Interviews with Fashion Designers

South African Interviews

Tamika Interviews Benita Allen


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Sitting down to do an interview with Benita Allen of “Chica-Loca!” , I’m  overwhelmed with her energy, charisma and creativity. This stylish young designer has a string of awards behind her name, as well as a flourishing boutique in Cavendish Square, Cape Town. She also has outlets in Johannesburg and – lucky for us- sells her clothes online! It’s hard to imagine this mom-of-one finds the time to run a successful label, manage a shop, spit out new designs every month, dress celebrities, attend swanky events and spearhead the marketing and promotions of her brand! We order our lattes from Vida E and get to work on the interview. If you would like to check the “Chica-Loca!” Facebook Page, click HERE.

Chica Loca Benita Allen
Benita Allen in white
Chica Loca Benita Allen
Kia Johnson and Benita Allen

Tamika: Where are you from originally?

Benita: Cape Town.

Tamika: Where did you go to school?

Benita: Springfield.

Tamika: What kind of training did you do for design, if any?

Benita: I studied a Bachelor of Fine Arts at the University of Cape Town. I dropped out of that and attended the Kalk Bay School of Fine Arts. I also did a course in oil painting at that time. After my studies were competed, I travelled for five years and tried my hand at various things. I was an artist for a bit, a P.A., I worked in advertising, and so on. I then focused more on fashion specifically and completed a diploma in Fashion Design at the Cape Town College of Fashion. That was three years. After that I immediately started up Chica-Loca! around 2004.

Tamika: When did your label start and where can we find your clothes?

Benita: In 2004. So it’s been going for 9 years. You can find the clothes in Cavendish Square, Cape Town, and also at Egality at 25 4th Avenue, Parkhurst, Johannesburg. I also stock online at 36Boutiques.

Chica Loca Benita Allen

Tamika: Where did you find the money for your first collection or even outfit that you designed – parents, fundraising events?

Benita: I started off designing a range of tops for Crayon Shoes – they hosted private shoe parties. I sold at their invitation-only events until I was approached by Kim from India Jane at one of the parties. She took on my entire collection in all three of her boutiques and things took off from there! I got my name Chica-Loca! because it’s Spanish for “crazy girl”. I studied Spanish and I liked the phrase!

Tamika: What are your influences, mainly? What are you inspired by?

Benita: I have a fabric-first philosophy. I find fabric that I like first, and then I’m inspired to design my clothes.

Chica Loca Benita Allen

Tamika: What’s in the pipeline for you at the moment – what collection, fashion show, event etc.?

Benita: I’m very excited about stocking at Egality. Also with our newest input which has gone into 36Boutiques.

Tamika: Have you won any awards?

Benita: When Design Indaba started a few years ago, I was one of the featured young designers. We’ve been nominated for a lot of fashion awards over the years since then and have also received a lot of media.

Tamika: What designer do you look up to?

BenitaMary Katrantzou.

Chica Loca Benita Allen

Tamika: Are you planning on staying in South Africa?

Benita: I have no set plans on staying in South Africa.

Tamika: Where do you party, usually?

Benita: I don’t! Haha! I attend functions and special occasions.

Tamika: What’s in the boot of your car right now?

Benita: My five-year-old’s drawings!

Tamika: Do you have siblings?

Benita: Yes, one brother.

Tamika: What does your family do?

Benita: My dad has a car body shop and my mom works with me. She does the accounts.

Tamika: What’s a typical day for you?

Benita: I take Scarlett to school first, then I go to my studio above The Lot in Kloof Street. I source fabrics, do admin, plan, design and work! work! work!

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Tamika: Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?

Benita: I would like to continue establishing Chica-Loca! as a successful brand and achieve some real success nationwide and internationally.

Tamika: What’s one interesting thing about you that your followers don’t you?

Benita: I’m obsessed with mixed martial arts!

Tamika: Name a place you love.

Benita: I love walking my dog anywhere.

Tamika: Do you do any charity work?

Benita: I do contribute to a few charities regularly but I could do more! I am very involved in any events that empower women. I support animal anti cruelty – animals are very close to my heart.

Tamika: What do you tell yourself when you have finished your latest work/creation?

Benita: “What next!?”

Chica Loca Benita Allen

Chica-Loca Benita Allen

South African Interviews

Tamika Interviews Jelena Jablanovic – Winner of the J&B Met’s Best Designer Competition


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Her famous teacup and saucer headpiece was certainly intriguing. I attended the J & B Met myself (See my article on it HERE) and I heard about it via the whispers of my friends at the event this year. To be honest, the fashions that rock up on the day are the hot topic on everybody’s lips. Yes, the horses are an ingredient and certainly the bets taking place can be dizzying… but on top of that, each attendee tries to guess who designed what outfit and who they think should win the coveted title of ‘Best Designer’ for the day. Whether you were watching SABC 3, Top Billing, The Expresso Show, All Access or simply reading the Cape Argus for a recap of the famous horse-racing event, you would have seen the winner, Jelena Jablanovic. A young and sassy design student, Jelena certainly made herself proud that day with her oufit designed to the theme ‘Made Different’.

Jelena ‘made different’ with a unique idea sparked off by seeing a vintage teacup and saucer one day. It proved to be the winning ticket for judges, who judged her designer dress and signature accessory as the best over many other contestants who entered. I met with her at Truth Coffee Bar in Greenpoint for an interview.

Tamika: Where are you from originally?

Jelena: I was born in Johannesburg but I’ve been between Cape Town and Johannesburg my whole life.

Tamika: Where did you go to school?

Jelena: I went to Milnerton High and I’m now studying my B/A in Fashion at Fedisa Fashion School here in Cape Town. I’m in my final year.

Tamika: What kind of training did you do for design, if any?

Jelena: Technically at Fedisa, but I’ve been designing stuff as a passion since I was in grade 5! I’ve always known this is what I wanted to do.

Tamika: Do you have a label? If so, where can we find your clothes?

Jelena: Yes I will soon be coming out with my own label called “Mossolena” – ‘Mosso’ meaning “motion or movement in a direction” in Italian and ‘Lena’ being the end of my name. It will be a swimwear label, very much designed to make women beautiful and accentuate the good parts of the individual’s body. I’m all about making things around me more beautiful. It will be out by the 2012/2013 Summer season. It will be an online store to begin with.

Tamika: Stunning! So what are your influences mainly? What are you inspired by?

Jelena: I’m inspired by life. I have strong influences from architecture and interior design. For my graduate collection this year I am inspired by Playstation and especially the game Assassin’s Creed.  The work that gets put into the game and graphics inspires me and I’m going to design my clothing to have a modern day yet historical element. I want my pieces to be avant-garde as a whole but as you strip down the outfits, each piece is a commercial piece of clothing making up the whole.

Tamika: Tell us about the J&B Met win!

Jelena: Well it started out as just a project at Fedisa – for students to design dresses for the Met. We were told they would be judged in a final fashion show at the school and whoever won would be entered into the competition at the Met. I won the competition within the school and so I was entered…. I must say that after seeing the brief ‘Made Different’ I adapted my design slightly to fit the theme. That’s where the teacup and saucer came in as a quirky headpiece! The J & B Met competition is open to any designer, including couples who just happen to come up with a clever outfit. So there was stiff competition and I must say, I didn’t think I was going to win!

Tamika: So what exactly did you win?

Jelena: I won a 3-night stay at the Tinga Game Reserve up in the Kruger National Park. I won Givenchy vouchers to the value of R5 000. And I won loads of girly stuff, including facials, hair products and beauty treatments!

Tamika: Wow! So what’s in the pipeline for you at the moment?

Jelena: In the pipeline is my Fedisa graduate show. That’s in November. And also on the cards for me is a shoot with renowned South Africa photographer Richard Keppel-Smith. I dabble in styling and art directing, so I’ve worked with some incredible mainstream fashion photographers on commercial shoots. I’ve worked with Kristina Stojkovic in the past and I just find I have a passion for being involved in shoots – whether for advertising, potraits or editorials – and it’s a sphere of my life I see myself developing this year. Also in the pipeline is continuing my work at Scalini – an Italian Fashion House in the Cape Quarter and Jarvis Street.

Tamika: What designer do you look up to?

Jelena:  Haldane Martin, a local designer in Contemporary South African Furniture Design.

Tamika: Are you planning on staying in South Africa?

Jelena: Yes I am! There is still so much to experience here. I would, of course, love to travel and look into internships overseas… But it would be with the goal of bringing what I learn over there back here.

Tamika: Where do you party, usually?

Jelena: I like Jade, The Fez, Trinity and The Reserve!

Tamika: What’s in the boot of your car right now?

Jelena: A sewing machine! Oh, and my visual diary.

Tamika: Do you have siblings?

Jelena: Yes, a younger sister and brother.

Tamika: What does your family do?

Jelena: My parents are pitbosses at The GrandWest Casino. And my dad also has an online gambling business.

Tamika: What’s a typical day for you?

Jelena: Ha! That would be varisty, varisty, varsity! Classes and working on up-coming assignments. I like to walk my dogs when I have time in the day and also design for my Swimwear label.

Tamika: Where do you see yourself in ten years from now?

Jelena: Still doing what I love; making things beautiful. I would like to have my own store and be a successful art director.

Tamika: What’s one interesting thing about you that your followers don’t know?

Jelena: My animals are my babies!!

Tamika: Name a place you love.

Jelena: The promenade along Mouille Point.

Tamika: Do you do any charity work?

Jelena: I work for the SPCA when I can and I also volunteer at a children’s creche.

Tamika: What do you tell yourself when you’ve finished your latest work/creation?

Jelena: Ummm…. “You can go to sleep now!!”