside, from places like Cape Town or Joburg, can find out about you quickly. So it’s always difficult trying to hit that market and get into that creative space. Another negative is that lots of people are close-minded. So it’s always difficult being a creative in PE because even though there is a market, lots of people aren’t willing to pursue things that are new and different
How do you think being bred in PE has contributed to who you are as a person today?
I think it’s actually pushed me to think outside the box and strive for greatness. I feel like growing up in such a small town where people think differently to what you think, and look down on your views, makes you want to prove people wrong and work even harder to show them that there’s something different out there, and that there’s not just one way of thinking.
Advice for anyone going into fashion or thinking about studying a fashion degree?
Firstly, don’t listen to negative comments, just believe in yourself. Most importantly just have fun, even though it is a lot of work. Work hard, because it’s very difficult to make it, especially in the fashion industry. You really need to have a passion for it. I wouldn’t recommend it if you just like dressing nicely and reading fashion magazines. Then don’t go study fashion because that’s not what its about, it’s involves hard work and sleepless nights, but at the end of the day, just have fun.