She is a small town girl from KZN who went from humble beginnings to dressing the Isibaya cast. Her name is Phindile Mlambo.
In an exclusive interview, Isibaya’s wardrobe connoisseur reveals previously unknown titbits about her personal and professional life.
Where was Phindile Mlambo born and educated?
Phindile Mlambo was born in a little town called Vryheid, eKwaZulu-Natal. I schooled there until 2008 when I moved to Joburg, to finish high school, living with my older sister.
To be honest, I didn’t want to leave my late mom, but I had to, so I could finish school. Like any black child who faced difficulties growing up, my mom couldn’t afford to send me to school.
You don’t hear many grade four kids saying “when I grow up I want to dress the Isibaya cast”. At what point did you want to do this?
Yes, dressing or styling any TV shows was never in my mind. Actually, my mom wanted me to do law. I would constantly mention that one day I will be on TV. (Laughs)
After Matric, I got a job at a restaurant where I remained for a couple of years, I worked as a marketing person, giving flyers to the motorists at the robots. I then got my second job in a salon as a receptionist. I worked for Virgin Active as a receptionist, front of house manager and then sales.
I moved to Planet Fitness gym. Until 2010 when I got my first wardrobe job as a standby on the show called Heartlines and that’s when my wardrobe career started. To be honest. Then I never thought I would styling one of the biggest shows on Mzansi Magic, Isibaya.
You dressed MaMngadi (Real name Winnie Ntshaba) on The Herd, Mpiyake Zungu on Isibaya.How do you decide what outfit suits the lead actor?
We get character bio or brief and create the character look that is in line with their story arc. We have to make sure that we tell the story with their wardrobe. With Mamngadi on The Herd, a witch who is a beloved mom to her kids. I enjoyed creating her witch outfits.
Mpiyakhe on Isibaya; his outfits were kept simple but stylish like any taxi bosses in real life.
On Isibaya, Ntwenhle (real name Asavela Mngithi) arrived as a carefree young woman who wore jeans and blonde hair. She had to make the transition to Queen and then back to being an ordinary citizen, tell us the process of her makeover.
Nthwenhle’s transformation was fun and challenging at the same time. A lot of brainstorming, I would do it all over again.
Phumelele went through a major transformation from rural wife to an independent woman. By her own admission, she hates to have the spotlight on her curvaceous body which the pinafores hid very well. What challenges did you have in dressing her up for her new role?
I love the new Phumelele. The nicest thing about Ayanda is that she is a good role player and it’s not difficult to transform her because of her lovely personality, I had discussions with her about her new look and we were all happy about the outcome. She made her character transformation easier.
What’s the idea behind the waistcoats worn by Fezile?
Fezile’s waistcoats are what we call a character’s signature look. The whole idea was to balance his inkabi character and, also, he is a faithful Zungu servant that would do anything for the family, so those waistcoats nje, you will know ukuthi kusazoshuba (laughs).
Of the entire Isibaya cast, Samson Ndlovu has the most distinctive look with his leather hat. What is the significance?
Remember Isibaya is about culture and more. I can say uthele ngaso, because there is no Samson without a hat.
Londiwe Ngubane (real name Londeka Mchunu) Sihle Mathusini (Zinhle Mabena) and Ntwenhle Ndlovu (real name Asavela Mngqithi) would be out of place in a real KZN village surely. Why did you decide to dress them so provocatively?
Sihle’s return to the Isibaya cast was to get her son back but, in exchange for that, she was tasked with seducing Dabula so that his uncle Mbovu could kill him. She ended up falling for Dabula (real name Chris Q Radebe). So we decided to go for sexy outfits, body hugging dresses to make Dabula would notice her which, by the way, worked! Also, she used to be the queen of Bhubesini.
Londeka is a varsity student. Yes, she comes from Royalty, but she has been to varsity and learned a thing or two about styling. We tried to bring that vibe to help bring her character to life.
Remember it’s 2020 (laughs). Although we still adhere to amasiko.
Isibaya is set in Joburg and KZN, does this mean Wardrobe department has to be on two different locations?
Yes, we have two sets; KZN and Johannesburg. So definitely Wardrobe has two locations.
Recently, Isibaya featured imemulo for Thokozani Zungu and the actors wore traditional attire, just like during all the weddings. You must have had to dress up fifty to hundred actors. What challenges did you face in such a mammoth task?
The challenges can be a lot, really. Script changes, having the wrong sizes from supporting cast, sometimes cast members will be comparing costumes and forget their characters! (Laughs) Also, maybe designers that don’t finish outfits on time, so I always have a plan B or Z. But the way I was trained, I always prepare ahead to avoid such challenges. I design and research.
So being prepared is essential, otherwise we would run around the whole day of the shoot and appear incompetent.
Your knowledge of the Isibaya script suggests you don’t get much time to rest.
Heyiiii, we don’t have any option but to read the script so that we know whether we are coming or going. Most cast and crew members even come to our department to find clarity in many cases.
The job of wardrobe HOD is somewhat underrated yet the actors’ clothes play a significant role in creating the right perception. Look at Cebisile Mkhize (real name Sihle Ndaba) for example. You have dressed her for two different roles, first as Cebisile and then as Kayise. What was the thinking behind the way you dressed the two different characters?
Yes the Wardrobe HOD is somewhat underrated. Mainly because, firstly, director has specific looks in mind sometimes and secondly, some actors can be difficult and choose what they want to wear.
Wardrobe has their own creative process. So to make it look easy, I involve all relevant parties so I can able to tell the story correctly with our costumes
With Sihle Ndaba as Kayise on The Herd, we had to break her costumes down. From a classy, sophisticated look, to a farmer who is taking care of her father’s cattle. Whereas on Isibaya she is a lawyer, so the corporate look was the way to go. Sihle is is easy going and I would work with her again and again.
How did you react to the cancellation of Isibaya?
It hurt mainly because, through Isibaya, I was able to grow and learn more about my culture and also we all know that Isibaya gave birth to many local telenovelas that we currently have on our Mzansi Magic, but it’s time for new things, as we all know good things comes to an end.
What will you miss most about working on the Isibaya cast?
Oh, a loooot! The fun, the daily challenges, learning… l will miss all my isibaya family
Some of your actors look stunning in their outfits, notably Sihle and Qondi (real name Jessica Nkosi). Surely they must wish they could keep their clothes from Isibaya. Do you ever allow them to keep their acting clothes?
Thanks for the compliment, dear. We are doing our level best to keep making great TV and making the Isibaya cast look great. Should actor wants something from their wardrobe, we refer them to line producer.
Off set, away from the Isibaya cast, what do you like to do?
I love spending time with my 16 year old daughter.
Your own fashion style is casual if not avant garde. How is it that you spend most of your waking hours planning on how to dress the stars only to be so relaxed about how you dress?
(Laughing) I make sure that I’m comfortable enough to do my work. I love being artistic so that people immediately know what I do on film set! (Laughs)
I really don’t spend much time thinking about what to wear, but my creative sense leads me.
Why Isibaya? Why did you decide to do the wardrobe for Isibaya cast?
Bomb production are known for the best and greatest shows, like Zone 14, Yizoyizo, Jacob’s Cross, The Road Isibaya and they give us opportunities to grow and they are loyal to their people. So when I was given the opportunity I grabbed it with both hands!
When I first saw the season one promo I prayed to be the part of Isibaya. Thank God, I got a chance to come in as a casual wardrobe standby, little did I know that few seasons later I would run the Wardrobe team as HOD.
Where to next? Can we expect you to join another popular television show?
God has been faithful. There are a lot of opportunities coming and exciting ones. Keep following.
You will soon find out.
All images supplied by Phindile Mlambo and used with permission.
Isibaya airs weekdays at 8:30pm CAT on Mzansi Magic and available on Showmax.