Fashion is freedom of expression, it’s about creativity, it’s about accentuating beauty, it’s about sexiness and it’s about showing off your personal power to the world.
Pretoria-based designer Gerrit Pienaar has been collaborating with women for three decades, beautifully emphasizing every stitch. And whether it’s a prom, the Met or July, his couture captivates, and clients say they feel like goddesses when they wear his work.
And as all good stories go, Pienaar never intended to be a designer. After studying law and then specializing in criminal forensics, he floats around for a couple of years until his people turn off the cash spigot. That’s when he started making clothes to make a living.
“And six weeks after I made my first garment, I got a job in the rag trade. I ended up as a designer for a fashion house,” he said.
His marriage and subsequent divorce became a watershed in his life. The latter, the drive to start your own company and go it alone. Pienaar never stopped practicing law or forensics.
In conversation with Pienaar he feels almost Warhol-like in his conviction, his passion and his relentless imagination that sometimes causes sentences to interrupt and stop mid-point during a thought, after which he conveniently connects conversations to a new idea, a new feeling and direction.
Pienaar is an artist, a reluctant fashion visionary whose focus is on his work. He shared an anecdote about a customer who brought in a matric dress he designed for her over a decade before she returned. She was getting married and wanted him to replicate the dress, but spiffed up in white and wedding-ready.
The fact that one of his garments followed a customer’s life and romance, and that she wanted to get married in one of his designs, tailored for her 10 years earlier, touched him. He is such a person. His heart is in everything he does.
Gerrit Pienaar ‘Claris’ studio is located in the eastern suburbs of Pretoria and inside his space hundreds of garments weigh heavily on rails. There are evening gowns, incredibly sexy little black numbers and some stunning day wear that will turn heads no matter where the wearer catwalks it to.
Pienaar said trends come and go but the classics always remain evergreen. The more conservative side of a dress, which he considers art, is set against some of the drama he said South Africans love.
“Big sleeves, puffy shapes and lots of layers. It all creates drama, and you could almost say it’s a typical South African fashion statement. It never loses its flavor.”
Pienaar uses delicate fabrics such as Armani satin to express classic design in a modern, comfortable and sensual way.
Contemporary couture, and Pienaar sees this trend lasting quite a while, is all about accentuating sensuality.
He said: “Trashy sexy that the Kardashians gave us is a thing of the past. Now it’s about femininity, about showing bits of skin and not skimping on your own sexuality. It’s about sensuality, about mystery and secrets.”
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Sheer is still the über fashion statement, he said, adding: “Going through is subtle, it’s sensual and sexy and yet it’s classy, elegant and feminine. Layer it just enough to reveal the notion of a breast, the legs and the thighs. That’s what it’s all about.”
Pantones, lilacs, Guava, cerise pink and watermelons are all colors of high and late summer. Black, Pienaar said, has also made a significant post-pandemic comeback across seasons, and he believes it’s here to stay.
After Covid, dressing up meant covering up first, and that was evident at Durban July and the Met, Pienaar said. But for January’s Cape Town race and later, in Durban, he suggests fashion will return to the outrageous, naughty and sexy. The difference is that the focus will be on subtlety and femininity.
Pienaar warns that while the foreign is cool, the dress must never wear the woman. It must be the other way around.
He said: “If the dress makes a statement bigger than your personality, don’t wear it. It’s there to enhance who you are in the first place, it should reflect your character and your inner self.”
Plus, he added, showing off more skin can turn a gargantuan dress into something shapely.
“We must not be afraid to show a bit of ourselves, subtly and elegantly. A big lump of fabric won’t cut it for anyone. It just remains what it is, a blob. Don’t hide behind the fabric.”
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