Charlotte Knowles Remembers a 1990s Holiday in South Africa

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Courtesy of Charlotte Knowles

The designer shares her memories of horseback riding and wild leopards, alongside camcorder stills of the animals she encountered along the way

Charlotte Knowles made her runway debut in February this year, showing her A/W18 collection as part of Fashion East’s showcase of emerging talent. The Central Saint Martins graduate launched her namesake brand in 2017 with her partner Alexandre Arsenault, celebrating an archetypally feminine aesthetic through pared-back silhouettes that reference the construction of lingerie. “I’d say the era of fashion that I’m really into is mid-90s and early 00s – particularly Prada and Helmut Lang,” she told AnOther. “It’s those two brands that I really affiliate with. The clothes are super well cut and they’re not really loud. It’s very minimal but sexy.”

This time, when I catch up with Knowles over the phone, she is prepping for her second ready-to-wear collection for the S/S19 season, which is due to be presented on September 16. Although, on this occasion, our conversation offers the hardworking designer a welcome respite from her hectic schedule, as she shares her childhood memories of a safari holiday she took with her family to South Africa in the 1990s. Here – alongside camcorder video stills of the trip – Knowles remembers galloping across the savannah with a harras of 100 horses, and encountering a leopard in the wild as part of our series on designers’ memorable summers.

“I was about ten and my sister was 12 or 13, and both my parents were working full-time at that point so we never got to spend much time with them. It was a big deal to be going on holiday together for three weeks in South Africa. It was the best holiday I ever went on. At that point, we hadn’t travelled outside of Europe and I was obsessed with animals at that age, so I was super excited about going on safari. One of my dad’s colleagues was South African, so he gave us an itinerary for the whole trip and we were able to visit places outside of the tourist trail. We first travelled to Johannesburg and stayed on a ranch – owned by a friend of my dad’s colleague – and they had about 300 horses. As a ten-year-old girl I was absolutely dying – everyone has a horse phase, and I was going through mine at that time.

“I remember getting up very early in the morning to take the horses out of their stables. There were other kids staying with us too, because it was during the South African summer holidays. I can just remember running in a drove of 100 horses across the savannah – it was insane. There was no health and safety and we weren’t wearing helmets or anything at all. Basically, you’d mount a horse and then the people at the front of the group would start running and everyone would follow suit. I had never ridden before so I didn’t really know what to do, and at one point I remember I just dropping the reins and held onto the horse’s mane. It was an incredible moment.

“After the ranch we went to a cheetah reserve. They were all quite domesticated as they had been rescued by people so were used to humans. Then we went and stayed in the Kruger National Park, totally in the wilderness and right near a river. And we were told not to leave our tents at night because there were hippos roaming around; you also could just hear the baboons at night screaming – it was crazy. I also remember the amazing moment we saw a leopard, which was unheard of. That was captured on video camera by my dad – he filmed the entire trip. Finally, towards the end of the holiday we spent time at the beach at Sodwana Bay. I was swimming every day and collecting these really bizarre looking shells – I had never seen anything like it before, as we’d only really ever been to the coast in England. But I sadly wasn’t allowed to take them home as mementos, due to customs laws! But regardless, I’ll never forget the experience, shells or otherwise.”