I had the pleasure of meeting Conner Varin (real name Stephanie O’Connor, pictured) on one of my first visits to South Africa. She was sort of this magical creature that moved from Brooklyn and had somehow taken the city of Johannesburg by storm. I was in town for the UN Climate Change conference and was just waiting for a moment to hop out of my tailored suit and let my hair down. Stephanie, a creatives creative, welcomed me with wild curly hair, a bright smile, and the most-amazing outfit I never thought of. What followed was four of the most-memorable nights of my life: From rooftop dives to township parties and even an intercontinental road trip to Lesotho, my time with Ms. Varin was more live than the tricked-out van (property of South African DJ Nutty Nys) we traveled in.
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Since we met, Conner has continued to leave her imprint on Jozi’s “scene.” From snapping breathtaking shots of the city’s well-heeled crowd to creating The Wknd Social (pictured below), a people-watching fest of a day-party brunch series, Ms. Varin has her pulse on South Africa’s incredibly vibrant (and changing) second city. Consequently, she is currently working alongside artists and developers to transform the Maboneng Precinct (pictured below) on Johannesburg’s east side into a connected urban neighborhood complete with the requisite line-up events for the hipster set.
Ever the eclectic woman, I sat down with Conner Varin to get a glimpse in to what she’s seeing in her world now.
Face2Face Africa: Coming from the United States, how did you break in to the South African fashion industry?
Conner Varin: I think it was by luck mostly. I met a woman called “Tholi” on one of my many visits to South Africa, and she invited me to work with her on a book. The project highlighted the best fashion designers from South Africa and neighboring countries. From this project I got to work with several top designers from South Africa and one from Zambia. This is when I started falling in love with the diversity in African fashion.
F2F Africa: What are some street wear trends you are seeing right now?
CV: I’ve been seeing lots of bold prints and patterns, lots of animal prints. Johannesburg style is a beautiful mix of Africa, London, and New York all meshed together. Big African-inspired jewelry is also very popular right now.
F2F Africa: Name three designers that are doing interesting things in South Africa.
CV: Henrietta Botha has these amazing jewelry pieces. Every girl should own just one. Here is her Facebook page.
Maria McCloy, who is also a good friend of mine, has taken over the shoe world with her wax print shoes that come in both heels, flats, and shoes for the fellas.
Maxohsa by Laduma has beautiful menswear’s sweaters inspired by traditional Xhosa beadwork. I’ve been a fan for a while. I look forward to having a man to buy for.
F2F Africa: What has been your favorite fashion shoot so far?
CV: I’ve had a few of them that I’ve really enjoyed, but one that sticks out very vividly in my head is the shoot with Avant Apparel I did late 2013. The location we used to shoot at, which was their then-studio space at the time, was actually one of the designers’ parents’ house that had neverending trinkets and collectables. The room we used was dark and filled to the brim with things. It was such a beautiful contrast to their very modern, very meticulous clothing.
F2F Africa: When you aren’t behind the camera what do you do in Johannesburg?
CV: I eat. A lot. I find myself at different restaurants with friends all the time. The food here is so good! I attend lots of gallery events and live music shows. One of my favorite past times is really walking around the city finding shopping gems. My plan is to open an online store to give people access to all my wonderful finds across South Africa.
See more of South Africa through Conner Varin’s eyes here.
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Cherae Robinson is a self-described “passport stamp collector” and has traveled to nearly 30 countries, 8 of them on the African continent. In 2012 she realized one of her biggest dreams when she took 80 young professionals to Africa and founded the Afripolitans, a collective of professionals interested in creating a stronger narrative on Africa through commerce, connections, and creativity. Committed to being a “Game-Changer” in how the world sees Africa, Ms. Robinson’s vision has revealed itself in the creation of her first independent venture Rare Customs, a tourism market development firm.