Coming back to South Africa was not as easy as I had thought. I did miss Europe in the beginning but it was nice to be home and speak my own language without having to explain myself constantly.
I flew to Cape Town to see if I could live there again. I realized that was not possible After London, Milan and Rome is was like a one horse town in the mid 70's. It is and will always be one of the most beautiful cities in the world- but I could not live there at that stage of my life.
Johannesburg City Center.
Johannesburg City Center.
Although I was born in Johannesburg and lived there until I was 16 years old, I did not really know the city that well. The in place to live was in Hillbrow or Berea .These two suburbs were located on a hill overlooking the city of Johannesburg and very cosmopolitan .
One heard every language in the world spoken there and it was packed with foreigners, seeking their fortune in the City of Gold!
Johannesburg -City of Gold.
For the first time I did realize that South Africa was a African City and part of the Africa continent .It never really occurred to me before. Growing up we live in a Afrikaans neighborhood and went to the Afrikaans School. We had some English neighbors but they went to the English School .We would play together and so learned each other language.
Parkhurst a suburb of Johannesburg where I spent the first 6 years of my life..
The only contact we had with Africans were with the lady that helped my mother is the house. We also had a guy that would work in the garden and do the washing up at night but he came from Rhodesia. South African men would not work in the house -they saw that as women's work. They had their own bedrooms and shared a bathroom. As we were a big family with 6 children as well as a grandmother living with us-my mother cooked for 12 people at night. The Domestics ate the same food as we had.
This was during the height of the apartheid era in South Africa .We as children were taught to treat the Domestic help with respect and we could not order them around. They were there to help my mother, and that was it.
As I look back now , after living in America for almost 27 years , I realize we did not hate the African people ,we just had nothing in common with them. We were from Europe and saw ourselves as Europeans living in Africa. The African culture was a so far removed from us as the European culture was from them .I had as little contact with Africans as I had with English speaking South Africans or Jewish South Africans .We all lived apart in our separate neighborhoods.
My American friends tell me they grew up in the Italian or Jewish neighborhoods in Brooklyn and really did not mix either.
Hillbrow and Berea- Johannesburg
I decided to get an apartment in Berea- overlooking the city of Johannesburg. This was the first time that I lived on my own and I was thrilled I could l not wait to buy food and cook my first meal for myself. That was the first and the last time! I am not a depressive- person but that depressed me beyond belief to sit at a table and eat a meal alone.
City Center- Johannesburg.
With my father's help I rented a space in Jeppe Street in the city center of Johannesburg .It was big enough for a workroom and a showroom .My friend Gerard Kokt help me to decorate it in brown and white with silver accents.
I found a wonderful Italian lady from Bari and we started to design, cut and sew a collection that I would launch my career with in South Africa .She was a great help to me and I could practice my Italian with her, as she did not speak much English. Once we had a small collection ready it was time to start introduce the collection to the press. I was 26 years old.
As luck would have it my friend from London- Margaret Smith -was in South Africa during that time. She was the South African press' representative in London and visited South Africa every two years. What better way to be introduced to the South African Press than by their lady from London?
I was the first Afrikaans speaking male designer after Pieter Bormann that worked in Johannesburg in the 60's.The Afrikaans Press was very good to me and gave me a lot of coverage .Margaret introduced me to Lorna Vosloo of "Beeld" as well as Kittie Vermaak of the "Vaderland".The first coverage I got from "Beeld" was done by Renee Rautenbach-now . All this helped me to get my first customers.
It was nerve wrecking as I did not have much experience with private customers but Signora Elisa was a great help. Soon we had to get more seamstresses to help.
South Africans were not very into South African designer's clothes. They preferred to buy European fashion and it was tough getting the business to make a profit. I found it so refreshing when I got to New York to see how American women wore American designer's clothes and supported them.
Swakara (South West African Karakul ) is the Persian lamb fur that was a product from South West Africa (Namibia ).To promote the fur, I was invited to participate is a fashion show at the very elegant President Hotel. This was the first time I saw my work on models and on the runway.
Here I met my friend Georgina -one of the models -beautiful tall ,blond and very elegant .She became my muse and we are still friends.
She supported me when I needed help and her positive attitude always got me through some tough times. Joseph -her husband -was very understanding even if we would sit and talk until the sun came up! I am the proud godfather of their beautiful daughter, Ingeborg.
Soon after this Revlon decided to sponsor The South African Couture Syndicate and I was asked to be one of the founder members. The other designers were from Johannesburg, Pretoria and Cape Town: Eric Pugin of Derbers ,Chris Levin, Rena Botoulos, Peter Soldatos,Elzbieta Rosenwerth, Pasqual, Errol Arendz, Greta Abrahamson ,Mina Feinstein ,Margarete Heymann, Dalene and Sven Mellini .
Revlon would sponsor two grand fashions show s a year but also use the venue to promote their products. African models were also used in these shows.
The Carlton Center and Carlton Hotel in Johannesburg.
The first was show held in the new Carlton Hotel's Ballroom in Johannesburg.
It was a very grand affair covered by TV and all the press in South Africa .Some of the more established South African Couture houses were not so keen on these shows but for me as a young designer it was a perfect showcase- I was given very favorable press and it made for great publicity.