Legendary Dress goes to the Oscars

As has become the norm since 2004, the first Saturday of last December saw the Windhoek Country Club and Resort turn into a cultural-cum-modern hotchpotch as it once again hosted the eighth annual Legendary Dress Designers’ Competition and Gala Dinner.

What started as a once-off weekend event seven years ago has since developed into a glamorous event known as Kujeurua (or Kujeurua Ndjimairiroro if you like) -loosely translated to ‘one can only help uplift those who make the effort to help themselves’.

Simply put, the idea has lived up to that; catapulting designers of the Ovaherero/Ovambanderu traditional dresses onto a different and enviable platform while helping establish them as designers of note in the process.

Having been inherited from the Victorian era centuries ago, the dress has now become an epitome of the cultural heritage of this cultural community.

However, in the ever changing environment of fashion fads, members of the Kujeuracould not sit idle and see the dress - a pride of their communities - renege into the doldrums of an ageing culture, hence the initiative to honour its designers.

This has encouraged new designs, which have had to keep up with the changing times but have essentially maintained the dress’ cultural features. Although the salient features of the dress, through a quest for modernisation, have been subjected to rigorous challenges, it still needs to cover the essential parts of an Omuherero woman, such as the legs, arms and the chest.

While striving to remain within cultural limits and remits, however, there has always been the need to see the dress also being an equal among the best, either on the local and/or international fashion platforms. In this regard, designers are annually given particular forums on which to peg their designs, such as the 2011 event. The 2012 event took place under the theme: “The Legendary Dress goes to the Oscars”.

The idea was for the designers to make a dress that would not only stand its own ground on the Oscars’ red carpet but one that would conquer the awards on whomever would be adorned in it for a different reason - the design, not the awards.

From Humble Beginnings to Elegant Beauty has been the slogan of the event since its inception. And it is not difficult to see why the slogan is apt because today, the dress is a far cry from its Victorian adaptation.

The dress has undergone many transformations, from its material origin to the petticoats and its headgear. Unlike in the past when the headgear was round-ish, today, its horn-like look, which resembles that of a cow, is an outstanding feature.

In their hundreds, the attendees converged in droves at the Windhoek Country Club and Resort December event, unmistakably elegant in their traditional attires, giving full meaning to the slogan, From Humble Beginnings to Elegant Beauty.

This is the time of the year when the resort’s Oryx 1, 2 and 3 suites give way to this one event to cater to the massiveness of its demand in terms of sheer attendance.

For the first time, the red carpet was rolled out for the guests to acknowledge their traditional and general elegance.

Besides the actual designs on the catwalk, various designs of the guests themselves have become a formidable attraction at the event albeit a sideline one. And this has been one draw card if not the foremost one; having a rainbow of designs to choose from.

One only wonders why competition on the floor has not become a feature of the event through which one of the guests’ designs would stand to win a special award!

On that particular December evening, there were 14 designers. Heaven only knows how the judges made their decision for there was little to choose from.

But as with every competition, someone always emerges as a first choice, which is usually the prerogative. But as they say, the final word rests with the judges.

On this particular evening, a Katutura resident, Tukuee Kaumue, emerged as 2012’s best designer of the traditional dress. Her maroon evening chiffon dress, modeled by Vemuii Meroro, scooped more than N$10 000 in prize money.

The first runners-up were Mbenomaua Murangi [whose dress was showcased by Mbakondja Kavitjene] and Toucy Tjiuombo [who came in third place and cat-walked in her own design].

But has the dress really gone From Humble Beginnings to Elegance? Yes, it has featured at glamourous regional events such as the opening of the South African parliament in Cape Town.

In 2011, courtesy of the Ministry of Trade and Industry, a design by Namibia’s upcoming designer, McBright Kavairi, graced an international catwalk in Berlin.

Only towards the end of last year did Kavari, a protégé of Kujeurua, win the Legendary Dress completion three times in earnest. This was a rare standing ovation at the first ever Namibian fashion show whose international attendees included renowned South African cutting edge designers; David Tlale and Suzaan Heyns.

Other  international names included Cameroon-born fashion designer, Martial Tapolowho is based in France; a Zimbabwean fashion designer based in Harare, Joyce Chimanye; Nigerian designer, Modela Couture and an Angolan designer who founded his brand in 2005, Allex Kangala. Kangala showcased nothing but sophistication in a range of tailor-made men’s suits.

Need one really say more than confirming that indeed the traditional dress has emerged from humble beginnings to elegance.  PF