Black Coffee is the label of South African designer Jacques van der Watt. Formed in 1998 with a name inspired by late nights, hard work and the 1948 Sarah Vaughan classic.
Black Coffee is distinctive for the way it blurs fabrication and fashion. The sharp structural designs are characterised by complex, layered shapes that yield a fastidious fashion sensibility that is at once restrained and bold.
Jacques is drawn to complex geometries enveloping the body, becoming markings of sorts. They create an armour, providing the wearer with confidence. Despite this exact geometry, Black Coffee remains subdued with utterly feminine traits like fine pleating and intricate ribbon trimmings so that the garments are right for work wear yet strikingly befitting of evening wear too.
The design goes beyond adornment, often melding the body with the pattern in a meticulous feat of engineering. It renders fabric in relief, its carved features projected from the surface, marking the body so that skin is brought to prominence and embossed with fabric. Jacques is a master of discreet style that refines craft, embellishing on traditions like millinery and applique and echoing African motifs but with a modern verve.
Jacques is one of the pioneers of fashion in South Africa, heralding fashion as a standalone industry at a time when it was restricted to occasion-specific garments. He was one of the initial unknown brands that collaborated at SA Fashion Week in 1999 that originated fashion as an art form in South Africa.
The label soon gained attention and Black Coffee also showed at Cape Town, San Francisco, Berlin and New York Fashion Weeks. It has been nominated five times for the SA Fashion Awards and won twice (2001 and 2007). In 2009 it received the Mercedes-Benz Art Award for its installation referencing the earthy red hues used by Himba people of northern Namibia, with an installation that was shown at the renowned Daimler contemporary gallery in Berlin. In 2010 it won the Best Designer award by African Fashion International.
Jacques is the 2017 winner of the SA Fashion Week Cape Wools Designer Challenge. In 2018 he exhibited a wool outfit embellished by a crafter from Katlehong at the Commonwealth Fashion Council Exhibition in London. Black Coffee was featured in the exhibition, 21 YEARS: Making Histories with South African Fashion Week in 2019 at Zeitz MOCAA in Cape Town.
Visit the Black Coffee archive.