In its first month, the TV series Shaka Ilembe made history by grossing millions in ratings. Renowned fashion stylist Sheli Masondo is the costume designer behind the series. Her iconic multi-decade career includes owning boutique fashion studios and winning awards. In an interview with ZiMoja, Masondo gave some insights into the planning of the series wardrobe - which of course was so good that it earned her recognition and is almost as important as the plot itself.
BORN FOR FASHION
Born and raised in Zola, Soweto, to a fashion designer mother, Masondo says she has always been obsessed with fashion. "I studied fashion design but my passion for character-based design weighed heavier than just fashion hence my love for film and storytelling prevailed," she said. Before joining the film industry, Masondo was running a successful fashion studio in downtown Jozi and she had a plethora of celebrity clients such as Boom Shaka, Brothers Of Peace and Somizi. She is also the brains behind many music videos in the 90s.
Masondo says her breakthrough on TV came in 2003 when she started working with some of the renowned directors such as the late Teboho Mahlatsi and she never looked back. "My film career kicked off with styling TV commercials with top directors such as Mickey Dube, Thabo Morera at Velocity SA and the amazing Teboho Mahlatsi at Bomb Productions around 2003," she says. Although she has plenty of opportunities to costume design for a number of TV shows, drama series, and feature films, Masondo says the highlight of her career was styling the internationally acclaimed singer-actress Beyonce in Black is King film, which begged an award for the best styling.
THE DEFYING MOMENT
She tells ZiMoja that 2019 was the highlight of her career styling Beyonce and subsequently winning an award. " That will always be the biggest highlight of my career. Followed by successful costume design projects like Snowfall season 6, Trackers, and How To Ruin Christmas franchise," she says. Masondo says working on Shaka Ilembe involved two years of research, both digital and physical. She says that process included her traveling to the deepest parts of rural KwaZulu Natal and museums to meet and observe old women and men who have managed to preserve the Zulu culture.
She says she had to stay in some villages for weeks to fully understand the art behind creating some of her costumes." I had to travel to different parts of rural KZN to acquaint and empower myself, I had to spend time with some old women and men who have kept the Zulu heritage alive through the crafting of amabheshu nezidwaba," she says. According to Masondo, she was intrigued and fascinated by the process and learned a lot about the rich Zulu culture. "It was worth it because the skill has been passed on from generation to generation."