Mandela: coming to a T-shirt near you

South Africa's former president to launch range of clothing based on his prison paintings to raise money for Aids charity
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The Independent Online

Nelson Mandela, the world's most fashionable statesman, is planning to extend his sartorial influence with a range of specially branded designer clothes.

The former South African president hopes to raise funds for his Aids charity by persuading fashion houses to feature the art he produced during his long years in prison on Robben Island, including the famous hand symbol.

Now he is working with the up-market Belgravia Gallery in London to find suitable designers and manufacturers. The gallery, known for its association with the Prince of Wales, is already promoting Mr Mandela's limited-edition prints of his jail-inspired work, some of which went on sale at the Rockefeller Center, New York, last week.

"Mandela's artwork is a very valuable commodity. We want to initially break into clothing by using his famous handprint logo and put it on T-shirts," said Anna Hunter, the gallery's managing director.

"We aim to hold an auction among the world's top fashion designers for the right to use the logos. We are seeking a mass producer of 'street' clothing and will go to the highest bidder. We are talking a likely six-figure sum for this.

"The idea is to use money gained to add to the huge amount of money raised through Mandela's Aids For Africa. We have already talked to smaller designers but frankly they are not in the running for a huge project like this. After the artwork is launched in the US, we expect it won't be long before a deal is struck with a top designer."

Belgravia has had a 14-year relationship with the Prince and his paintings.

"Through the artwork of Prince Charles we now have experience of selling art by the most famous people," Ms Hunter added.

The prices of Mr Mandela's series from his days on Robben Island have risen 10-fold in the past 18 months since their UK launch.

Owners of Mr Mandela's artwork include Prince Charles himself, and "a few million pounds" has already been raised by Mr Mandela's prints at auctions in the UK and South Africa.

In the US, Mr Mandela has the support of the Clintons, as well as celebrities in the UK, including the boxing promoter Frank Warren and the broadcaster Sir Trevor McDonald. The former president is said to have been overwhelmed at the popularity of his pieces. According to the gallery, he believed it would be a risk because his public reputation has been made as a politician, not an artist.

A replica of the key to Mr Mandela's cell with a representation of the cell's bars is available for the first time.

When a designer partner deal is signed for Mr Mandela's logos it will be the first time such artwork has been used in commercial clothing, the Belgravia Gallery said.