Friday, September 23, 2011

JOHANNESBURG LIFE - ( late 70's to early 80's)

On the surface- Johannesburg in the mid 70's was a wonderful place to be .

Trust Bank and the Carlton Center. 
Downtown Johannesburg.


Johannesburg Station.

South African Airways.

Watch Video here:-

It was a vibrant  city -safe for all. It has the most perfect weather as it is 6000 feet above sea level.  Warm during the day and cool at night- with no humidity.
Africans had the highest standard of living here in all of Africa ,with low unemployment .
The gold mines offered employment to Africans from all over Africa that came for 6 months at a time to work in the gold mines and share in the wealth.
It was also during the apartheid era and people were rather nervous. We all knew it had to end but how we did not know. Would the country explode into civil war?
In the center of "The City of Gold" the Carlton Center just opened. It was packed with international and national top-end merchandise. The Carlton Hotel was a five star hotel and one of the best in Africa.It hosted people like Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton- who married for he second time while they were here.

Sun City -South Africa .

Sol Kerzner just built Sun City in the homeland of Bophuthatswana about two hours drive from Johannesburg and got Frank Sinatra to  open it. Later he expanded his empire to the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut USA and  the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas and The Palms in Dubai.

Frank Sinatra.

We had great theaters, art galleries and restaurants.
We lived a cosmopolitan life style in the middle of Africa. We had performers like  Cher ,Liza Minnelli ,Shirley Bassey ,Eartha Kitt, Gloria Gaynor, Queen, Elton John, Julio Iglesias ,Rod Steward, Tina Turner, Dion Warwick and Black Sabbath to name a few.


Liza Minnelli.

On the classical side Montserrat Caballe, Kiri Te Kanawa, Martina Arroyo, Fiorenza Cosotto ,Birgit Nillson, Leonie Rysanek and many other opera stars also visited.

10th of October 1975.
 Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor gets married  for the second time in Chobe Game Reserve. South Africa

Carlton Hotel Johannesburg Lunch Menu
Friday January 18 1963


It was nice to be back home and I was very happy working on my career as well  having a very good time with great friends that I had and met in Johannesburg. We were young and the world was our oyster. Nothing could stand in our way.

I found an apartment in Highrise in Berea on top of Nugget Hill .

Gerhard Kokt.

I knew Gerhard from before and now we met again and he become my closest friend in Johannesburg. Gerhard knew a lot of people so I had an instant introduction to the "who's who' of Johannesburg. He lived in a beautiful penthouse in Highpoint in the center of Hillbrow. Those day Hillbrow was the center of our world .It was the most cosmopolitan part of Johannesburg and one heard every language under the sun spoken there. South Africa was very much like America and Australia attracting many different nationalities.


Gerhard's penthouse in Hillbrow.
The painting behind me hangs in my New York apartment today.

 Hillbrow- Johannesburg.

Hillbrow- Johannesburg 1976

Cafe Wien- Hillbrow 1976.

Cyril and Gerhard.

Cyril, David, Collin and Henry.
This photo was taken in Gerhard's house on Talbragar Avenue, Craighall Park  .

Another well know character in Johannesburg during this period was Cyril Schevitz.
I met Cyril when he had Cyril's Wardrobe in Hillbrow -The clothing store for men in South Africa.
He later was taken over by a bigger retail company and the flagship moved to the Carlton Center.
Later on he became one of the Directors of the biggest men's clothing company in Southern Africa.
He knew the whole world and in the early seventies he opened Cyril's Wardrobe in Beverly Hills Los Angeles. Here his customers were the mayor movies stars of that time .He divided his time between Johannesburg and Los Angeles. He is one the most caring people I met in my life -and  he did a lot for Gerhard .We still see each other when I am in Johannesburg.

Cyril passed on in November of 2015 at the age of  87.

Collin Steyn of Potluck.

Through Gerhard I also met Collin Steyn who was the chef at Potluck Restaurant and part owner with Munroe Prentice. Potluck was one of the top restaurants in Johannesburg and one had trouble getting a booking on short notice. We had wonderful food and great  times there. After the theater we would stop over there for coffee and dessert and meet other friends.It became like an after hours club for a lot of us. Collin became a close friend and we have opera and classical music in common. I still do spend time with him in Blauwberg Cape Town where he now lives in a compound with David  and David's parents .One of the most beautiful places in the world- with a view of Table Mountain.

Blauwbergstrand -Cape Town- view of Table Mountain.

I visited South Africa in January 2012 and spent 10 days  with Collin and David in Blauwbergstrand
Collin and I had a lot fun visiting Stellenbosch and talking about the old days.
We went to Vishoek and visited Winifred and Maureen. She took these photographs of us.

Winnie, Collin + Henry

 These were the last photos taken of him. I left Cape Town on Saturday and Wednesday morning he collapsed at the gym and died. He was a dear friend and I will miss him very much .It was such a privilege to have shared the last few days of his life.
Rest in peace Collin I am sure were you are you will hear a lot of beautiful music.  I will never hear Richard Strauss music again -without thinking of you.

Richard Strauss.


Andre Louw worked with  David Hicks in London for many years-but wanted to return to South Africa-so he opened David Hicks South Africa in 1976 .Hicks was the top British interior designer in the world and he was married to Lady Pamela Mountbatten.

Her parents were Lord and Lady Mountbatten of Burma and he was the last Viceroy of India. Lady Pamela  is also first cousin to Prince Phillip and was a bridesmaid to Queen Elizabeth.
She adored Andre and visited him several times in South Africa. She was a very sweet person and very down to earth. At the dinner table people were rather intimidated. As I was sitting next to her and remember her telling us about the Queen and she was very open and told us several stories about the Royal Family -and her family's time in India.
Years later when I was living in New York I met up with her and David Hicks one night when they came for a visit the USA.

South African home in Camps Bay Cape Town.

South Africans love beautiful homes and love entertaining at home.
We had several very talented interior designers working in Johannesburg at the time.
George de Haast had his studio in the Carlton Center at Plus One Interiors.
George has worked all over the world and came back to South Africa and working from Johannesburg once again-and we are still friends. He and Collin were great friends as they came to Johannesburg at the same time as young students.

Geoffrey Bradfield left South Africa also in the 80's and settled in New York as well. He is today one of the most famous interior designers in the world. We meet up here in New York and have a good time reminiscing about the good old times we had in Johannesburg.

Geoffrey Bradfield.

Bill Berry was the Maitre'd at Potluck and a great photographer. He did a lot of my publicity shots as well as some fashion shots.

Cornelia and Bill Berry.

Cornelia de Villiers in who's home I stayed the last night in South Africa before coming to the USA .She was from a very wealthy family and was a great classical pianist. She drove the biggest Mercedes Benz  Sport I have ever seen. It was imported from Germany for the CEO of Mercedes Benz South Africa and when he got a new one so bought his old car. She kept it for 5 years and sold it for double the amount she paid for it. She knew how to make money. Her visits to me in New York  use to drive me crazy, and we did not speak for a while, but made up and become close again.
Unfortunately she passed on 5 years ago .Dying in her sleep. She told me that we all choose our time of death and it is not something to be sad about..... It is time to move on.

Winnie and Gerhard

Winnie I met in Cape Town at my friend Philip du Toit's house. She knew Gerhard as well so we all use to hang out a lot. Winnie was the first girl I saw wearing a see- through blouse in Cape Town  in 1969 .She was a real hippie! She worked with Philip who I knew from Art School in Bloemfontein. Christo de Jongh I also met during the Cape Town era. He lived in Saasveld with me and later became good friends with Philip.


Philip du Toit.

Christo, Henry + Philip.

Christo in the Army 1963.

Christo at the pool.

Winnie, me and Christo in his restaurant in Cape Town.

Raymond and me in one of our sessions.

  Raymond Sinclair was my go-to guy in Johannesburg .I was so appreciative of the advice he use to give me for the business. He was so good at letting met find the solution myself -and not telling me what to do. We all had great times driving to Cape Town visiting the Kruger National Park when I was living in New York already.
Wally Lingervelder and I are still close and whenever I visit Johannesburg I stay with him. He has introduced me to so many South Africans that I did not know when I lived there.

Wally Lingervelder.

Neil Muirhead who I met in London , was also back in Johannesburg.
Neil just bought a house in Melville and he offered the use of it to me for my 30th birthday party.
He was going to renovate it but decided to leave it until we had the party. It was a party to end all parties. 

Douglas Ball

Douglas Ball suggested I serve champagne cocktails to get the party started. A cube of sugar in the bottom of the glass -a few drops of bitters and cover it with champagne.
We invited close to 250 people and after an hour it looked of a bomb hit the place. Those cocktails did the job to loosen everybody up.
I arrived back at the house the next morning at 10:00 am to help  with the clean up but the party was still going! Those were the days!

Cousins Mel and Chris.

From England- Mel St. John Smith and Chris Wren . Mel use to be footman to the Queen-Mother  .He use to regale us with some funny stories.

Queen Elizabeth, Queen Mother.

 After his family- parents and grandparents  - were killed in a plane crash in Spain ,he moved to the USA .He worked as a social secretary for  Eleanor Christensen de Guigne - one of the best dressed women in the world - in their Hillsborough Estate near San Francisco.

Photos: Hillsborough's Guigne Court, marked down $60 million

 De Guigne family 1961.

Elenore Christensen de Guigne wearing a Madame Gres gown  .

 Photos: Hillsborough's Guigne Court, marked down $60 million

De Guigne Court .
Photos: Hillsborough's Guigne Court, marked down $60 million

Read more about the de Guigne family here-

Read here more about the De Guigne family-

As Chris was his only family left ,he joined him in South Africa a few years later. 
Their neighbor and friend Theresa-  wore a wedding gown that I designed for her when she married Henry in Melbourne Australia. She passed away two years ago.

Theresa and  Henry Tramer.

I met Susan Pretorius at a fashion house that I use to freelance for. She was discovered as a young girl working in  the town of Brits in a Record Shop. An international film crew were shooting a movie there and after the director saw her she was given a part in the movie .She then became  famous being known as the Bridget Bardot of South Africa.

Me and Susan in "Fair Lady."

During that time she met Erwin Sterne from Pretoria .He was much older and  drove a Lamborghini and wore turtle neck sweaters under his jackets. He used to send her reams of orchids after every date.
I pushed and pushed and after 6 months she did marry him. He died three years ago in his  90's. They were married for 38 wonderful years. He was a very kind man.
I remember when my parents  visited me in with my brother and his wife in New York- he took us all out for brunch. He was always very good and generous to me. We use to meet in New York and South Africa very often as they traveled a lot.
I use the dress Susan for the July handicap in Durban- that was the Ascot of SA. The press use to wait for her to arrive-She never disappointed them.

Susan is no wall flower and one does not miss her when she walks into a room. He jewelry is mega and the real stuff. She drives around Pretoria in a white Rolls Royce and lives in a magnificent house.
We use to meet in Johannesburg for lunch and as we walked to the Carlton Hotel - the African women would stop her in the street and tell her how beautiful she looked. I once saw a man fall flat on his face at a buffet table not watching his step while  looking at her perfect bust.

She is a kind  and generous person that helps people wherever she can. 
I am so pleased for her and Pieter, and that she met somebody else to share her life with.
They compliment each other very well.

Susan and Pieter in Paris 2010.

Susan and Gerhard.

It was a great time .No drugs but a little alcohol here and there. Dinner parties and house parties were the way we rolled. During the summer it was pool parties. One moved from one home to the next. Nobody called- they just arrived. On any given weekend we had several parties to go to.
For December the whole of Johannesburg migrated to Cape Town and then the Cape Town friends were added!
I will never forget those years- it was some of the best I knew. I am sure we all feel the same way about our  youth, but I feel very blessed that I met and still know so many of those creative ,kind and loving people. My American friend Jerry feels that there are only 400 South Africans in the world as we all know each other. That is rather true I can meet a South African here in New York and after a little bit of digging we do discover we do know some of the same people....
During that time the undercurrent of racial unrest was always in the back of out minds and many of out age group felt that it might be better to leave South Africa before the bubble burst.
We all knew that apartheid had to end but we did not know what the result would be. Many started leaving South Africa and dispersed all over the world.

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