Who is Kenny Morifi-Winslow? And where is she?
I have no idea. I am becoming. What, I’m not sure. But like sculptures in clay, I find myself emerging. I mean I have specs, like a new car would, or a smartphone hahaha. I was born in Cape Town, moved to Singapore for a little as a small child, moved back to Cape Town briefly, and then moved to London. I spent the vast majority of my formative years in London, a place I consider to be the catalyst to my journey of self construction. We moved back to South Africa, where I finished my last 2 years of high school in Johannesburg. By now I’m sure you’ve gathered I’m nomadic. I went back to Cape Town for varsity, because I wasn’t sure I was ready to move as far as New York just yet, and did my first two degrees at UCT. Before heading into my honours year though, I applied to the school of my dreams, this time for a Master’s, closed my eyes and hoped for the best. I now live in New York City. I should write a travel guide hahahaha.
What did you study as an undergraduate degree?
I was a triple major at UCT, specialising in Anthropology, Art History and Media and Writing. Along the way though, I took some English courses, french courses (I didn’t want to lose my second language), and some gender courses. My approach to life is to attack it from as many angles as possible. Philosophy taught me things that helped me understand gender, and gender taught me things that now help me understand fashion. You have to be dynamic. Anthropology however was the greatest foundation I could have ever asked for, because to understand how to understand people, is the basis of everything in this world. Just to be able to ask the right questions is invaluable if you want to have any real impact on your environment.
For your Honours, what was your research topic? (Topic of Thesis)
So I did my honours in Anthropology, but at that level you pretty much have the luxury to design your own curriculum. I did my research on the evolving identity of print textile in South Africa. Fashion isn’t yet a recognised and legitimate field of study in SA yet, so I struggled to find materials and mentors at first, but I was lucky enough that my thesis supervisor was mentoring a PhD candidate who was a professor at Lisof, so she connected me with her and she really helped guide me. Now though, I have all the resources I could possibly want, to be able to continue my research interests, even from a continent away.
It’s been just over 20 months since you have moved to study in New York City, tell us how has the great move been? And what are you doing in NYC?
If I’m honest, it was much harder than I was anticipating. When you dream about something, you often leave out the really basic admin, like, how expensive your dream neighbourhood is, or how small the apartments are, or how expensive a cosmopolitan of Sex and The City fame, really is. My family was only there for about 6 days, and then left. So I did the apartment hunting, school shopping, life assembling thing, all on my own. I cried every day for my first two weeks. It all just seemed too much. I remember calling my mom and begging her to come back, that broke her heart. But she told me that this was a test, that I was being tested to see how badly I wanted this, but if I chose to, she would bring me back home on the next flight out. I stayed.
Since then though, I have met some of the most inspiring and creative people I have ever had the pleasure of encountering. In a program of 33 students, the largest Parsons has ever had for this particular program (it's only 5 years old), I have found home in my classmates. Some fully fledged industry professionals, others political science majors following their dreams, and then me, one of the youngest in the class. It’s really incredible. New York City is so much more than I thought it would be. Even just walking around the city on a Saturday morning after brunch (brunch is a very real and serious thing to New Yorkers, a whole other meal time) becomes the greatest adventure.
How is it studying at Parsons?
I never want to leave. I have dreamt about this my whole life, and now that I'm here I’m trying my very hardest to be present in every moment. I get excited to go to school every morning, it’s so nerdy hahaha. I sat in on an undergraduate class one week because they had a guest speaker from BuzzFeed. On the elevator ride down after class, I had a conversation with a flamboyant young student. I complimented him on his scarf, it was kind of a two tone, double sides, monochrome, deconstructed scarf situation in a reinforced jersey fabric with rough seams. His response? ‘Oh my god thank you so much. It’s Margiela….well not really, I interned for them so they are sponsoring all the fabric for my thesis collection, I make random stuff with the offcuts, this scarf is one them. So it’s Margiela textile but, my own creation.’ I almost passed out in the lift. Have you ever heard something like that? Those are the kinds of people I go to school with. A classmate of mine has just launched an eCommerce website for independent luxury jewellery and apparel designers and I helped her set up the holiday pop up store last year, on the store's third day open, we had a mention in Vogue.com. Parsons has the worlds foremost fashion scholars behind it’s doors, every resource you could ever ask for, I mean, on my orientation tour, the first thing they showed us in the library was the hardcover collection of every Vogue magazine ever printed, in every country. It was mind blowing. Every day is mind blowing. I’m beyond grateful and so proud of myself for saying I would and then doing it.
Which city do you prefer living in Jhb, Cpt, NYC, or London? And tell us why?
Picking a favourite city would be like compartmentalising my personality; segmenting my identity. Each of those cities represented are a part of my story, a journey, a facet of my conception of self. I travel between the four cities all year, so I never really lose touch with either. I have learnt to be a chameleon, to adapt quickly and sharply to a new place or situation, survival techniques. But now that I have adjusted, all those places are home. Cape Town, will always be very dear to my heart, I think I became a woman there. London is like an old friend, I started to define the person I wanted to become there, but I will forever have an illicit love affair with Johannesburg. If Johannesburg was one of the elements, she would be earth. I feel she grounds me, rubs clay on my cheeks and then sends me back into the world a new kind of warrior.
To you what is the epitome of substance in a woman?
People usually insert some cheesy quote by Coco Chanel, or Diane Von Furstenburg, or if you really know your stuff, Eleanor Roosevelt…I think it’s much simpler than that. To be ineffable, you must be deeply you, to the core, unshakable. It’s so easy to get caught up in so many of the wrong things, especially in a place like South Africa, where everyone basically knows everyone, and the worlds overlap across cities. The epitome of substance in a women, in that context, is the resolution to hold onto yourself. Be smart and unashamed of it. Have goals and chase them. Carry yourself in a way that the woman you want to be, would be proud of. I respect people who are always on a learning curve, always trying to know the world better, and by that I don’t mean academically. I mean having open eyes, open hearts, and open hands.
In your career what do you aspire to?
Without giving away too much, the singular word that I wake up to every morning, that I remind myself of when I sit down to write a paper, is “change”. I want the world to notice us, Africa. I want them to see us as relevant, changing, evolving, producing, rebuilding, leading and succeeding. I want to be the icon of South African fashion scholarship, I want to be the person the world thinks of when they think of Africa and fashion in a sentence together. I want to be heard. Does that make sense? It’s not enough that international designers bite elements of indigenous cultures for their collections, because none of that recognition filters back down to us. I’ve written countless papers on the detrimental effect of ignorant cultural appropriation, and it’s a topic that close to my heart. My goal, Vogue Africa.
With your studies, and being so young, in the end with all the knowledge that you learnt at school what is it exactly that you want to do with your degree, where do you want to work?
In fashion, you really have to start from the bottom and work your way up. But…I cant even define a job title for myself, so I wouldn’t even know where to start. I know the kinds of places I would like to work to gain experience, like Commes des Garcons, Margiela, Chloe, Givenchy and YSL, but the real victory would be to work for myself, start my own company. We’ll see. I’m of the opinion I can do whatever I want, so when I decide on something, I will do it and get back to you hahaha.
What inspires your style?
My style is very simple. I don’t wear make up (apart from lipstick occasionally for a pop of colour), and my hair is always in it’s naturally curly state. I’m mixed race (obviously), and finding a balance between my two heritages was always a challenge growing up. I love androgyny and menswear for women. It kind of blurs the lines between the gender, race and class binaries that I’ve needed to navigate all my life. I lead quite a colourful life, so my colour palette wardrobe wise literally consists of black, white, grey, navy blue and olive green. Everything. Being so limited in my colour taste has taught me to understand and respect the value of cut, tailoring, shape and texture. I respect fashion in a different way to ‘trendy/cool’. I’m inspired by the Apartheid jazz age, of romance in turmoil, by the strength designers like Yohji Yamamoto impart onto the colour black for women, and the YSL woman who can fall in love in trousers.
What has been the best advice you received?
One foot in front of the other.