GERT JOHAN COETZEE: Career Life Post Fashion School, The Graduate Dishes
Gert-Johan Coetzee is one of successful and commercially viable South African fashion designers. He has a namesake fashion house called Gert-Johan Coetzee (GJC). His garments are stocked in various Edgars stores nationwide and other online stores. Gert-Johan Coetzee is one of North West School of Design alumnus, a fashion institution based in Klerksdorp, North West. Having graduated in 2005 with a diploma in Fashion Design majoring in pattern-making, sewing, and creative design. I have been following and covering GJC since his big break which came through the business partnership with Uyanda Mbuli. With their joint fashion label business venture, Diamond Face Couture (DFC). To the time when he branched off to establish and run his own fashion house Gert-Johan Coetzee in partnership with his now husband and business partner Vicky Visagie. To creatively product seeding Kim Kardashian with a dress which ended up being worn by Kourtney Kardashian to People’s Choice Awards in 2011 to dressing Kelly Rowland and many other key public figures. As a business, GJC works with the likes of Melinda Shaw of Shaw Media to handle GJC media and PR matters. His brand is also represented by The Fashion Agent a company described as having “a reputation on representing the top South African fashion brands and designers as the only multi-label trading agent / wholesale showroom in South Africa.” Although a lot has happened for the house of GJC. It almost feels like it was just last season when GJC had everyone eating out of the palm of his hands whilst serving an endless colourful princess aesthetics buffet with his renowned signature designs that almost always had a tulle tutu skirt in the mix.
From someone’s perspective standing from the outside, it seems like the one thing that GJC has done very well was to harness and nurture his relationships and build on that. For as long as I have followed and covered GJC on ATJ, it seems Gert has been working with the same familiar faces; perhaps his very own muses who inspire him. Nonhle Thema was his and Uyanda Mbuli’s to-go-to IT girl during their Diamond Face Couture heydays. With the launch of GJC he enlisted Bonang Matheba although never announced formally as the face of the brand. Bonang Matheba and GJC’s relationship is symbolic of such. Louise Carver and Jay Anstey also come to mind as the two women GJC always works with, be it walking his show, frowing (front rowing) at the show, performing wearing a GJC number or working the red carpet in a GJC. Later adding the model, lawyer and activist Thando Hopa as the official-nonofficial face of the brand. To dressing South Africa’s former Public Protector, Advocate Thuli Madonsela for her key socio-professional events. A move which shows that with the growth of his brand, the GJC woman also evolves and grows. The transformation of a yuppie girl who wore colorful tutu skirts and outrageous bows to a hard working successful woman who now prefers streamlined silhouettes. That accentuates, highlights the good features and hides the none flattering bits any woman could potentially be worried about. Something which pretty much defines the GJC current design silhouette.
The now classical GJC silhouette is snatched from bust to waist most of the time with a detachable bow skinny belt moment, layed by the hips to accentuate the curves and flare out with a floor sweeping trail at the bottom for a regal mermaid silhouette. With strategically placed hand beaded embellishments. Just as his rainbow coloured tulle tutu skirt silhouette were unmistakable then, his current snatched-regal mermaid silhouette is easy to identify by a trained eye.
As a fashion designer of his caliber, who always is reinventing, striving to reach new heights and manages to rope in various brands (the likes of, ACER, Sony Mobile, Ferrari etc) to partner with him season after season for his well curated on location shows. It is a clear sign that he is doing something right and it is working for him. I thought I fire quick questions his way to find out how he did it and still doing it thus far because in the famous words of Kevin Spacey “If you’re lucky enough to do well, it’s your responsibility to send the elevator back down.” It is our collective responsibility to share information, experiences, and skills with others. That is how we win.
How vital is fashion school for someone who wants to work in the fashion industry?
It is just as important as it is for someone who wants to design buildings to study architecture.
What is that one thing (some things) fashion school will teach you?
It will teach you how to bring a concept into reality, and how to market and sell that final product.
What is the one thing you would tell fashion students to expect in the real world?
Expect 98% of hard work and 2% glamour.
Which subject(s) you wish your institution offered whilst you were a student there?
They were very comprehensive in terms of what was offered, but I wish more institutions would focus more on the business aspects of fashion so that graduates are better equipped to make a living.
Which subject(s) would you add to all fashion school qualifications and why?
Business, marketing, and production management. The fashion industry is not about drawing impressive sketches, it is about producing and selling a quality product.
As someone who studied a fashion qualification and works within the field, what do you think needs to be done for the South African fashion industry to commercially grow exponentially?
Our country needs to invest in the infrastructure of the industry. We have almost no fabric mills left, we don’t have proper printing facilities and fabric choices are very limited. It is also hard to find skilled people and skilled factories that can mass produce. We keep on sending people to showcase internationally, but it means nothing as we do not have the infrastructure to support them or compete with an international market.