There must be some unwritten rule of cool girls wherein no matter where in the world they happen to be, when there is one, many can’t be far behind. They flock together, after all. Case in point: Tony Gum, who we contend is perhaps the coolest girl in Cape Town, surrounds herself with some of the most creative and in-the-know denizens in the South African beach town. Of course, it goes without saying they’re stylish, too, bucking preconceived notions around African style, specifically traditional African wax prints, for an embrace of international designers as disparate as Yohji Yamamoto and Mark McNairy. Taking photographer Thomas Giddings for a tour around their hometown, this squad of Cape Town’s finest goes off the grid to show the city’s hidden treasures. We spoke to student and artist Tony Gum, art director Xzavier Zulu, filmmaker Philia, and art director Sisanda Mgedezi as they traverse the city’s most unexpected and enchanting of locales. From retro Turkish baths to the tops of Cape Town’s skyscrapers, Gum’s crew reveals what distinguishes South African squad goals from any other.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the places you photographed? Are these some of your favorite locales in Cape Town?
TONY GUM: A classmate took me to the Turkish baths in Long Street prior to the shoot, and I was in absolute awe at the fact that I hadn’t discovered this place sooner. All in all, the baths are definitely one of my favorites, but the other places were a lot more spontaneous because we were eager to find locations that not only complemented our looks but also showcased Cape Town’s hidden treasures.
PHILIA: To me you can’t have one favorite place in Cape Town. There are interesting places, walls, scenes on almost every corner—you just need to look. We tend to stay away from the trendy spots because we always know what we will find there. We instead explore everywhere, discover places, meet new people, and expand our knowledge of our beautiful city.
What is modern Cape Town style like? Is it a mix of modern designers with a nod to traditional garb? A reimagining of what once was?
TG: It’s definitely hard to describe what Cape Town style is like because this city is quite diverse; you see something new each day, and I believe that style here is ever-evolving. Although fashion is progressive, traditional garb is prominent because South Africa, as a whole, is rich in culture.
PHILIA: I think it’s a mixture of elements. Culture definitely plays a big role in people’s styles here based on either how they grew up or where they were. Urban subcultures like skateboarding, surfing, and streetwear also play a huge role. I feel like we have invented our own aesthetic and it is a mixture of local and international influences, which, to me, is very unique.
SISANDA MGEDEZI: Modern Cape Town style is off the chain! From the designers we have, like Lukhanyo Mdingi, Nicholas Coutts, Richard Mnisi, and Adriaan Kuiters, to the style gurus like Tony (obviously), Gabrielle Kannemeyer, and a whole flock of others.
There seems to be a new crop of great designers coming out of South Africa—who are some of your favorites?
XZAVIER ZULU: Lukhanyo Mdingi, Celeste Arendse (of Selfi), and Rich Mnisi are some of the designers I believe are taking this country forward.
TG: I think it’s safe to say that in South Africa, there is a cluster of great designers—the up-and-coming game-changers like Rich Mnisi, Lukhanyo Mdingi, Michael Maven, and Tart.
Who are some of your biggest style influences?
XZ: Nigo, Motofumi “Poggy” Kogi, Pharrell Williams, Kanye West, and Mark McNairy.
SM: My style influences come from the circle of friends I hang around with who are about pushing boundaries. We’ll talk about what’s popping in culture from music, fashion, art, design, and other creative spheres and try to see how we can do it differently or push it even further.
You guys look like the ultimate squad. What brought you all together? What distinguishes the Cape Town squad from any other? Is it the style? The attitude?
XZ: I’m attracted to things in an intuitive way—much like a moth to light—and so everyone [in our squad] has an intangible factor that drew me to them.
PHILIA: We are all friends. I think all of us are really driven and motivated to create good work—it’s nice to be around people who have your back and push you and vice versa.
TG: I know Xzavier, Sisanda, and Philia on a work and personal basis. I have come to learn and respect their individual skills, so it was only fitting that everyone was brought together to showcase their individuality. And through that individuality, what distinguishes a squad and enhances style is attitude!