Amanda Laird Cherry, a name that brings to mind uncontrived simplicity. In this interview, twenty years of her career is wrapped in a few thousand words, but captures in essence who and what she has been about all these years.
Amanda Laird Cherry’s realism is at the heart of her collections, she’s sensitive to touch and how a garment feels on the skin. With that she considers the local climate, more especially that of Durban, a beautiful humid city where lightness in clothing is necessary. There’s no dichotomy in Amanda and her brand, she wears her clothes, cannot quite be separated from it, which is the point on this also being her realism and shys from fantasy.
“I have always loved cottons, linen and fine wool. I do use synthetics but the handle has to be good, supple and soft. So I am very particular about fabric, I always have been. My father used to tease me that I’d say ‘hello’ to people and I’d be rubbing the top of their arm and feeling fabric of whatever they were wearing.”
Considering her premise, ALC (Amanda Laird Cherry) clothing makes perfect sense: those soft angular cuts on dresses, t-shirts with frayed-looking heart applique and comfy shorts.
“I can look through a hundred fabrics, fifty of them I just won’t like, twenty of them are a maybe and thirty of them I’d love. I’m very particular about prints, texture and content.”
This can simply be described as discretion, one that sharpens over the years.
Perhaps her retail success is partly due to that, and the integrity she keeps repeating in our conversation. As part owner of The Space stores, she looks back at it as having organically grown, appreciating how people have and still respond. She recounts the early days when fabric was in abundance to when our economy got a hit, mills closed and after many years this is still a struggle.
“But our business model is that we want to produce everything locally, even if we may use fabric that is a mixture of local and international, but every single garment is made in South Africa.”
She chose to celebrate twenty years in Durban, also because this is where she studied, at the now called Durban University of Technology. Most of her history is in this city.
“I worked with a lot of people in Durban for nearly ten years and then started on my own in 1996 and as we’ve grown, we use factories in an around the city.”
When her husband got an opportunity to work in the U.S two years ago, she moved with him, but the work did not stop, frequenting South Africa and daily runs the studio remotely. That is the modern day reality and supposing that this is also what comes with having a close-knit and trusted team of 19, whom she can delegate to, with ease.
“Everyone of us keeps the business going.”
The Space has footfall, that is undisputed which she believes is through having a good core philosophy and soul.
“We are set out to support local, sell local and designers who come into The Space, the requirement is that they produce locally.”
In all that the sustainability is also due to good designers and product, sticking to garments people can wear but with a twist and not really a product found in a chain store, while carefully considering local trends. In the long these principles have been testimonials from customers, of why they keep coming back.
Her clothes have for many years been roomy and languid, you can shop from either section, the men’s or women’s. And the curiosity was if this was intentional to not have a rigid line between the two.
“It is things that are easy to wear and a lot of us want those things. That is how it came together and I think being spring-summer and thinking Durban and the sea, not that we are not thinking of the rest of the country, but it was the base inspiration, so we were doing clothes that you can wear on a hot day and crossing to all the cultures we have.”
On career pinnacles:
“I tend to go back to 1999, there was a Durban Design Collection show where I researched ‘uMblaselo’. I went through various kind of sources. There was not much documented so it was a case of phoning people and getting introduced from one to the next.”
In that search for this traditional Zulu pants and waistcoat with colourful patchwork, that trail led her to Mr Mbatha from KwaMashu, who had been making uMblaselo his whole career, using a hand machine in a hostel. That is how she came together with him, and without any appropriation, he was included as part of Amanda’s collection, where he even walked the runway, with “regal pride” on his face, along with fellow men. Following that opening, muted and paired down renditions stream-lined, and not taking away from the original, it had a very considered interpretation. The ululating was also a sign of a nod and acceptance of what she had done, which for Amanda, was heartfelt.
“I totally wanted to acknowledge the original source for what it was, and not say ‘look what I’ve done’.”
Time Magazine did a post democracy article where one of three chosen designers in South Africa, was Amanda, and this was another high point.
Recently, the Durban City Hall became an ‘earthy’ space of plants (Monstera Diciosa) dangling from ceiling, some gilded in gold and silver along with her earliest garments in felt, wool and hemp. The installation led to a runway show that pulled in signatures and all that ALC is known for – culottes, wrap dresses, pinafores and a few ‘cultural’ references.
She enjoys the time of technology that has made the world smaller and accessible.
“Fashion is at a wonderful time, with social media which we did not have in our time. I am so encouraged to see designers recognised internationally. You don’t know who will pick up your work and get pathways that other designers don’t.”
It is designers like Amanda who offer something beyond fast fashion while really dressing a large part of society. And should there be a formation of fashion artefacts, it is incontestable that Amanda Laird Cherry would be relevant.