Costume and production designer
Ntokozo Kunene’s unravelling life story presents a didactic lesson on the transformative possibilities that come with following your dreams. The costume and production designer recently completed her master’s in fine arts in design for stage and film at the New York University Tisch School of the Arts, in addition to acquiring a fashion design qualification from the Italian school of fashion and design Istituto Marangoni in the UK. She also holds a BComm degree in economics, business finance and law from Wits University.
“I’ve always been interested in the arts. I would ask my parents to bring me Teen [and] CosmoGirl magazine on their travels and I would try recreating the looks in the magazines from what I shopped at home. For my final matric assignment, I designed costumes for a production of Sophiatown that my best friend directed.”
Kunene’s unorthodox career trajectory is a result of having to balance her parents’ well-meaning expectations with the silent whispers of her heart.
“When I was in high school applying for a degree, the idea of a job in the fashion industry was considered one of those careers that was not stable and required something more secure to fall back on. Once I had satisfied my parents, my father gave me the option to do my LLB or study fashion. I opted for the fashion, doing one year at Lisof (Johannesburg) and then moving to London to study at Istituto Marangoni. While there my history of art and history of costumes lecturer, who had wanted to be a costume designer herself, introduced me to the fact that I could do a master’s in costume design.”
A few years later and Kunene is flying the South African flag high, blending her formative African origins with her meticulous approach to design, and she is thriving. She is currently the costume designer for the world premiere of James Ijames’ Kill Move Paradise, directed by Saheem Ali and staged at The National Black Theatre in Harlem. Some of her collaborators include Spike Lee, Pauletta Washington and Zazie Beets and she lists working with acclaimed costume designer Paul Tazewell as a learning and humbling experience.
Her long-term goal is to work and teach and in the place of her birth, particularly in the arena of theatre education for the youth, as this would allow her to explore the possibilities of bi-continental cross-cultural exchange.
— Nomonde Ndwalaza