Fashion is freedom of personal expression, it’s about creativity, emphasizing beauty, it’s about sex appeal and it’s about showing the world your personal power.
Pretoria-based designer Gerrit Pienaar has worked with women for three decades and emphasizes with every stitch that he’s gorgeous. And whether it’s a matrix dance, the Met or July, his couture mesmerizes and clients say they feel like goddesses wearing his work.
And as all good stories go, Pienaar never intended to be a designer. After studying law and then specializing in forensic science, he floated around for a few years until his parents cut the money supply. That’s when he started making clothes to make a living.
“And six weeks after making my first garment, I got a job in the rag trade. I ended up designing for a fashion house,” he said.
His marriage and subsequent divorce became turning points in his life. The laughter, the impetus to start your own label and make it on your own. Pienaar never ended up as a lawyer or forensic scientist.
In conversation with Pienaar he almost feels like Warhol in his conviction, his passion and his relentless imagination, which sometimes makes sentences repeat themselves and stop dead during a thought, after which he comfortably leads the conversation to a new idea, a new, conveys feeling and direction.
Pienaar is an artist, an understated fashion visionary whose focus is on his work. He shared an anecdote about a customer who, over a decade before her return, brought her a Matrix dance dress he designed for her. She wanted to get married and wanted him to mimic the dress but all dressed up in white and ready for the wedding.
The fact that one of his garments followed a customer’s life and love cycle and that she wanted to get married in one of his designs, created especially for her 10 years ago, touched him. He’s such a person. His heart is in everything he does.
Gerrit Pienaar ‘Claris’ Studio is located in Pretoria’s eastern suburbs and within its premises hundreds of garments weigh heavily on rails. There are evening dresses, incredibly sexy little black numbers and some statement daywear that will turn heads wherever the wearer takes them.
Pienaar said that trends come and go, but the classics are evergreen. The more conservative side of a dress, which he believes is art, and juxtaposed with some of the drama he thinks 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 like Armani satin to express classic designs in a modern, comfortable and sensual way.
Contemporary couture, and Pienaar has seen this trend continue for some time, is all about emphasizing sensuality.
He said: “Trashy sexy like the Kardashians give us gifts is a thing of the past. Now it’s about femininity, about showing hints of skin and not barebacking one’s sexuality. It’s about sensuality, about riddles and mysteries.”
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Sheer is still the supreme fashion statement, he said, adding, “Being sheer is subtle, it’s sensual and sexy, yet classic, elegant and feminine. Layer it just enough to reveal the idea of a chest, legs and thighs. That’s what it’s about.”
Pantones, lilac, guava, cerise and watermelon are all colors of mid and late summer. Black, Pienaar said, has made a significant return across seasons even after the pandemic, and he believes it’s here to stay.
At first, once Covid got dressed it meant covering up and it was evident at Durban July and the Met, Pienaar said. But for the Cape Town race in January and later in Durban, he suggests fashion will once again be bold, sassy and sexy. The difference is that the focus is on subtlety and femininity.
Pienaar warns that while fancy is cool, the dress should never be worn by 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 should first and foremost highlight who you are, it should reflect your character and your inner being.”
Plus, he added, showing more skin could transform a huge blob of clothing into something shapely.
“We mustn’t be afraid to show something of ourselves in a subtle and noble way. A giant lump of cloth doesn’t do that for anyone. It stays what it is, a stain. Don’t hide behind the fabric.”