Saturday, September 10, 2011

President's wife.

Mrs. Marga Diederichs on the left hand- her husband President Nico Diederichs on the right ,at their daughter's wedding.

Slowly but surely I was getting better known- and the South African Couture Syndicate fashion shows helped a lot. One day we received a call from the President of South Africa's wife's office .She was a guest of honor at one of the shows and wanted me to come and meet with her.
Georgina and I bundled a lot of outfits into my father's Mercedes Benz ( I could not take my beat-up old Volkswagen beetle) and set out for Pretoria. It was about an hours drive from Johannesburg, and the Washington DC of South Africa.

The Presidency  was designed by Sir Herbert Baker .

We arrived at the Presidency and the President's Guard helped us unload the clothes and we were shown into a upstairs suite with a living room and a bedroom. The guards were very taken with Georgina and could not do enough. We were served some tea and refreshments.

After a while Mrs. Diederichs arrived with her secretary Ina Scholtz.. She was a very elegant looking woman-rather shy that made her appear aloof. She had very good taste and one could see it in the interior of the Presidency, as well as the way she dressed.
Georgina went into the bedroom to change and modeled the outfits we brought . She loved the clothes and decided on some outfits. She then took me into another bedroom where her clothes were kept. She did not believe in hanging her clothes in closets .She felt the garments lost  shape so they were laying on several beds that were in the room. Why not- there must have been 20 bedrooms in the mansion.She showed me her favorite outfits and asked me to keep that in mind when I designed clothes for her.

Mrs. Diederichs on the cover wearing our outfit.

For the first fitting she did come to the studio in Johannesburg but this turned out to be a lot of trouble. Earlier the morning one of the  Security Officers came and checked out the premises and stood at the entrance until she left a few hours later. After the fitting I walked to the elevator with her. As the doors opened people were stunned to see her standing there with two uniformed guards that they did not know what to do. We got in and I walked her to her car. Her appearance there gave me a lot  of celebrity and free advertisement !After that I would go to Pretoria or meet her at the hotel for fittings  when she came to Johannesburg.

Opening of Parliament in Cape Town .

On day her secretary called and asked that I meet Mrs. Diederichs at the Carlton Hotel in the Presidential Suite as she had something to discuss with me. She wanted me to design her outfit for the opening of Parliament and I had to bring some sketches along. We  talked about fashion and what she needed. After we had some tea she excused herself and went into the bathroom. 
As soon as she left the phone rang and very agitated voice on the other side asked me where Mrs. Diederichs was. The President  was sitting in the Presidential  Limousine at the entrance of the hotel and she must come down immediately as it was a high security risk.She was a rather grand lady but I had no option but to knock on the bathroom door and tell her to hurry up as the President was waiting in the car. As she came out her bra strap was showing and I had to draw her attention to that as well.All too intimate for her ,and me ,but I could not allow her to appear in public like that.
She asked me to carry some fashion books to the car for her that she wanted to look at. Her body guards are in uniform and could not carry anything. When we reached the ground floor and the elevator doors opened there were three uniformed guards waiting for us to escort her to the car. One from the Navy, one from the Army, and one from the Air Force. The lobby of the hotel was packed with people looking at all this .There am I with the fashion magazines  under my arm next to the President's wife as we are  escorted to the car by three   guards. When we got to the car I greeted the President and said goodbye to her and  walked to the car behind and deposited the fashion magazines in there as she instructed.With blaring sirens the motorcade disappeared down the road - leaving me there rather rattle at what just happened.

Another time I went for a fitting in Pretoria they were not living at the Presidency as the place was being renovated so they were in a much smaller house that was bulging at the seams with the staff etc.Ina, Mrs. Diederichs secretary told me to take the garments were going to fit into the bedroom.
As I walked in I saw out of the corner of my eye the President coming out of the bathroom in his gown. He retreated  and I threw the dresses on the bed and made sure I got out of there
.I did notice an oxygen tank next to the bed.I was taken to an enclosed balcony and waited for Mrs. Diederichs there. As I sat down enjoying the beautiful garden one of the staff came with breakfast and laid it out on the table next to me - as well with a cup of coffee for me. The next moment the President came in greeted me and sat down to have his breakfast. We had a short but sweet conversation about the weather and then he asked me how I became  interested in designing women's clothes.

Mrs. Diederichs with students of the  Eunice School in Bloemfontein wearing another of our outfits.

Mrs Diederichs with Ina Scholtz- her private secretary in the middle.

Dr. Diederichs was a very educated man and got his Doctorate and the University of Leiden in Germany. Before he become the President he was the Minister of Finance.
He was  also known as Mr. Gold .After we did out fitting we went downstairs and I showed Mrs. Diederichs some fabric I got for her outfit for the opening op Parliament. It was a beautiful green printed silk .She loved green and asked for something in green. She then asked me to draped the fabric on me and walk into the garden so she could  see what it would look like in the sunlight- as the ceremony is in the morning. I obliged and when I came back into the living room -there stood the President and one of the chief Generals of the South Africa Defense Force. The General shook my hand after the President introduced us . I tried to get rid of all the silk-but I could see he was very puzzled by this guy draped in silk, walking around in the President's Residence!

Mrs Diederichs with a Aide-de-Camp at the opening of "Fiddler on the Roof " in Johannesburg.

The Union Buildings-the official seat of  the South Africa Government - 
framed by  Jacaranda trees. Designed by Sir Herbert Baker.

Mrs. Diederichs invited me and Georgina to one of the Presidential Garden Parties in Pretoria. She made sure that the Jacaranda trees were in full bloom and that the  traffic was directed down some of the most beautiful streets covered in lilac blossoms to get to the Presidency Gardens.
Unfortunately Mrs. Diederichs never wore the green outfit for the Opening of Parliament as Dr. Diedrichs died soon after while in office.She lived to see Nelson Mandela become the first African president of South Africa.

President Nelson Mandela with two former First ladies of South Africa.
Mrs. Tienie Vorster and Mrs. Marga Diederichs.

Marga Diederichs died on November 21  1998 at the age of 91.She was a elegant lady and I enjoyed working with her and appreciate the opportunity she gave me to do so.

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