The September Standard met the man behind the couture.
TSS: You and Bonang seem to be a match made in heaven. How did your collaboration come about and why do you think it works so well?
GJC: When Bonang and I met in 2008, we were both new to the industry and very driven to succeed. Working together, we soon discovered that we have similar tastes and ideas around fashion and that is how we became friends. It works because we complement each other – I know how to make her look fantastic and she knows how to wear my gowns to display them to best effect!
TSS: Do you have any idea how many dresses you’ve made for her? What has been your favourite?
GJC: It feels like thousands, but I’m sure it’s in the hundreds… it would be interesting to do a calculation! It’s hard to choose a favourite dress because each is so carefully planned. The latest Queen’s Plate dress is definitely among my top picks, but also the gold dress that was nominated as the most beautiful object in Africa.
TSS: You’ve dressed some huge international stars, such as Kourteney Kardashian and Kelly Rowland – who would be your ultimate fantasy client?
GJC: I’m hoping this year will bring Gert-Johan Coetzee and Lupita Nyong’o together. It would also be great to work with Charlize Theron, and Sophia Vergara.
TSS: What is your favourite kind of dress to design? Do you have a favourite dress from your latest collection?
GJC: Each dress is so special to me and worked on so carefully and with so much love, so it is hard to choose. But my favourite category is definitely red-carpet gowns and I also enjoy the drama of bridal couture.
TSS: Can you share your top red-carpet tips?
GJC: Always prepare ahead of time to ensure the garment fits you well. Don’t over-accessorize and be mindful that your make-up complements the look. You want to be noticed, and stand out, for all the right reasons.
TSS: Your latest collection was inspired by water, and you raised awareness for water conservation as part of the campaign. You always have a social issue attached to your collections – what is the thinking behind that?
GJC: I am a big believer in using the platform I have for greater good. Fashion has such a powerful voice, and there are so many social issues that need attention. The water crisis is real, and it’s global, and three months after we spoke about the need to conserve water, we are now seeing the devastating impact of the drought on agriculture in South Africa. For me it’s an honour to speak up and open up conversations about HIV and breast cancer, domestic violence and albinism awareness – it’s about fashion having a conscience.
TSS: How do we go about getting some Gert-Johan Coetzee glamour here in Nigeria – will your clothes be available here anytime soon?
GJC: Currently my ready-to-wear line is available in Edgars stores in Gauteng, as well as online within South Africa on Spree.co.za; and my more luxurious ready-to-wear line in Luminance boutiques in Johannesburg. We are in the process of getting onto an eCommerce platform that will make the ready-to-wear range available in the rest of Africa, so watch this space!
TSS: How do you stay ahead of the game?
GJC: I believe that you should never rest on your laurels, and make sure that you are always innovating. I surround myself with the best people, all experts in their field, so that as a team we are always one step ahead.
TSS: Your SA Fashion Week shows are always the hottest ticket in town. What is your secret?
GJC: Planning enables me to finish my collection early enough so that there is plenty of time to polish and edit. And as the day comes nearer I don’t micromanage the process, I let everyone else on the team do their jobs, so that I can relax and enjoy the show.
TSS: Your collection is available for sale almost immediately after you show it on the runway – how does that influence your designs?
GJC: At international fashion weeks the custom is to design for the season ahead, but I design for the season in which we show. The objective is that we want to offer our fashionistas the new looks off the runway immediately, in her size and in her preferred colour. It does not make commercial sense for us in Africa to make our customers wait for months before they can buy a collection.
TSS: If a young aspirant designer asked you for advice, what would you tell them?
GJC: Be passionate, be positive and be brave!
TSS: You also do something more concrete than giving advice; we believe you give away a bursary every year?
GJC: Yes, I’m very proud of my bursary programme, which is in its sixth year now. Every year I select a student from hundreds of applications, to benefit from my three-year bursary in fashion design at the Northwest School of Design, where I myself graduated. I am so lucky to be able to make my living doing what I love, so it’s an honour to help youngsters who’re as passionate as I am to also achieve their dream!
TSS: If you could work with any designer in the world, who would you choose?
GJC: Definitely Karl Lagerfeld – I see similarities in our brands as well as our personalities, and he totally inspires me. To still be at the cutting edge of fashion at 82, and with such a long, illustrious career behind him, is something I aspire to!
TSS: If you could change anything about the fashion industry in Africa, what would that be?
GJC: I would like us to get to a point where more people wear modern, original African fashion instead of international luxury labels. We have such talented designers on this continent, but battling the appeal of European and American brands is a daily concern. If there was more demand for local, we as designers would be able to invest more in development and infrastructure so that we could offer increasingly better products at better prices.
TSS: If I wanted a Gert-Johan Coetzee bridal gown, what would the process be? How many trips to Johannesburg would be required?
GJC: Start by sending us an email to set up an appointment. From there it’s about three more trips for fittings and pick-up.
TSS: What can we expect from Gert-Johan Coetzee in 2016? Is there a dress you really still want to design for Bonang?
GJC: We’re bouncing around many magical ideas! You’ll have to keep a close look on social media for as-it-happen updates. I am very active on social media, you can find me on Instagram @gertjohancoetzee, Twitter @gertjohan and Facebook Gert-Johan Coetzee (Pty) Ltd.
Photography by Jurgen Marx