Behind the seams of 'Gqeberha The Empire'

See what went into creating the dazzling looks of the latest local telenovela

02 March 2023 - 16:01
By Thango Ntwasa
Stars of 'Gqeberha: The Empire', Tembinkosi Ngcukana and Akhenime Mfenyana.
Image: Supplied Stars of 'Gqeberha: The Empire', Tembinkosi Ngcukana and Akhenime Mfenyana.

Costume designer Kgomotso Dipholo is no stranger to crafting looks for iconic South African characters. From the dangerous streets of Refilwe in The River to recent seaside soap Gqeberha: The Empire.

The telenovela follows the empire of affluent moneymaker Luzuko Mxenge (played by Mbulelo Grootboom) and his wives. One of the matriarchs is played by Zandile Msutwana of The Queen fame. Her character finds herself in a pickle when she colludes with Luzuko's best friend Msimelelo (Anele Matoti) to kill him.

For Dipholo, it was important to capture the spirit of the eponymous city through its characters to help differentiate them from the Johannesburg-based TV programmes we all watch.

Watching the people of the city, she was able to pick up the unique styles of the coastal area that helped her bring them to life.

Kay Bikitsha and Asemkele Ngunuza on set.
Image: Supplied Kay Bikitsha and Asemkele Ngunuza on set.
Mbulelo Grootboom and Anele Matoti on set of Gqeberha: The Empire.
Image: Supplied Mbulelo Grootboom and Anele Matoti on set of Gqeberha: The Empire.

I would have assumed you would give Luzuko's character a blesser's look. What was reason behind the detraction?

That's also what I though but the mandate was he needs to be relatable. He needs to look like someone you can see anywhere on the streets. You can't read he has money from the onset because he is not a show-off. It's only when you come up close to him that you can see the wealth he has. And we have a lot people like that who have money and influence but they don't carry that. Instead you see the real him.

What went into costuming his son Thulani (Tembinkosi Ngcukani)? He really loves his leather jacket?

I call him a silent force, he is quiet but you can feel his presence in a room. Unlike Ntando (played by Phila Madlingozi) who has a lot to prove. He enters the room and he doesn't have to prove himself. His presence is more than enough to tell the story so such people, if you overdress them, clothes overpowers them.

You mentioned you took an opposite direction with Ntando.

He's very loud, very “you must see me” because his father just doesn't see him. So somebody has to see him with the clothes he wears.

One of the most dramatic dressers among the men is without a doubt Msimelelo. What inspired the looks you made or sourced for him?

He's all about the fast life. He just wants money, just look at him trying to kill Luzuko from the first episode. He wants Luzuko's power and money. He doesn't think he has the brains which results in the rushed decisions he makes. So he compensates by making sure he is the flower in the room.

Zikhona Sodlaka who plays matriarch, Bulelwa Mxenge.
Image: Supplied Zikhona Sodlaka who plays matriarch, Bulelwa Mxenge.

Zimkhitha is also similar with the scheming she does. She also has a different look from the usual female villains we have seen in telenovelas. What inspired this new direction?

I have worked on most of the villains we have seen, especially ones like Lindiwe in The River. It would have been such a shame for her to be a villain and read like all the others who came before her.

She's all about class, you'll think she has never set foot in a township. I was thinking at the back of my mind that I have worked with so many villains where there is a lot of drama in their clothes so I wanted to carry Gqeberha without any comparisons being done somewhere else. So I wanted to keep her clean.

Her opposite is Bulelwa the first wife, she wears a lot of doeks and cultural regalia. What can we understand about her approach to style?

Bulelwa is the ematriah of the family, she really holds them together but she's not your typical Xhosa makoti. She doesn't come from a poor family where she would need Luzuko to pick her up, she is a strong force because she is assured in who she is. To translate that, she is modern without forgetting where she comes from. She could have easily been in pinafores which would have been quite typical, but she is not that person. She has studied, she has been overseas and she loves her family. She loves who she is.

Speaking of tradition, we see Anati's brother (played by Asemkele Ngunuza) come back from initiation school. Was this your first time costuming a character like this?

It was my first time and thank God there was a cultural adviser because there are elements I think I would have missed with the Amakrwala attire. It's an older men's vibe with a jacket and a tucked shirt with the traditional clay on the face finished with the hat.

Do you have advice for people watching the show and falling in love with the style of the characters in bringing luxury into their wardrobes?

Yes, they have money but they still live in the township we are shooting in. They are people you know. It's glamour but glamour you can afford in your budget.


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