Saturday, October 1, 2011

New York visit-

Bloemfontein .

When I was about 16 years old my parents decided to leave Johannesburg and move to Bloemfontein-about 500 miles south of Johannesburg. My father had good managers on the Reef but he wanted to build the Bloemfontein branch himself.

Target Shooting.

He was a very good shot and in Bloemfontein Target shooting was a big thing. The city also had very good schools and my brothers went to Grey College and my sister to the Oranje Girls School.

Grey College -Bloemfontein.
I then started at the Bloemfontein Technical College doing my Commercial Art Degree. There I met Philip du Toit, Lettie Venter - and her twin Kobie- that I became very close to. We still see each other when I am in South Africa. Philip de Vos I met when I started signing in the opera choir for SUKOVS.I also continued my studies in music and was then studying the church organ.

My second brother was 4 younger than me and at 16 I had very little in common with a 12 year old. My younger brothers were much closer in age so they were good friends. I almost grew up as a single child. When I came back from College at night or late afternoon I was so bored. My parents love to read and listen to the radio (we did not have TV in South Africa until 1974 )The other students at College were older than me and had cars and went out at night .My father was very strict and I had to be home at night.

Karen, Liz, Tania, Nadine and Pierre- much later.

The saving grace is all this was our neighbors. Liz en Pierre had three little girls Karen, Nadine and Tania .They were more my brother's age and specially Carin got a lot of attention. Nadine was very clever and more studious .Little Tania was only three and a sweetheart that would go and keep my father company when he worked in the garden. No wonder she ended up as BMW Public relations officer  in Johannesburg  many years later.

Lambert's Bay.

Pierre travelled a lot so I would go and sleep over there when he was away. Liz was my best buddy and treated me like an adult. She was only about 10 years older than me and she personified to me the world out there. They were from Cape Town and she grew up in Lambert's Bay- a small fishing village on the west coast -where her father managed the fishing factory. She spoke to me about everything .She was a big Oscar Peterson and Frank Sinatra fan and she just opened my eyes to the world.I would come back from classes and run over and catch up. After dinner at home I would go over again and if Pierre was away on a trip- I would  sleep over- and we would talk for hours.

Me and Liz in Johannesburg -taken during one of my visits to South Africa.

One day I was in town shopping with my mother and we went into a shoe store. I looked up and saw the most striking elegant woman buying shoes for her kid.

She was  tall and thin .Her dark hair was cut in a Vidal Sassoon style- short on the one side but longer over the other ear.She wore a sand coloured sleeveless safari type top with four pockets and a brown leather belt .The mini skirt  matched .On her feet she had brown sandals. She wore a  plain gold bracelet on her top arm above her elbow. This was the most elegant woman I have ever seen and I could not believe that she was living in Bloemfontein. She looked if she just step out of the pages of Paris Vogue.

Yves St Laurent safari look.

Four years later I left home and moved to Cape Town to study fashion.
While I was away  Pierre and Liz sold their house and moved to a older Victorian house.
On one of my trips home I met our new neighbors. The elegant  woman that I saw a few years ago was the  new neighbor. They were Dale and Lucia  Pretorius with their kids ,Andre and Vanessa .We did connect -and even as  did not see them that often as I was living in Cape Town- we became friends.

Lucia in my apartment in New York many years later.

To bring this story full circle-
By the time I was working in Johannesburg as a designer Dale and Lucia were living in New York for 8 years already. Dale  was the head of the South Africa Tourist Board in Rockefeller Center. As they would be returning soon to South Africa Lucia  invited me to spend Christmas of 1981 with them. She felt there might be  a spot for me in New York -and I should bring my portfolio along and see what my options were.

New York Christmas in Rockefeller Center.

I flew to Rome for a few days before Christmas. There I met Fraser Diesel and his kids Tania and  Jason . We had a nice time running around and me staying at my old favorite Pensione Swiss near the Spanish Steps. I also went to see Lancetti and it was a nice re-union. It was so nice to see Rome again and visit  all my old haunts.My old friends from Rome-Furio and Elsa- was living  in Cape Town again by this time.

Rome Christmas.

After a few days in a warmer  Italy I left for New York to be in time to spend  Christmas with Dale and Lucia and their family. Dale fetched me at JFK and we drove to Hartsdale in Westchester where they were living.

I loved Europe and was not that much interested in the USA-but the first few days in New York floored me. It was a very  unrealistic view, as I was staying with dear friends in their magnificent 4 storied house in one of the richest neighborhoods of New York to start with.

Lucia and Henry.

They went out of their way to make  me feel welcome. It was freezing outside with  snow but the house was warm and cosy with a beautiful Christmas tree.  Lucia does nor only have great taste in clothes but in interiors as well as entertaining. I had such a great time and they were all so warm towards me.

Lucia in their home in Hartsdale.
Their kids spent most of their forming years in America so they were American . Both Andre and Vanessa stayed here .Only Mark went back to South Africa with his parents when they returned. Vanessa and her family live in Westchester and Andre is in Brooklyn.
He is a great artist

Robert and Lucia  in front of their Hartsdale home.
We went out to restaurants and to some of their friends homes- and I had a great time.
 Lucia gave me a ticket to the Metropolitan Opera where I saw "La Boheme with Theresa Stratas- the beautiful Zeffirelli production.

"La Boheme" Metropolitan Opera
It was my first visit to the Met and it was so big and grand.  The whole city was so alive -even in the freezing cold .The museums were so big and packed with people.

This photo was taken almost 30 years later in South Africa.
 Henry Lucia + Dale.

Gigi van Deckter.

Christmas Day Gigi van Deckter invited me to spend the day with her parents and some her friends. She lived on Greenwich Village on 12street and Hudson street .It was the first visit to Greenwich Village and little did I know it at that time that I would be spending the next 32 years -and counting on 12th street .I met Gigi in South Africa while she was making a movie there,We have stayed friends and now we live two blocks apart in Greenwich Village.

Marc Bouwer another South African designer who I knew form the South African Couture Syndicate  came to New York a few years  earlier  and we also met up again, We met at the famous White Horse Inn and then had brunch at the Front  Porch Restaurant in Greenwich Village. Marc has had a great career dressing celebrities and is still working in New York.
I felt that I could be happy working in NYC. I took my portfolio and started seeing some designers on Seventh Avenue.

Unfortunately it becomes a vicious circle, as they will not offer you a job without a work permit and they will not give you a work permit without a job offer.

Robert la Pointe.

Through friends I met Robert la Pointe. He was planning a visit to South Africa and wanted to meet up with me.He offered to help me from this side and without his help I would never have been able to
get to America. By this time I decided that I would go back to South Africa but that my future was to be in New York. If i wanted to do it- it had to be within a year- as I was in my early thirties already.

After spending the most wonderful three weeks with Dale and Lucia- I left to go back to South Africa via London. I was going to stay with Bob Learmonth my Scottish friend.

I met Bob when he came to South Africa as part of the SA Nylon Spinner promotions. Bob worked with Deryck Healy in London -a ex South African They would predict fashion trends especially for the mills that  used synthetic fibers in materials. They always invited the Couture Syndicate members to their fashion shows. I invited Bob- and some of the other people on their team- for dinner and introduced Gerhard to them as well. Gerhard was travelling more overseas than I was- so he met up with Bob whenever he went to London and they become good friends.


Bob just got divorced from his wife Sarah. To keep his home in Knightsbridge he paid her out and moved into the living room and rented out the  rest of the 4 floors in the house. His daughter Julia lived on the top floor. She was in her early twenties.

Deryck Healy in front of one of his paintings.

Bob was a great art lover- so many of the younger people working for the Deryck Healy Organization- and other artist lived in the house. During the day he was managing Director but at night Bob would make  potluck for all- It was like a  big family with a big table in the kitchen and you never knew who would be there for dinner or how many. It was great fun and the conversation very stimulating.

Deryck Healy came for dinner one night as well and we must have been about 15 people around that table -talking about music, art and who know what. I was fascinated with the whole set up. It also helped Bob to get over his divorce.
We went out for dinner with my friend Margaret Smith as well and as the two of them were both Scots, they got along like a house on fire.

Bob Learmonth in Pisa buying "una cosa dolce"

Not long after that Bob sold his home in London and moved to Pisa where he taught at the Scuola Normale. He still lives in Pisa -but he is retired now. Gerhard use to meet him in Pisa and they would go to Milan where Gerhard would buy clothes from Armani .

Scuola Normale. Pisa. Founded by Napoleon  in 1810.

Bob greeting former students in Pisa.


After a fun time in London
I  flew back to South Africa with a lot on my mind.

I loved my life in South Africa-my business was growing nicely-I was known. My family and friends were there -but the political situation was not resolved and even if I become super successful  it could all go up in smoke if the country exploded.

I had to make a tough decision .
I had no job in America how was it all going fall into place for me the immigrate to America?
That was the $ million question.......

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