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From Paris Fashion Week to an Inspiring Retrospective in Cape Town

The imagery of master potter, Hylton Nel,  inspired the craft-intensive Dior Men’s Spring/Summer 2025 collection on the runway in Paris

By Petra Mason

In an era of AI generated flawless perfection, the hand-made has never been more sought after. Understanding this Dior Men’s Artistic Director Kim Jones, a man known for his deep respect for ‘the craft’ and meticulous approach combined forces with South African born, Karoo based artist-potter Hylton Nel whose uniquely personal, whimsical illustrations provided the Dior Homme Spring/Summer 2025 collection with abundant inspiration as was seen on the Paris Fashion Week runway last Friday. Nel, has an exhibition that opens in Cape Town from 29 June 2024.

“The skills of the ateliers and artisans who work for the house: this is the lifeblood of Dior” says Jones in his collection statement. Part of that lifeblood now features motifs and figuration from Nel’s work “seamlessly woven into the fabric of the collection, exemplifying a sophisticated blend of art and attire that speaks to a well-lived life, echoing the textures and shapes of Nel’s ceramics”.

Jones, a long-time friend and collector of Nel’s creations, worked with the South African to turn his characterful cats into monumental sculptures, enlarged for the spectacle of the catwalk. Local South African crafts people known as Earth Age in Cape Town hand-crocheted the bucket hats while ceramic beads were applied in Paris.

The Dior collection reportedly took over 600 hours of hand beading and hand embroidery. Even so, there is nothing fussy about the collection. Re-mixed Dior archival highlights, including oddities such as a ceramic collar and a twist on the saddle bag, the results of which are infinitely wearable, the classic colour palette grounding frequent flights of fancy. Fun puns have always been part of Nel’s narrative, occasionally child-like but never childish, bordering on bawdy and sometimes plain naughty, the artist now adding crochet cats and spacious tote bags scrawled in his signature cursive ‘Dior for my real friends’ (a play on artist Francis Bacon’s famed phrase) to his lexicon.

Marc Barben from STEVENSON, accompanied Nel on the trip and says it was an incredible experience. “It was just utterly surreal to witness the tremendous swelling of collective excitement in the room, and the transformative power of the show.

For art lovers in South Africa, THINGS MADE OVER TIME opens this weekend at STEVENSON in Cape Town. It’s a mini-retrospective of  Nel’s ceramics, and features plates, bowls, vases and sculptures. Works in this exhibition are shown chronologically as a timeline, starting with works created in the late 1960s and concluding with plates made in 2024. Since the early 1990s Nel has inscribed the date of the firing onto his objects, their day of birth, so to speak. The works thus become like entries in the artist’s diary, memorialising the day, the thought, the sensibility behind his craft.

Hylton Nel at home in Calitzdorp, 2024, photographed by Pieter Hugo

Things Made Over Time – the mini-retrospective of the ceramics of Hylton Nel runs from 29 June – 10 August 2024 at STEVENSON.

 

Fashion week images supplied by Dior.

 

 

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