light box: fashion designer rich mnisi’s sunsplashed apartment
'I always start with the most flamboyant, the most elaborate piece – like this blue sofa. This is where I get my visual cues. And then I either dress it up – like I did with the green daybed and the blue rug – or pull it back a bit.’ That’s how fashion designer Fumani Rich Mnisi describes the way he created his new space in Johannesburg’s Maboneng district: ‘It’s the same way I design my collections.’
The LISOF fashion graduate founded Rich Mnisi in 2014 and, in the same year, was named African Fashion International (AFI) Designer of the Year. Catering to both a local and an international market, the brand, which is youthful, edgy, experimental and luxe, has been featured in international magazines such as Dazed and Confused and Vogue Italia.
‘I’m obsessed with the colour navy,’ says Rich, laughing. ‘I would have done the whole place in navy!’ Instead, he opted to ensure that all the other tones complemented the hue. The resulting interiors have obviously been curated by someone with a fashion editor’s eye: there is display shelving filled with neatly arranged, colour-coordinated jackets swinging off matching hangers, a smart pair of leather boots, a glass-encased male figurine and books stacked according to size. It’s almost as if you could shop off the racks and tabletops with carefully arranged glasses, vases and coffee-table books about art and design.
The most striking part of his home is the living room, where Rich spends most of his time entertaining dinner guests with homemade lasagne, sitting on the rug watching RuPaul’s Drag Race with friends, or working on his laptop. ‘This is where the best light is,’ he says. The illuminated, airy space has a mostly monochromatic base, combining metro tiles, black counters and shelving, the iron staircase, and glass and aluminium doors and windows. Rich’s bright and bold colour choices add a sense of playfulness – an olive-green wall here, two recycling bins in primary colours there, a baby-pink pouffe on one side… Every item has been considered and nothing feels out of place.
Rich’s bright and bold colour choices add a sense of playfulness – every item has been considered and nothing feels out of place.
While Rich is best known for his fashion label, he has also dabbled in furniture design. ‘I love interiors,’ he says, which is just what you’d expect from someone who selected items for his home from a huge range of sources – everywhere from the streets of Fordsburg to Sofacompany.com and his favourite interiors store, Weylandts.
As an adjunct to the fashion collection dubbed Nwa-MulaMula, (named for his late great-grandmother), Rich unveiled an organically shaped chaise and accompanying stool with a gold, puddle-shaped foot earlier this year. The work, which was part of Southern Guild’s group exhibition Extra Ordinary, stands as a physical representation of Nwa-MulaMula, says Rich. ‘[Nwa-MulaMula] is a symbolic representation of African mothers in all their glory that has been lost in time, undocumented and buried in the depths of our hearts,’ he wrote on Instagram.
‘My entire family was very sceptical about my decision to study fashion,’ says Rich. ‘Not unlike many black parents, they thought fashion was a frivolous pursuit and didn’t believe I could make a decent living from it.’ His late father had named him Fumani, meaning ‘wealth’ in XiTsonga, which he feels gives him something to work towards.
The last-born of six siblings, Rich says his entire family is fashion-conscious and dresses well, but adds that it was his sister who inspired him. ‘She was the fashion girl in the family. She would cut up clothes and reimagine them – and I would just sit and watch her do it.’ It was only when he received the AFI accolade a year after graduating that his mother acknowledged that he had chosen the right career path.
Rich’s interests, though firmly embedded in pop culture, extend beyond fashion and furniture. ‘I also enjoy photography, and creative direction re-energises me.’ Rich has worked with DJ Black Coffee and various magazines, conceptualising, styling and directing shoots and editorials. Most recently, he and creative director Trevor Stuurman styled US singer Ciara’s new video for the sizzling single ‘Freak Me’, featuring Nigeria’s Tekno. Draped in Rich Mnisi garments, Ciara does the gwara gwara on a Soweto street alongside South African dancers in Tsonga-inspired outfits.