South African Designer Thebe Magugu’s First Retail Location Is More Than Just a Store

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Thebe Magugu is setting up house.

The South African designer has opened his first retail location in Johannesburg, but Magugu House is more than just a store. Set on a 32,000-square-foot plot in the upscale suburb of Dunkeld, the house and garden will also host exhibitions and events. 

Built in 1931, the home on leafy Bompas Road has been in the same family for three generations. It’s been converted to house both public spaces and the brand’s offices, in addition to an atelier for small custom productions. 

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The ground floor, painted in signature shades of pistachio and terracotta, has a showroom, fitting room, reception room and two small art galleries showcasing the latest installment of Magugu’s Heritage capsule collection, alongside the project he did with Valentino as part of U.S. Vogue’s dress-swap initiative.

A nook in the entrance hall displays the book tote bearing the brand’s signature sisterhood emblem which he designed as part of his capsule collection for Dior.

Magugu, who won the LVMH Prize for Young Designers in 2019, likes to name his collections after university topics, using clothes to shine a spotlight on aspects of South African culture ranging from the repercussions of apartheid to his personal family history. 

A piece from his fall 2023 collection, titled Folklorics, is featured in the “Sleeping Beauties: Reawakening Fashion” exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art‘s Costume Institute in New York City.

“This would almost be like a campus that encapsulates all that I want the brand to become. It’s not just where you can come and buy beautiful clothing, but I really want to have incredible, stellar experiences,” he told WWD in an exclusive interview.  

The furniture has been custom designed by South African company Weylandts and the space features a painting by Nelson Makamo incorporating one of Magugu’s clothing tags — a teaser for a possible future collaboration. 

The designer wants the galleries to be a springboard for emerging artists as well as a refuge for established artists.

“There’s not a lot of engaging spaces, I feel, here in Johannesburg. If it’s retail, it’s retail for retail’s sake,” he said. “People are looking towards something that feels bigger than you just trying to pass on a blouse.”

He scouted the location to be close to his wealthy clientele. Johannesburg has the most millionaires in Africa, according to the 2023 Africa Wealth Report by a British investment migration consultancy Henley & Partners. But Magugu is casting a wider net. 

“I love the idea that yes, the space is for my clientele, but say students, or someone who can’t necessarily afford to get the main collection, can catch a panel discussion by their favorite artist here at the studios,” he said.

He wants to involve his partners. In future, Magugu House might host ticketed live sessions with Spotify, or yoga classes with Adidas, and he hopes to stage his next fashion show there come September, after sitting out last season.

For Magugu, it was important to solidify his presence at home with a view to eventually taking on an additional role as creative director for a luxury house overseas. 

He’s entertained offers, but said they all required him to close his own label, something he’s reluctant to do given the recent rash of premature departures of young designers at storied houses. 

“You are just like a commodity that can be taken in this season and thrown out the next,” he said.

“That’s why I think it’s so important that I build this house that can sustain with or without me, so that when I do creative direct somewhere else, which is one of my dreams, of course, I am still protected by the four walls I built,” he added.

Magugu now has a team of eight, including a production manager with 25 years of experience. And his new HQ has its own generator and borehole, meaning it is insured against the electricity and water cuts that are common in South Africa.

It’s given him the confidence to project further afield, with plans to eventually open similar locations in the U.S., Europe and Asia. 

“I love this idea of Thebe Magugu becoming really one of the first African legacy brands based here, but with legs all over the world through Magugu House and wherever it might spring up next,” he said. 

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