Gert-Johan Coetzee's decade of delivering dreams
Whether it’s a frothy gown making her princess dreams a reality, or a sexy number showing off the body she has worked hard on, it’s likely to have been designed by the go-to red carpet designer in South Africa, Gert-Johan Coetzee.
The 32-year-old has reigned as one of the leading designers in the country for 10 years and it’s unlikely that will change any time soon. In last weekend’s DStv Viewers Choice Awards, both in South Africa and Nigeria, he dressed three stars: Minnie Dlamini-Jones, who hosted the South African leg of the awards; Larona Moagi, who was nominated; and in Nigeria he dressed Toke Makinwa, who hosted the red carpet.
It’s no surprise he has chosen to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the Gert-Johan Coetzee brand. His special Fashion Retrospective with collaborative partner, Martini Dolce sees 30 of his most iconic gowns on display at Sandton City’s Diamond Walk
It’s a major feat for Coetzee and the brand. He is originally from Rustenburg and got his start as one of the designers of Strictly Come Dancing. There he met Uyanda Mbuli and together they made the now defunct Diamond Face Couture (DFC) come to life. Even though that relationship didn’t last a long time, it taught Coetzee about the importance of the business of fashion.
“It taught me how to work under pressure,” he said. “Strictly was a live TV show and you needed to know what you were doing. DFC was my entry into the fashion business and taught me what I needed to learn about how to go about running the business.
“I was 18 when I started and both experiences were a deep dive into realising that the industry is beyond just the designs and the creativity.”
The fashion industry is probably one of the most difficult to crack.
Even with amazing designs and concepts, the most important thing is to become a successful fashion company.
There have been many brilliant designers, who wowed the world with their garments, were widely worn by celebrities and powerful people and yet, a few years later, were bankrupt and had to close.
Christian Lacroix and, recently, Zac Posen have had dizzying success only for it to come crashing down. Longevity is not a reality for many people in the fashion industry.
And nor is success. Hence it’s important to celebrate when you have managed to not only run a profitable business, but have stood the test of time, produced great garments and succeeded in the highly competitive world of fashion.
It is safe to say Coetzee fits the bill.
Looking back at his decade in the industry, Coetzee said he didn’t generally become nostalgic, but he found it important to look back and think about his career.
“The goals I have set have actually come true. I’ve always wanted something bigger that goes beyond just fashion. I believe that I make people’s dreams come true.”
“I pride myself on being a reliable designer. I commit. I make them look good, but, most importantly, feel good at their special occasions where they wear a Gert-Johan Coetzee garment. And that’s one thing that my clientele has repeatedly said to me, hence they return every time.”
Coetzee’s client list, most of them his muses, must induce envy in many designers. It goes from South Africa’s A-list celebrities, Nigeria’s major stars, beauty queens, to captains of industry, the legal fraternity and the government. And it is with those clients that he has created some of his most iconic dresses, which will be exhibited at the retrospective.
His relationship with his muses, who include Bonang Matheba, Lerato Kganyago, Sarah Langa and Nomzamo Mbatha, is one he takes seriously. “My muses inspire me. One important aspect is that I need to be able to spend time with them and actually talk about real-life issues; have lunch or coffee. It’s a relationship that goes beyond clothes. Hence I am truly able to capture their personality in the garments I create for them.”
He recently designed the wedding garments of Somizi Mhlongo and his husband, Mohale Motaung. He also created the wedding suit for American sports star Tim Tebow for his marriage to former Miss Universe, Demi-Leigh Nel Peters. He used a material that would fit the sportsman’s physique perfectly.
“Whenever I design a garment, it needs to be special for that person and capture what their whole life is about. It’s important for there to be a clear mark that this is a Gert-Johan Coetzee garment. Sometimes menswear is very muted and simple. Some men do not like taking risks and I don’t enjoy not taking risks. Hence I love designing red carpet, event and wedding gowns.”
For the retrospective, he chose his personal favourites and also dresses worn by some of the most famous people in the world, including reality TV stars, Kristin Cavallari and Kourtney Kardashian and TV mogul Oprah Winfrey.
The next step for Coetzee is to get into the luxury fragrance market. He has released his first fragrance, Double Platinum Eau de Parfum by Gert-Johan Coetzee, which is unisex. It is part of his plan for the second decade in the industry.
The fragrance being unisex gives it an edge. It smells great. It’s not too feminine and not too masculine. Plus the packaging, which is inspired by the platinum mines of Rustenburg, is a mix of both macho and feminine. Coetzee is in the final phase of developing his second fragrance, which will launch in September.
“It was important for fragrances to be the next stage of the business. I already have the couture element down to a T. Now it was time to create another Gert-Johan Coetzee moment. You already look great in the clothes; how about you smell amazing, too?”