Roman Handt: I Sell Ideas, Not Clothes

The craftsmen, traditional old school seamstresses who were much older than you, made you see that sewing is a highly competitive craft in Europe. Do you feel that our fashion designers don’t spend enough time really practicing and honing their craft?

It definitely counts in ones favour to have an in-depth insight into garment construction, until this day it constantly influences my design process. There really is no other way but to ‘do it yourself’ and study each material (be it fabric or something else) passing through ones hands. Textile technology is evolving at an alarming rate and to keep up as a designer, one needs to understand that textiles in fashion are no longer just about covering a human body.

Once I understood the ‘rules’ or principals of tailoring, fabric manipulation became a small obsession. As a result the execution of a look became far more dramatic. Hand sewing with different stitching techniques still (until this day) usually achieves what I’m trying to conceptualise through my garments. Our local industry seems to favour celebrity designers, with little or no care for the work they produce, so I don’t feel that these qualities are necessary for survival locally.

You have been described as an avant-garde menswear designer. Describe to us what this actually means to the way that you design your collections.

It simply means that I choose to sell ideas or concepts rather than items of clothing.  My garments are visual translations of current trends, usually linked to new perceptions of male identity.  The work I produce is for individuals who really take the upmost pride in how they present themselves. These are the type of people that inspire others, a sort of hero so to speak. For me, it has never been about how one looks in clothing, but rather what one is trying to say about yourself through the garments you wear.  This is a different kind of confidence and the major reason I don’t showcase seasonally. I don’t subscribe to the idea of fast fashion, it has too many negative implications around it. Victim or hero? The choice lies with us.

You’ve mentioned that the fundamental basis of your collections is “Like man, ever evolving.” How do you see South African men evolving fashion-wise in the future?

South Africa, in my opinion, is currently one of the most diverse countries in the world when it comes to male identity.  The cross cultural influences of Southern African male stereotypes, combined with modern urban nomadism, has resulted into a new male hybrid. Then there’s also the local synergy between male and female that’s worth exploring.  This symbiosis seems to naturally result in gender neutrality

Working with unusual materials and construction techniques as well as extreme silhouettes is part of your design aesthetic. What message do you hope to convey to men by pushing the boundaries in your collections?

A recent article I read said that the true identity of modern masculine power dressing is going to a board meeting in a hoodie and tracksuit pants – this means that you don’t work for the company, but rather that you started your own. Most men that subscribe to the idea of a suit are in a subservient position (even if they don’t acknowledge it themselves). The people I design for answer to no-one in particular. I feel that the success of a modern man lies in his freedom to experiment.


What does the term “guerilla couture” mean? And how do you apply it to your designs and collections?

Everything that falls under the umbrella of couture is bound by rules. These are in place to protect the couture industry and the artisans that produce couture garments.  There are currently less than a 1,000 couture clients left in the world. The decline of the couture clientele might be due to the time it takes to produce a garment of such quality, rather than a pricing issue. Very few people have the time to wait 800 hours for a dress or garment to be completed.

Guerrilla couture is a process that is inspired by these artisans, and still produces one-of-a-kind garments, but at a fraction of the time, because of a less restrictive garment construction process. Most of the garments I show on the catwalks can’t be reproduced commercially because of the materials or the method of construction – it also wouldn’t make financial sense. But if someone is willing to invest in a fashionable garment – I’m prepared to undertake such projects.

You are weaving your own fabrics for this collection. Is this because of the lack of choice in South Africa?

South Africa has a rich history in weaving textiles, that has completely collapsed because import laws didn’t protect the local industry.  This is appalling since textiles have always been in demand, yet our local industry has almost disappeared. My main reason for weaving local fabrics is to create an awareness amongst designers that there are artisans prepared to collaborate on projects, which hopefully inspires others. A few passionate weavers still remain and there are quite a number of factories still producing yarns for weaving – which was a real eye-opener. With the weak Rand it also makes sense to support small businesses because imports are more expensive.

I have not been this excited about my work for a long time!  It’s the next level of guerrilla couture: weaving up a fabric that exists nowhere else in the world To produce original fabrics while consulting with a textile artisan, and the price… it’s not possible anywhere else in the world. Plus, you will never run out of your fabric.

Can you tell us about the thought process and message you’d like to convey with your latest collection?

Identity Dweller is about exploring new concepts in dressing man, that questions masculine stereotypes. The youth have lessened as group with economic buying power and this is a remarkable shift in how we observe fashion. Narcissism will feature less in the future because public sentiment is changing.  Aspirational in many cases can come across as being fake. Inspirational is real.

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