Thebe Magugu has become the first African designer to take home the prestigious LVMH Prize for Young Fashion Designers, receiving this year’s honor in Paris yesterday afternoon from brand ambassador Alicia Vikander at the Fondation Louis Vuitton. The winner was selected by a jury of industry figures including Kris Van Assche, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Jonathan Anderson, Nicolas Ghesquière, Marc Jacobs, and Clare Waight Keller, alongside Delphine Arnault, Jean-Paul Claverie, and Sidney Toledano of LVMH. Previous winners include Marine Serre, Marques’Almeida, and Jacquemus, while finalists have included Virgil Abloh, Molly Goddard, Demna Gvasalia, and Syrian designer Nabil El Nayal.
“It’s an incredible honor,” Magugu says. “I have had the deepest respect for LVMH for the longest time because they house brands I’ve looked up to forever. To be part of this incredible initiative means the world to me.”
The 26-year-old Magugu, whose eponymous brand is based in Johannesburg, hails from Kimberley, a small mining town in South Africa’s Northern Cape province. After studying fashion design at LISOF in Johannesburg and winning best graduate collection, he worked in the local fashion industry for two years before launching his womenswear brand, THEBE MAGUGU.
His collections are personal and empathetic, inspired by the lived experiences of South African women, especially those who have played important roles in his life. “I’ve always been surrounded by women,” he recently told T Magazine. “Independent, strong, headstrong women at that.” His designs also highlight his love and respect for education, with collection names like Home Economics and African Studies. Magugu also told T that he aims to “create an African brand with truly international implications,” and the prize will help propel that dream forward. As this year’s winner, he will receive a €300 000 grant and a year-long mentorship under LVMH executives. He’ll also have a collection made available online at LVMH-owned multi-brand e-commerce platform 24S.com, where a selection of designs by this year’s finalists are already available for purchase.
“I think they [LVMH] are very interested in the cultural aspect of my work, and I think it goes over and above the exoticism people feel for brands coming from emerging markets,” Magugu says about his win. “I think they’re interested in the stories and everything I was saying with the collection but it was also good-quality products that they enjoyed, so it’s those two worlds coming together.”
Of Magugu’s win, Grazia Chiuri commented, “I’m very happy because I think this guy has a vision, very precise, about his creativity. He really believes in creating a wardrobe for women.”
Receiving the Jury Prize, now known as the Karl, was designer Hed Mayner, who will also receive a year-long mentorship from LVMH, along with a grant of €150 000. The other finalists included Kunihiko Morinaga (Anrealage), Bethany Williams, Emily Adams Bode (Bode), Kenneth Izedonmwen (Kenneth Ize), Spencer Phipps (Phipps), and Stefan Cooke and Jake Burt (Stefan Cooke). Magugu and Izedonmwen are the first African designers to be selected for both the shortlist and the finals of the competition.