It’s common sense that when money is tight, people tighten their belts and cut down on luxuries. And with more petrol price increases looming and a technical recession making everyone nervous, it is a hard time to be selling luxury goods… or is it?
For designer Gert-Johan Coetzee, taking the economy in his stride – even poking gentle fun at money worries – is a business challenge that he is relishing. In his new Autumn Winter 2019 Collection that is showcasing at SA Fashion Week, the focus is on more affordable ready to wear, but also a brand-new line of menswear, including underwear and swimwear.
“There might be economic reasons to be gloomy, but there is no time like a downturn to really sharpen your focus and identify the things that are most important in your business…and the reality is that people still want to feel good, and look good, even when their budget shrinks,” said Coetzee. “With this collection we have thought carefully about new product categories, and while our elaborate showstopping red-carpet and bridal gowns will always be our greatest joy, we can bring the designer touch within more people’s reach with our ready-to-wear Gert line, and by targeting male clients, with suits but also with smaller luxury items such as the beautiful new Gert men’s underwear.”
Coetzee has had a year of milestones, starting with his 30th birthday last November. His passion for education and empowering the next generation got a shot in the arm this year with his role as the mentor on South Africa’s first season of Project Runway, where his expertise and fair, good-natured input kept the frazzled contestants on track to produce their best work. His own bursary programme, runs in collaboration with the Northwest School of Design, is now in its eighth year, and two new students will be chosen next month to start their fashion studies free of charge next year.
The students in the programme are all personally mentored by Coetzee. “I am absolutely committed to pass on the knowledge that I have gained, because I want a South African fashion industry full of skilled, passionate designers who can make a living doing what they love, like me.” He is dedicating this new AW19 collection to his bursary students, some of whom will be working behind the scenes at SAFW getting his new collection on the ramp, and, he says, it is about having faith in the future of the industry and the power of education.
Investing in a menswear range has already paid off for Coetzee, who has been able to say yes when asked to dress Beyoncé’s father Dr Mathew Knowles and his wife Gena Knowles for a number of events in the past week. The couple was in South Africa to promote Knowles’s new book The Emancipation of Slaves Through Music. The influential music mogul hosted the African Leaders 4 Change Awards,and was a guest judge on the music talent show Idols South Africa. In between he also managed to address the University of Cape Town’s Graduate School of Business and finally, attend the glamorous opening party for South African Fashion Week hosted by Cruz Vodka.
Coetzee’s new AW19 Collection is inspired by his travels, his love for Italian style as personified by the luxury of Ferrari, and he has built on his previous collection for McDonald’s by further exploring pop iconography. In addition to his trademark red-carpet showstoppers and the new menswear range, fans can expect playful references to stop signs and other road markings – “STOP worrying about the recession,” Coetzee quips.