Andrew Chandler: the most exciting addition to SA's fashion scene in years

05 November 2017 - 00:00 By Adam Levin
Andrew Chandler.
Andrew Chandler.
Image: Eunice Driver

Andrew Chandler is not a designer. Before his first menswear show in 2015 - for which he won an award at SA Fashion Week - he had never designed a garment.

He had, however, worked for 20 years as a Loerie award-winning art director, and was an accomplished painter, creating beautifully impressionistic oil portraits. Which is probably why he is the most exciting new designer in years to emerge on the local fashion circuit.

His previous collection for his label Beware The Wolf in Sheep's Clothing displayed his passion for painstaking tailoring, a reverence for period costume and ingenious savvy for deconstruction. He proceeded to explore his curiosity for draping in his subsequent ethereal range of kimonos, The Floating World.

And his new Autumn/Winter 2018 collection, which was the finale at SA Fashion Week last Friday, took his intricately detailed aesthetic further, exploring inventive new juxtapositions and expanding the limited confines of traditional menswear in the process.

Andy Shandy, as his friends call him, is an anachronism - a renaissance man in a digital age. He reads voraciously, stares at images of the Dutch Masters, and, after a good splash of red, will replay Yves Saint Laurent's 1975 show a good 20 times. Like Vivienne Westwood, he is as likely to go to an art exhibition or a political rally or download a great series as he is to attend a fashion show.

His latest collection references Medieval Armour and Punk. "Always Punk," he insists, "because it's so sexy. And because I'm essentially a New Romantic." Hence his personal universe of skinny jeans, a Bloomsbury sensibility, long hennaed locks and mid '80s music. "My favorite band is Duran Duran."

He is also a red-head. And red is his go-to colour. In this collection, we see it deconstructed, degraded, distressed, over-dyed, panelled and appliquéd. Each pattern presented Shandy with a riddle of construction.

"It has to be difficult," he explains. "Something easy is not worth making. The Algerian Zouave pants I've made were a nightmare to get right, but they're easy to wear. The clothes are all very easy to wear but extremely difficult to create. There's barely a straight seam in the whole collection," he jokes.

In his studio in Linden, Joburg, he pulls out a russet striped shirt from the collection. It's an Indian shirt he deconstructed - and in between he's appliquéd strips of brown-gold shwe-shwe.

"I've worked and worked on each look until it becomes heroic," he says. "That's when I know it's ready."

And so the collection is a complex mash-up of styles, eras and ethnicities. "It's also gender fluid, as clothing should be," he says. "There is the feminine curve of the draping but also the historical and masculine element of the extreme tailoring. The common thread? It's always hybridised rather than archetypal.

I've worked and worked on each look until it becomes heroic. That's when I know it's ready
Andrew Chandler on his AW18 collection

"I suppose painting has given me a certain chromatic sensibility," he says of a collection whose palette one wouldn't imagine would hold together yet ultimately does.

"Art directing gave me the resourcefulness to make things realistically workable without looking cheap. I've used some very good fabrics in this show and also some very humble ones, but the principal investment has been months and months of pattern construction and refinement."

Indeed Shandy never planned to make his last collection on his own. It was intended as a collaborative work with his good friend Jacques van der Watt of Black Coffee, but secretly Jacques had never intended to work with Andrew on The Wolf. "I knew it was the only way I could get him to do it," Jacques remarks wryly. And SA Menswear can be grateful he did.