New York Fashion Week, held semi-annually in September and February, features collections from the likes of Ralph Lauren, Michael Kors, and Diane von Furstenberg.
But next season will feature an unusual addition to that lineup: Nelson Mandela. The former South African president, who turned 94 last Wednesday, is the inspiration for a new clothing line that will hit runways next fall.
It is called 466/64 Fashion, a tribute to his prisoner number when he was jailed on Robben Island off the coast of Cape Town in 1964. The line, which has already launched in South Africa, features men’s, women’s, and children’s apparel and will be distributed to select U.S. department stores and boutiques beginning in the spring of 2013. But the price tags will run the gamut, featuring everything from T-shirts priced at about $31 to “one-off gowns for the red carpet” for about $1,500, the company’s U.S. licenser says.
But the line—which is pronounced “four, double six, six four” and embraces a “bold and quirky” style—has to tread carefully to avoid commercializing Mandela’s name. Although it has been essential to the brand’s marketing efforts so far, its North American licenser says the activist is only its “iconic inspiration” and doesn’t have a direct role in the company. “We have a guarded approach so that we are not overly commercializing his image,” explains Erin Patton, the chief executive of Company b, which owns the exclusive licensing rights for the brand in North America.
Patton says the brand aims to channel Mandela’s message of “social upliftment” and is geared toward young people who have the potential to be “change makers.” He says that unlike the American designers who travel to Africa for inspiration for their collections, the Afro-centric brand will feature a local perspective, as its entire design team is based in South Africa.
But, this being a Mandela-sponsored brand, it makes sense that there is a strong message of social awareness in the company’s mission: it aims to bring funds and awareness to the South African textile industry. According to WWD, 60 percent of the line is manufactured in South Africa, and 7 to 9 percent of the proceeds from sales will go to Mandela’s foundation, 46664 (South Africa). “This brand gives life to all of [Mandela’s] ideas and principles that we all should be striving for,” Patton says.
As the brand expands in the United States, Patton adds, 466/64 will call on Mandela’s stable of celebrity supporters for support. Stars including Charlize Theron and Beyoncé Knowles have shown support for Mandela in the past—so it may be only a matter of time until a 466/64 dress graces the red carpet.